First Duel To Stewart

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In the past, Tony Stewart has been confident about winning the Daytona 500.

He can’t imagine feeling any better about his chances to win “The Great American Race” than he does right now.

Stewart, who won last weekend’s Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, dominated Thursday’s first Gatorade Duel at Daytona at Daytona International Speedway. Stewart led 37 laps, holding off Dale Earnhardt Jr. in green/white/checkered finish.

Stewart is a multiple winner of the Gatorade Duel at Daytona qualifying races, the Bud Shootout and the Pepsi 400 at Daytona. However, he has never won the Daytona and desperately wants to do so.

“It’s just been an awesome week. This Chevy has been bad to the bone this week,” Stewart said. “The Budweiser Shootout at Daytona, the qualifying races, the Pepsi 400, those victories are all well and good. But, the Daytona 500 is what it’s all about. I really want this race on Sunday bad.”

Stewart took his third Gatorade Duel at Daytona checkered flag. Earnhardt Jr. finished second, followed by Jeff Burton, Daytona 500 pole sitter David Gilliland and Denny Hamlin.

Stewart first took the lead on lap 17 and led the next 24 laps. A caution flag waved on lap 41 for debris when David Ragan cut a tire. Stewart pitted for four tires, but that handed the lead to Jeff Burton, who pitted 12 laps earlier and stayed on the track.

Stewart regained the lead on lap 51 and never relinquished it.

“It was an awesome day, and I’d be crazy to say I’m not excited,” Stewart said. “We couldn’t have had a better ending to last year, or a better start to this year. I don’t know how I can be any happier than I am now. We had great pit stops, and everything went right today. We had a textbook day. This is the best shot we’ve had to win the Daytona 500. I just hope we’ve got one more in us.”

Michael Waltrip, who was hit with severe penalties by NASCAR for violations following Budweiser Pole Qualifying last Sunday, finished eighth and took one of the transfer spots into the Daytona 500.

The other transfer position into the Daytona 500 went to Boris Said, who finished 12th. Mike Bliss, also fighting for a transfer position, made a run on Said just before the finish, but finished 13th by less than .1 of a second.

Said will participate in his second Daytona 500. He had a top-five finish in the Pepsi 400 last July.

“I’ve never raced a Saturday night short track race, but that’s what I guess it would be like if I ever did it,” he said. That was a wild race and it was a lot of fun. I’m really proud of our effort. We’re probably a longshot to win the race, but, I think we’re good enough for a top-10 or a top-15.”

Rookie A.J. Allmendinger and Robby Gordon were involved in an incident on lap 23 in which both suffered major damage to their cars. Gordon will race in the Daytona 500 based on points from last year, while Allmendinger failed to qualify for his first Daytona 500.

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