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Stewart upholds bad-boy image

Published Feb. 22, 2006

Conflict seems to follow Tony Stewart everywhere, and NASCAR's bad boy didn't do anything Sunday to change his reputation.

In 3 1/2 crazy hours, the defending Nextel Cup champion led for 20 early laps, feuded with Matt Kenseth after the two crashed, bumped with Jeff Gordon, aggressively warned Jamie McMurray for driving too close and took two costly penalties.

Stewart still finished fifth - 10 spots ahead of where he started - but might have won his first Daytona 500 if not for his run-ins with Kenseth and his penalties.

Stewart and Kenseth raced aggressively through the first half of the race, but their feud became animated on Lap 107. That's when Stewart's No. 20 Chevrolet cut down sharply on Kenseth, causing him to drift onto the apron, back up the track across traffic and into the wall.

Kenseth could be heard on his in-car radio complaining, "Twenty wrecked me, clear as day."

"Yeah, Matt always thinks that," Stewart said after the race, before calling attention to one of the pair's earlier run-ins. "I guess Matt didn't think anything when he got me sideways over in (Turn) 2. He should have thought about that first. He got back what he started in the first place."

Though Kenseth wrecked, Stewart also suffered. NASCAR officials set him to the back of the pack for aggressive driving. Stewart responded by smacking his in-car television camera.

But his problems didn't end there. Moments later, as the two were leaving pit road, Kenseth sped up to catch Stewart, then retaliated by turning left and driving Stewart's car off the track. Neither car was seriously damaged, though Kenseth was penalized.

Stewart's brush with Kenseth cemented his image as a sometimes hot-headed racer, but the No. 20 car also was involved in a skirmish earlier in the afternoon.

On Lap 48, Gordon tried to pass Stewart, who gave little ground. As he tried to drive by, Gordon pulled up to complete the pass but Stewart clipped his left rear, sending both into the wall.

The cars recovered, but Gordon's Chevrolet sustained serious damage and could not compete for a second consecutive 500 victory.

Afterward, Gordon stopped short of blaming Stewart. Still, he said Stewart could have ensured there was enough room to pass because it was early in the race.

"I think it could have been avoided by both of us and it cost us both a lot," Gordon said.

Kenseth wasn't so diplomatic, reminding reporters of Stewart's public prerace plea to keep the racing clean. Stewart had asked for NASCAR to invoke tighter penalties for aggressive driving.

"Tony took me out intentionally," Kenseth said after finishing 15th. "Tony said all that stuff earlier in the week, and if he's worried about peoples' lives and everything, then he wrecks you on purpose at 190 (mph), I wasn't too happy about that."

Stewart recovered from the brushes with Kenseth and Gordon and continued to race near the lead until Lap 160. Then, with the race at caution, Stewart accelerated out of a pit stop and ran over his team's tire jack.

The action cost him a penalty - he was sent again to the back of the pack - and cost him his final chance at winning.

Even by Stewart's unusual standards, this 500 was a bit wacky.

"It was a wild day here," he said.