Busch Stewart Crash Changed Race

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Tony Stewart vs. the Busch Brothers.

That was the story for much of Sunday’s 49th running of the Daytona 500.

The three drivers dominated the opening 375 miles, with the only real drama Stewart’s return to the front after a pit miscue at the 200-mile mark dropped him to the back of the pack.

Working through traffic one car at a time, Stewart patiently made his way from 37th to regain the lead on lap 150. He wasn’t there for long, though.

On lap 153, Stewart and Kurt Busch got together in Turn 4. Suddenly, with the pair out of contention, what had been a ho-hum affair became a barnburner. Kyle Busch was up among the leaders down the stretch, only to wreck in Turn 4 on the final lap.

Stewart and Kurt Busch led 130 of the opening 152 circuits. Stewart had the dominant car through his pit stop on lap 80. Then, the brothers Busch ran one-two for most of the green flag action while Stewart patiently worked his way back through the pack.

Stewart stalled while exiting his pit, trying to get out ahead of Robby Gordon’s incoming car. When he stalled, David Gilliland tapped Gordon.

“I had a problem in the pits, and it started with my mistake,” Stewart said. “I just made it worse. It took me awhile to get going, and when I did get going, I was speeding and I wasn’t paying attention.”

In the pack, Stewart found the going tough, but he took his time.

“As long as you’re out front, it wasn’t too bad,” Stewart said. “If you get in the back, the tire’s so hard and you get in dirty air, it took a long time to get our way back to the front. It wasn’t nearly as easy as I thought it was going to be. When I was back there, the car was wicked tight.”

Three laps after regaining the lead, Stewart got wide entering Turn 4, was tapped twice by the elder Busch, and both cars shot into the wall.

“I bumped into the No. 20 car and we were both taken out of the Daytona 500 off of my mistake,” Busch said.

Stewart wasn’t blaming his competitor.

“I mishandled in the corner and it took off on me,” Stewart said. “It didn’t take off easy, it took off pretty big. I’m not sure what happened.”

Stewart’s story of Daytona frustration is beginning to mirror those of Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt – two drivers who dominated competition at the speedway, only to suffer heartbreak in the crown jewel again and again. Both drivers finally broke through and won.

Stewart now has 11 triumphs at Daytona, but is zero for nine in the Daytona 500. The wreck ended a streak of four consecutive top-seven finishes in the event.

“I was really proud of the fact we got our way back to the front. We had the strongest car today,” Stewart said. “We had an awesome car this week, but you can’t leave here disappointed. Any time you can win two out of three events, we got a lot to smile about.”

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