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Tony Stewart stays out front of Daytona melee to win

DAYTONA BEACH — There was no fire or rain. Still, there was another frantic finish at Daytona International Speedway.

Tony Stewart emerged as the winner of the Sprint Cup Coke Zero 400, charging past Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth on the last lap and holding on as the challengers stacked up behind him Saturday night in one of Daytona's trademark wrecks.

"Just a weird day," Stewart said in Victory Lane. "These races — I'm still voting for a Figure-8 race here."

Stewart has 18 victories at Daytona, second to the late Dale Earnhardt's 34. None of Stewart's wins are in the Daytona 500, though. He's 0-for-14 in NASCAR's biggest race. (Earnhardt needed 20 tries before winning the 500 in 1998.)

"I wish I could trade a couple of these races in for just one Sunday race in February," Stewart said.

Stewart qualified second but dropped back to 42nd at the start because his Chevrolet failed inspection. He quietly rode around — his style at restrictor-plate races — and let Roush Fenway Racing teammates Kenseth and Greg Biffle stay up front.

"We were going to try to win the thing and be there at the end," Biffle said.

Kenseth led a race-high 89 of 160 laps around the 2.5-mile superspeedway, and Biffle led 35. Going into the final restart, Kenseth led, with Biffle on his bumper, as second-place Stewart lined up with Kasey Kahne.

Kenseth and Biffle pulled away for a lap, but Stewart passed them on the outside, then crossed down the track in front of Kenseth. Seconds later, Biffle seemed to wiggle, and cars began wrecking all over, starting an accident that involved about 15.

Kenseth started from the pole in his bid to become the first driver since 1982 to sweep the two Daytona races in a season.

"I tried to slow up (for drafting help) and grab my teammate that's been helping me so much all night," Kenseth told TNT. "We started to get hooked together, and Tony was going slow, and I went to go outside of Tony, and then everybody wrecked behind me. I'm not sure what happened."

Jeff Burton came from nowhere to finish second, followed by Kenseth and Joey Logano. David Reutimann of Zephyrhills was 11th, and Tampa's Aric Almirola was 19th. Biffle wound up 21st.

Stewart picked up his third win of the season and jumped from ninth to fifth in points. Even if he falls well down in points, those wins all but assure him of a wild-card spot in the Chase for the Championship.

"It's not a guarantee, but it's nice to know we've got those three wins," he said.

.fast facts

Sprint Cup points

Through 18 of 36 races. The top 10 drivers plus two wild cards (based on wins) through 26 races make the Chase for the Championship.

Driver Pts. Back

Matt Kenseth 676—

D. Earnhardt Jr. 651 25

Greg Biffle 632 44

JimmieJohnson 618 58

Tony Stewart 592 84

Kevin Harvick 586 90

Denny Hamlin 585 91

Martin Truex 584 92

Brad Keselowski 575 101

Clint Bowyer 572 104

Note: Points unofficial; NASCAR posts official points Monday.

Tony Stewart stays out front of Daytona melee to win 07/07/12 [Last modified: Sunday, July 8, 2012 12:35am]
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