Tony Stewart beat the Roush Fenway duo of Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle in a wild finish at Daytona on Saturday night, claiming his third win of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
Reigning champion Stewart charged all the way from the back of the grid after his second fastest qualifying time was disallowed on Friday due to an open cooling hose found on his Stewart-Haas Chevrolet during inspection.
Having gained track position through strategy and avoided getting caught in one of a number of multi-car incidents while in the draft, Stewart placed himself on the front row for the final restart, where he faced stiff competition from polesitter Kenseth, who was set to be pushed by his team-mate Biffle. The Roush duo spent all evening in tandem, except when Biffle was put to the back for entering a closed pitlane as the third caution began.
Once the green waved for the last five miles of racing, Hendrick Motorsports' Kasey Kahne pushed the rear bumper of Stewart's car, helping him get a run on both Ford drivers on the final lap. Then Stewart carried the momentum alone to take the lead as Kahne seemed to make contact with Richard Childress Racing's Jeff Burton, who was being pushed by his team-mate Kevin Harvick.
Although the Roush tandem seemed to be on a run to get the lead back entering the last half lap, when Kenseth tried to break from Stewart's draft he ended up making contact with Biffle, cutting all their momentum and leaving Stewart unchallenged out of the final corner.
Behind the Stewart-Haas driver a massive crash was ignited, involving no less than 10 other cars while the chequered flag waved ahead of them.
"The biggest challenge was the #17 [Kenseth] and the #16 [Biffle] car and when they hooked up I don't think there was anybody that could beat them," said Stewart. "But we were able to stay in touch with them and we got a great restart with Kesey Kahne helping me. They were coming in the outside on [Turns] 3 and 4 and the last wreck happened there. We were just fortunate we were leading still."
Burton finished second and was a surprise contender in the end after pairing with Harvick, who was one of those involved in the massive pile-up on the last lap.
Kenseth, who led more than half the distance, finished third behind him but was disappointed to lose a clear shot at victory.
"I'm really disappointed," said Kenseth, who continues to lead the points. "We thought we had one of the best cars. I was hoping it was going to be me or the #16 in victory lane. I don't know, it's hard to figure out. The [Daytona] 500 went one way and then we lost Talladega because I didn't keep Greg with me good enough... Before I got a run Tony got outside of him and then I don't know what happened because everybody started wrecking."
The race saw little action for most of its first half, the caution flag waving for the first time just past lap 80 when Sam Hornish Jr spun on the backstretch following a puncture. The Penske driver flew from North Carolina to Daytona in the afternoon, to fill in for AJ Allmendinger who got suspended after failing a random substance abuse test performed by NASCAR last week.
Besides the final incident there were another two pile-ups, one of them involving 14 cars with only six laps remaining. The crash was ignited after Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin got sideways while running towards the front of the pack, his team-mate Kyle Busch ending up also involved.
Jimmie Johnson failed to finish for the second time this year at Daytona after getting spun and hitting the wall head on 35 laps from the end. His Hendrick team-mates were also involved in incidents but Gordon salvaged a 12th-place finish with Dale Earnhardt Jr was 15th.
Stewart's third win of the year moved him up four spots in the standings and virtually locks him up in contention to defend his title in this year's Chase.
Results - 160 laps: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 2h32m14.000s 2. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 0.111s 3. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 0.403s 4. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 0.951s 5. Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 2.317s 6. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 2.911s 7. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet + 2.953s 8. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 3.007s 9. Michael Waltrip Waltrip Toyota + 3.008s 10. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 3.010s 11. David Reutimann Baldwin Chevrolet + 3.303s 12. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 7.418s 13. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 8.005s 14. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 8.085s 15. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 9.144s 16. Travis Kvapil BK Toyota + 11.103s 17. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 12.587s 18. Casey Mears Germain Ford + 12.588s 19. Aric Almirola Petty Ford + 14.640s 20. Terry Labonte FAS Lane Ford + 15.497s 21. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 22.862s 22. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet + 23.813s 23. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 1 lap 24. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 1 lap 25. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 4 laps 26. David Ragan Front Row Ford + 6 laps* 27. Trevor Bayne Wood Brothers Ford + 8 laps* 28. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 8 laps* 29. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota + 8 laps* 30. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 8 laps* 31. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 8 laps* 32. Landon Cassill BK Toyota + 9 laps 33. Sam Hornish Jr Penske Dodge + 11 laps 34. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet + 27 laps 35. Kurt Busch Phoenix Chevrolet + 28 laps Retirements: Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet 124 laps Bill Elliott Turner Chevrolet 123 laps Josh Wise Front Row Ford 47 laps David Stremme Inception Toyota 25 laps JJ Yeley Robinson-Blakeney Toyota 16 laps Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 10 laps Stephen Leicht Circle SportChevrolet 4 laps Michael McDowell Parsons Ford 3 laps * Involved in late accident, not running at flag