Another year, another wild-and-crazy NASCAR Busch Series win for Tony Stewart at Daytona International Speedway.
Stewart passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. with 12 laps to go and then stayed in front the rest of the way throughout thrilling, three-wide racing on the historic high-banked tri-oval to win the Hershey's Kissables 300 before an estimated 75,000 Saturday afternoon.
The defending Nextel Cup champion won in the No. 33 Old Spice Chevrolet owned by Kevin Harvick despite his car having problems so substantial Stewart said "We were like the ugliest date you ever had at the start of this thing." He started 16th but made several back-to-front charges as the team made multiple repairs in the pits.
After emerging from a three-wide pack in which he was on the low side of the track -- Earnhardt was in the middle and Michael Waltrip was up high -- Stewart took the checkered flag with about a three car-length lead ahead of a pack of drivers. Behind Stewart, a tightly-packed field burst into a wreck near the start-finish line, with 11 cars sliding, smashing and skidding through the infield grass as if they were a set of Matchbox cars shoved down the hall by a toddler.
Burney Lamar, a rookie also racing for Kevin Harvick, Inc., was awarded second place while Clint Bowyer was given third after NASCAR officials reviewed videotape of the frenzied finish. Stewart led just the last 12 laps of the 120-lap race, which saw 17 lead changes among 10 drivers and 11 caution flags for 35 laps.
Last year, Stewart won the Busch event after pulling off a remarkable save of his car after he was sent sliding into the grass after being hit by Carl Edwards.
NASCAR did penalize two drivers -- Denny Hamlin and J.J. Yeley. It wasn't for bump drafting, but for aggressive driving, and the penalty was handed down only after Hamlin's plowing into the back of Jamie McMurray caused McMurray to spin out in the grass inside Turn Three on lap 109.
The first effort for Champ Car driver Paul Tracy in the No. 34 SportClips Chevrolet of the Frank Cicci Racing with Jim Kelly team ended in disappointment.
Tracy was confident Friday that he would be able to move up despite starting 37th in the 43-car field, and he backed it up by neatly pushing towards the front for the first third of the race, moving up to ninth by lap 45.
But on lap 51, former CART driver John Andretti touched the left rear of Tracy's car between Turns Three and Four just enough to send Tracy out of control. Tracy saved the car from hitting the wall but enough damage was sustained that he was knocked out of contention and finished 24th of 43 cars.
Kelly is in his second year as a co-owner with longtime Busch team owner Cicci of Elmira. Tracy and hair-product sponsors SportClips and American Crew are only signed for five races, however. Kelly said that the team is currently negotiating with Disney and "hoping to finalize a deal -- in the next couple of weeks."