Despite rain delays, Stewart finally wins at Daytona
Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 3, 2005
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) - After numerous frustrating finishes, Tony Stewart finally won at NASCAR's most famous track.
Stewart dominated the rain-delayed Pepsi 400 on Saturday night, but still needed a dramatic four-wide pass to move to the front, then pulled away on a restart with nine laps left to seal his first Nextel Cup victory in 14 starts at Daytona International Speedway.
The only thing that could top this would be winning the Daytona 500 or a race - any race - at his beloved Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
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But Stewart will settle for this for now, and celebrated by climbing the fence into the flag stand to claim the checkered flag.
''I'm too damn fat to be climbing fences, but I had to do it once,'' Stewart said. ''I finally got me a Daytona trophy.''
It was his second consecutive victory and showed that the 2002 series champion will be a contender again this year. He started from the pole, led a race-record 151 of 160 laps, and moved to third in the standings.
Jamie McMurray finished second and was followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was far from the dominating driver he has been here in recent years. But the finish was encouraging for Junior, who is stuck in a season-long slump, but matched his best finish of the year - here in the season-opening Daytona 500.
Rusty Wallace was fourth in his final scheduled start at Daytona, followed by Dale Jarrett and Jimmie Johnson.
Johnson reclaimed the top spot in the standings after dropping behind Greg Biffle last week. Biffle was involved in an early accident, wound up 36th, and fell to second in the standings.
Jeff Gordon, winner of four of the last five restrictor-plate races - including two consecutive at Daytona - was never a factor and finished seventh.
Stewart was running away with the race until a late round of pit stops shuffled him back to fifth with 17 laps to go. It took him just minutes to regain the lead and he did it with the most daring of moves: He tucked in next to the wall and slid on the outside past Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne and Johnson, who were all lined up door-to-door across the track.
Stewart's pass would have been enough to seal the victory, if not for one last caution. The race restarted with nine laps to go, and Stewart was never challenged as he pulled away.
''Nobody knows how much this means,'' crew chief Greg Zipadelli said.