Fight Night At Daytona

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Tony Stewart, who after last Sunday night's Budweiser Shootout asked NASCAR to better police drivers' aggressive driving particularly with bump drafting around Daytona International Speedway, was the first NEXTEL Cup driver penalized for rough driving.

It was just part of a long day during the 48th running of the Daytona 500 for the reigning NEXTEL Cup Champion.

Stewart's first incident came on lap 47 of the 200 lap race when Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet made contact with the No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet. Gordon lost control of his car momentarily and bounced off the wall.

"The thing with Jeff, I don’t think it was his fault, I think he just got in a spot that was wet and he pushed, and he got into me and we both got into the wall," said Stewart.

Although he suffered minor damage from the non-intentional collision with Gordon, Stewart was able to work his way to the front and place his car in contention for the victory.

That is until a near meltdown cost him his chance to win the sport's most prestigious race for the first time in his illustrious career.

In an ironic twist, Stewart was penalized on lap 107 for aggressive driving as a result of an incident with Matt Kenseth, putting him at the tail end of the longest line during the caution period. The incident happened when the two cars were going into Turn 3 and Stewart pushed the No. 17 Ford Fusion into the grass, causing Kenseth to lose control and slide into the wall.

"He thinks I just ran over him, I thought I was clearing him and moving down in front of him and he is screaming about it like he always does, never mind the fact that he had me sideways in Turn 2. It’s just amazing. Guys want to race a certain way and when things happen to them they are the first ones to point fingers another way like normal," said Stewart.

The 2003 NEXTEL Cup Champion saw it in a different light.

"Well, Tony took me out intentionally. There’s no two ways about that. He was mad because earlier in the race when I passed him he got loose, which I didn’t think I did anything wrong," said Kenseth. "That’s the same way he raced. I actually learned that from him racing here close to people, so he wrecked me intentionally and got put to the end of the longest line.

"Tony went out and said all that stuff earlier in the week. If he’s so worried about people’s lives and everything, and then he’s gonna wreck you on purpose at 190, I wasn’t too happy with that."

The incident did not end there, however, as Kenseth drove into the side of the No. 20 Chevrolet as the two were coming off pit road on lap 113. Kenseth was hit with a penalty, which put him several laps down as he had to serve a drive-through during green flag conditions.

While no other car was involved in the accident it did put Kenseth, who led four times for a total of 28 laps, multiple laps behind the leader. While Kenseth was able to get back on the lead lap with 25 to go, he was not a factor in the fight for the victory as he finished in 15th place.

"We’ll just go on and try to do a good job next week and be happy with where we finished. We’ll go on to California and start over," said Kenseth.

To make the reigning champion's day even worse, he was served a second penalty later on as a result of running over his jack during a pit stop.

Even though Stewart suffered several hardships, including some self-inflicted, he actually was within the top-10 during the final stages of the race before a final incident stopped his momentum.

As Stewart was charging through the field, Kyle Busch came up from behind and touched him enough to turn him sideways on lap 197. Stewart was lucky enough to save his vehicle while Busch was forced to serve a drive-through penalty for aggressive driving.

"Kyle Busch, he’s the one guy that is probably going to hurt somebody out here, he is all over the place. He’s what we like to call a ‘dart with no feathers.’ He just doesn’t know where he is going. He has a fast car, he just needs to learn how to drive the thing," said Stewart.

"He’s got talent, that’s why he got here in the first place. He’ll do a good job. With more chances he gets to run restrictor plate races, the better he’ll get."

Even with all of the on track incidents, including the late battle with Busch, Stewart was able to salvage a fifth place finish.

"It just shows the determination of this team. It’s a great group of guys, we never quit, and this is step one of accomplishing the next two goals," Stewart said.

The Home Depot team’s troubles were not the only ones that caused high tempers around the garage, as another fracas occurred late in the Daytona 500.

Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray, the two drivers who caused so much controversy last season when they broke away from their contracts a year early, had contact with one another, which resulted in Busch receiving severe damage after slamming against the wall.

“We had the Miller Lite Dodge in position late in the race, and I thought we had a shot at victory. Roger (Penske, team owner) has won the Indy race 13 times, today we came just short," said the 2004 NEXTEL Cup Champion. "It’s obvious, (McMurray’s) okay. He is in another wreck, somebody will take care of him."

Unlike the back and forth’s between Stewart and Co., McMurray was the first to plead "Mea Culpa."

"First off, I need to apologize to Kurt. I got into him. That was 100 percent my fault. I feel really bad because he had a car capable of winning today and I kind of screwed that up for him," said McMurray, the driver who took over Busch’s ride at Roush Racing.

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