Tony Stewart tied Dale Earnhardt’s record of seven Daytona Nationwide Series wins in Saturday’s DRIVE4COPD 300.
However, the race was marred by a violent accident at the checkered flag that saw Kyle Larson’s car become airborne into the catchfence sending debris including his engine into the grandstands.
Stewart crossed the finish line first as the crash continued behind him to take his seventh checkered flag in the race’s last nine races.
He scored the 11th series victory of his career and the 65th for Richard Childress Racing.
The three-time Sprint Cup Series champion was understandably subdued in Victory Lane.
“We've always known since racing was started this was a dangerous sport, but we assume that risk, and it's hard when the fans get caught up in it," said Stewart. "So as much as we want to celebrate now and as much as this is a big deal to us, I'm more worried about the drivers and the fans in the stands right now, because I could see it all in the mirror, and it didn't look good from where I was at, either."
The race was one of the most competitive in recent years until the last lap accident broke out. A two-lap dash to the finish was set up by a multi-car wreck in turn two that involved 13 cars including Austin Dillon, Kasey Kahne, Jamie Dick, Matt Kenseth, Johanna Long and Michael Annett, who was taken to an area hospital for evaluation after complaining of pain in his chest and sternum. He was treated for bruising on his chest and underwent a CT Scan.
On the restart Regan Smith and Brad Keselowski paired up and pulled away from the field. But Smith’s car was clipped from behind and turned sideways that triggered the violent ending.
"I threw a block there," Smith said. "I knew Brad (Keselowski) was going to try to make a move on me. If I'm in the same situation tomorrow, I'll do the same thing again."
Larson’s car was destroyed with parts and pieces flying into the grandstands including his engine and a tire.
"I took a couple of big hits there and saw my engine was gone," Larson said.
Sam Hornish Jr. finished second for his career-best Daytona finish.
“I’m looking forward to this year," said the Penske Racing driver. "I knew today was gonna be a crapshoot and I feel like we’re gonna be better when we get to some of the actual handling tracks, so we got through this and I’m looking forward to Phoenix.”
Alex Bowman, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Parker Kligerman rounded out the top five.
Brian Scott, Justin Allgaier, Eric McClure, Robert Richardson Jr. and Travis Pastrana completed the first ten finishers.
It was a rough start to the season for several pre-season championship contenders including pole sitter Trevor Bayne. The 2011 Daytona 500 winner suffered a broken transmission while running near the front of the field.
“Every now and then things break,” said Bayne. “I think our rear end gear burned up a little bit. It isn’t normal or anything we were trying. It was a normal rear end deal and the seal failed or the rear end burned up and caused the seal to fail. It lost its grease and then locked up. It is really unfortunate for our team. We were so fast running up front. You hate to start it out this way.”
Brian Vickers had the engine in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota blow to take him from contention with Kyle Busch suffering a similar fate in his Monster Energy Camry.
“Hate it for all my guys,” said Busch. “It was entirely my fault, just pushing too hard during most of the day. Running behind Matt (Kenseth) there trying to get air and I couldn’t get air. He kept backing up to me to get pushed and I’m like ‘Man, I can’t.’ Just went a little too long.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series now heads to Phoenix Int’l Raceway next Saturday afternoon.