By: Holly Blake
Clint Bowyer led the field from the pole on a perfect weather race day at Daytona International Speedway. Lower humidity, nice breeze, 73 degrees and lots of sunshine. I hope all the fans used plenty of sunscreen.
The first few laps of the race were uneventful with the two-by-two racing having commenced and drivers choosing partners. At lap 10, Clint Bowyer was being pushed by Tony Stewart (they had already swapped places), and Joey Logano was being pushed by Kyle Busch.
Caution flew for the first time for an accident on lap 17 involving Landon Cassill, Brian Scott, Sam Hornish Jr., and Justin Allgaier. It appeared that Allgaier might have gotten into Hornish and turned him.
The green flag flew again on lap 20 with Bowyer leading Logano, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Trevor Bayne, Kasey Kahne, Danica Patrick, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart, and Michael Annett.
Lap 25 brought the caution for a huge crash and some hard hits by Elliott Sadler in his debut for Kevin Harvick, Inc. and One Main Financial. Also involved were Mike Wallace, Kenny Wallace, Michael Annett, Todd Bodine, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
During this caution period, Carl Edwards was in the pits with the hood up on the Fastenal Ford. He had reported that he might have lost a cylinder. The team checked the plug wires and the ignition box, sent him back out. Still having issues, they checked everything electrical. Edwards did not have the day he hoped for.
On lap 30, Clint Bowyer partnered up with Danica Patrick and pushed her up to the front and the lead past the duo of Busch and Logano. That lead was short-lived as Brad Keselowski and Trevor Bayne quickly caught and passed them.
Bowyer needed to swap with Patrick but it appeared she was unsure of that or how to do it and he lost having a partner and fell back to the 18th position in less than three laps.
Justin Allgaier pitted for a tire issue and then was penalized with a pass through for too fast entering pit road.
The duo of Keselowski and Bayne were working well together, swapping lead without losing much momentum and built over a two second lead on the field by lap 55.
The caution flew for the third time for an accident involving Sam Hornish Jr. who got tapped by Todd Bodine and went spinning and clipped the inside retaining wall before coming to a stop.
The fuel can got stuck in the Hellmann’s Chevy of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and was forced to serve a stop and go penalty.
Restart lap 59 with Logano, Busch, Bayne, and Bowyer in the lead. Bayne got behind Logano to push him while Bowyer pushed Kyle Busch and they ran next to each other for the lead.
Kasey Kahne was black flagged for not being in the correct position on the restart. Kahne didn’t come in right away and the NASCAR officials were about to throw the black flag with the cross on it which means he would no longer be scored. Kahne finally came to pit road.
On lap 65, the duo of Bowyer and Busch broke up. Stewart picked up Bowyer and pushed him to the lead. Stewart and Bowyer on the same radio channel discussed how long they can go without swapping. Tony told Clint he could cool it off. Stewart was able to duck out and get air to the engine often enough to avoid swapping as often as some other duos.
Meanwhile Logano and Busch paired up and came back to the front. I have to say that watching this duo tandem racing, especially when they swap side-by-side with another duo in a turn can make your heart skip a beat.
Busch and Logano took the lead but then swapped the lead back with Bowyer and Stewart…and back again…and back again. Every few laps the two duos swap the lead.
Aric Almirola, a full time series competitior and contender for the championship thought he had an engine going away. He later reported it didn’t seem it was getting fuel in the pick up. The team readied a back up carbeurator in case they got a caution. He said it was getting really really bad on lap 84. He was running in the 18th position.
Landon Cassill and Keselowski hooked up and ran up to the leaders on lap 83 however, they were unable to catch and pass them. On lap 90, that changed and they were able to pass Stewart and Bowyer . . . for about a half a lap.
Following green flag stops, Bowyer and Stewart got separated and Bowyer hooked up with Kyle Busch. Caution then came out for debris so everyone gathered back up.
Kyle Busch lead the field back to the green on lap 104. Logano quickly hooked up to him and the duo of Bowyer and Stewart were hooked back up and just as fast the caution flew again.
Landon Cassill got into to the side of Keselowski and sent him down the track. When he caught the apron, his car flew back up the track into the path of Josh Wise who had no where to go and no time to react. Also involved were Patrick Sheltra, Todd Bodine and Trevor Bayne.
During the caution, Stewart cut a right rear tire and had to pit with the pits closed but he didn’t want to take a chance on tearing up the car. The duo of Stewart and Bowyer sure had a chance at winning this today. Bowyer had to find a new partner.
The race was red flagged for extended clean up. There was a lot of debris and grass on the track.
Josh Wise was treated and released from the infield care center. He said he’ll probably be sore tomorrow but right now his heart hurts. He said they worked so hard to get here and he just hates that this happened.
Top 10 at the restart were: Bowyer, Earnhardt Jr., Michael Waltrip, Bayne, Stenhouse Jr., Busch, Logano, Sorenson, Cassill, and Jason Leffler.
There was a lot of chatter on the radio during the red flag about who was going to help who. On the restart, Bowyer expected Earnhardt Jr. to help him. They did hook up and others shuffled back.
Busch and Logano stayed together and caught up quickly to the leaders as did Cassill and Stewart.
On the last lap, Joey Logano got sideways, spun sideways and went back up into the wall as the leaders continued on to the checkered flag. Bowyer, still being pushed by Jr. got to the line just shy of teammate Tony Stewart who won the race in the Kevin Harvick, Inc. Oreo/Ritz Chevrolet. What a finish!
After the tandem duo, two-by-two, side-by-side, sometimes a bit boring racing, the end of the race, well at least the last two laps were crazy to watch and heart wrenching for Logano and Bowyer fans I’m sure.
Tony said they went from 14th to third in two laps. He said he knew he won it. He said, “I’ve been doing this for 30 years, I know when I’m a foot ahead”.
Post race quotes from the media center:
KERRY THARP: Let’s roll into our post race for the 30th Annual Drive for COPD 300 here at Daytona International Speedway. We’re pleased to be joined by our highest‑finishing championship series contender, finishing in fifth place today, Reed Sorenson.
Congratulations on a good effort, good start for the season. Your thoughts?
“Yeah, a great start to the season. We wanted to start the year off with a solid finish if not a win. We did that. So good start for points and everything like that so we can get a run for the money for the championship.”
“Pretty eventful day for us. We had to start in the back, come to the front. Had pit stop issues, had to go to the back, came to the front again. All in all, a good day.”
“Good teamwork with my teammate Jason Leffler, that’s what helped us with this two‑car breakaway deal. Enabled us to have a shot to win and gave us a top five. “
“Yeah, certainly the Chevrolet was good obviously all weekend. A lot of work goes into these racecars for this place. Hats off to the guys for sitting on the pole, had a car capable of running up front and winning the race.”
“The race was a little bit slow. I finally got my dancing partner out there. We were able to make some ground and have some fun with the 18 and the 20. When I looked in the mirror, saw he had a flat on that caution, that was not looking good. I was worried about it. You practice all race long together, then when you get split up there at the end when the money’s on the line, made you nervous.”
“I looked in the mirror, I saw Junior, the only Chevrolet up there, I knew that he was going to work with me. He shoved me all the way to the last lap.”
“Coming off of four, what do you do? They had a good run. I tried to block the 4’s momentum. About that time Junior ducked under me, I had to block him. All hell broke loose.”
“Awesome ending. That’s what’s so much fun about this place. No matter what the race is, the ending’s always great.”
“Yeah, it was just a crazy day. We didn’t draft at all in practice. I was worried about that ’cause I’d never done this ‑‑ actually, I’ve never done any drafting before in the Nationwide Series. It was kind of a learn on the fly deal.”
“Brad Keselowski was the one that taught me everything about that tandem during that mid portion of the race, just where I needed to be, communicating with the spotters, when he was breathing, how we were swapping. I don’t know how long that run was, but we swapped a couple times. It was like a training session. He just taught me everything I needed to know, pushed us all the way pretty much to the lead or close to it. We had a great green flag pit stop. It was just really cool. He’s been a good friend of mine since we were teammates at JRM. He’s always been good to me. It was nice to see him behind me there.”
“I hate it that he got wrecked. It was probably my fault just getting pushed. When you’re getting pushed, sometimes when you get pushed into the field with so much more momentum, there’s nowhere to go. It felt like one of those moments. I’m sure somebody else could have handled it better, but it’s my first time. I’m just trying to figure it out.”
“Towards the end there, Tony got lined up behind me on that restart with four or five to go and just pushed me through, told me what to do and pushed me through. I just followed directions. When he had to swap there with two to go, I knew he was making a decision, probably better for the both of us. I think he could probably sift through that field better than me. I was glad to push him. I can’t believe we missed that wreck on the last lap. I don’t know how we slipped through that.”
“I never lifted. He won the race. It was cool. It was really cool. James Finch gave me this race as a gift pretty much for running his Cup car last year. I wouldn’t be here without James Finch. Gave me my first Cup start when I was pretty much left for dead, got me back in the sport. I wouldn’t be here without him.”
KERRY THARP: Let’s roll into our post race winning driver for today’s 30th Annual Drive for COPD 300 here at Daytona International Speedway, the season opener for the NASCAR Nationwide Series. The race winner is Tony Stewart. This is Tony’s fourth straight win in this race. This is his 10th NASCAR Nationwide Series victory. Certainly you’ve shown just your ability to get around the two‑and‑a‑half mile Superspeedway here at Daytona. Your thoughts about today’s win?
“”Wow” is the first thing. I knew we had a good car in practice. You know, we didn’t qualify as good as we were hoping for obviously. But we were pretty sure we knew that we were going to race a lot better than we practiced obviously, or in qualifying.”
“But we got to the front pretty early. Once we got with Clint, we knew if we could stay together all day, we were going to be a pretty potent combination. We felt like obviously it shaped up to be between the KHI cars and the Gibbs cars. Didn’t seem to matter what order Clint and I were in, we could run and run longer before we would have to switch with each other than the Gibbs cars were able to do.”
“We were sacrificing the speed to get air in the grill. I think they were staying in line, just running to get maximum speed, but having to switch earlier than we were because of that.”
“It was kind of you didn’t really know which strategy was the best, but it was one or the other: ultimate speed and switched when you needed to or sacrificed the speed for the cooling to try to do less exchanges with each other.”
“We had the caution there where we would have started on the front together. We had the flat tire under the caution. I didn’t realize that we had as many cars a lap down as what we had. But that’s what saved us in that. We were able to come in, put four tires on, restart 11th. The tire didn’t come apart when it went flat. We were able to get around to the pits without it coming apart and tearing the body off. That was a huge, huge key in this race really, was that flat tire.”
“If we didn’t have the flat, it was going to be a little easier going. But we had other guys that pitted there. Landon Cassill came out. He restarted ninth. We restarted behind him. We knew he had a good car. We knew if we hooked up with him, we could get through some of the cars in front of us. I wasn’t sure we could get all the way to the front.”
“We went for that ultimate speed scenario to try to get through there. Landon did a good job of making some good moves to get through traffic. By the time we got there, we were fighting the heat issue. When two of the cars in front of us swapped, I made the decision for us, we didn’t have time to get with the spotter and make that decision, it was just kind of a calling an audible, I guess, but pulled a swap with him. That got us back a little bit, but we were with the two groups we needed to be around.”
“Landon pushed and pushed and pushed and did a really good job. We got that momentum built. We never had to check up ,we never were in a scenario at the end where we had to break that momentum. The other guys were up front and we had the benefit of having the pocket of air we were in to get the momentum. Just ran ’em down. Got there in just enough time.”