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Tony Stewart wins Nationwide race but thoughts on injured Daytona fans

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013

Two NASCAR season openers, two last-lap wrecks.

Tony Stewart became the latest driver to secure a victory at Daytona International Speedway when he made it through a 12-car wreck unscathed to win Saturday’s Drive4COPD 300.

It’s the seventh time in the past nine years Stewart has won the season-opening race in the Nationwide Series.

During the wreck, rookie Kyle Larson’s car was catapulted into the frontstretch fence, sending a tire and debris into the stands. Track officials said at least 28 fans were injured.

As of Saturday night, no fatalities were confirmed.

“It’s just like your fellow drivers. If you think one of your fellow drivers is injured, you just don’t feel like you can celebrate,” Stewart said.

“These fans are diehard to this sport and the drivers. They come to watch a great show. The last thing you want to do is have any of them get caught up in a wreck that happens on the race track.”

Johnny Sauter won the Truck Series season-opener at Daytona on Friday night when a last-lap wreck brought out a caution and prevented Kyle Busch from attempting a race-winning pass.

In Saturday’s race, Sam Hornish, Jr., finished second, Alex Bowman was third, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fourth and Parker Kligerman was fifth.

Regan Smith, who got drafting help from Brad Keselowski, appeared to have the victory in hand as the last lap unfurled.

Exiting Turn 4, Keselowski decided to try for a pass for the lead. Smith, however, elected to attempt to block the move and instead ended up getting turned into the wall and igniting the wreck.

Keselowski said it was Smith’s right to try to deny him the pass for the win.

“I made the move and he blocked it, and the two of us got together and started the chain events that caused that wreck,” he said. “First and foremost, just want to make sure everyone in the stands is OK and we’re thinking about them.”

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter
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