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Stewart finishes 1st ahead of wreck at Daytona

Jeff Burton finished second in the Coke Zero 400 and points-leader Matt Kenseth was third as a multi-car wreck broke out behind the leaders as they crossed the finish line.

- dscott@charlotteobserver.com
Saturday, Jul. 07, 2012

Tony Stewart worked his way through the entire field Saturday night and won the Sprint Cup Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

When his time was disallowed after qualifying second on Friday due to an open cooling hose in his cockpit, Stewart and his No. 14 Chevy were forced to start 42nd Saturday. And after passing pole-winner Matt Kenseth on the backstretch of the final lap of the race, he won for the third time this season.

"I don't remember what happened on that last lap," said Stewart, last season's Sprint Cup champion. "It was just a weird day. Any time you win at Daytona, it's special."

Jeff Burton finished second and points-leader Kenseth was third as a multi-car wreck occurred behind the leaders as they crossed the finish line.

After a restart with three laps remaining, Stewart broke up a tandem of Kenseth and Greg Biffle coming off Turn 2 during the final lap. Neither Kenseth nor Biffle could recover.

"What happened was that the 17 (Kenseth) caught up to the 14 (Stewart) and there was somebody outside me and I couldn't move up," said Biffle, who was involved in the final wreck and finished 21st. "That's the way it goes."

Said Kenseth: "I was going to make sure I kept Greg with me and did a really good job for a lap and a quarter. We were locked on there. Somehow Greg got off me, but I think Tony was separated, as well."

The victory was the 47th of Stewart's career, moving him into 14th place on NASCAR's all-time list ahead of Buck Baker. It was also Stewart's 18th career victory at Daytona, second most behind Dale Earnhardt.

The early portions of the race belonged to Kenseth - this season's Daytona 500 champion - and Biffle. Kenseth led until first round of green-flag pit stops. Biffle took over after that, leading Kenseth and a tightly bunched field for 35 laps until Lap 82.

"It was disappointing," said Kenseth. "I think we had the best car and didn't win."

Before the race, NASCAR announced that AJ Allmendinger had been temporarily suspended for failing a random drug test last week at Kentucky. Sam Hornish Jr. replaced Allmendinger in the No. 22 Dodge, flying in from Charlotte and arriving at the track just moments before the race began.

That probably couldn't have happened if Daytona's airport was not directly beside the speedway. Hornish's private plane landed at 7:31 p.m., 17 minutes before the race was scheduled to start, and he was still settling into the car on pit road when the rest of the field rolled onto the track. He joined the other cars after they had completed one warm-up lap.

Hornish blew a tire on the backstretch on Lap 81, causing the race's first yellow flag.

While cars were pitting during the caution, Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman touched along pit road. That pushed Newman into Kasey Kahne.Newman then nudged Brad Keselowski, who was stopped in his pit. Keselowski's crew members and a NASCAR official alertly jumped out of the way and were unhurt.

The Cup series moves on to Loudon, N.H., next week for the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

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