DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Tony Stewart grabbed his tools and banged away on the No. 14 for do-it-yourself repairs.
With one big wreck, the sentimental favorite to win the Daytona 500 turned into a handyman.
He had some star-power company in the garage Sunday.
Kevin Harvick, the driver to beat in Speedweeks, had his bid at a second Daytona 500 win end in the same crash, and Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards also ran into trouble.
Harvick and Stewart were collected in an early crash that knocked out several top contenders, shaking up NASCAR’s opener, and paving the way for underfunded rides driven by Regan Smith and Michael McDowell to finish in the top 10.
Harvick, Busch and Stewart all won secondary Daytona races during Speedweeks. Just not the Daytona 500.
“If I didn’t tell you I was heartbroken and disappointed, I’d be lying to you,” Stewart said.
Stewart made it 0 for 15 in the Daytona 500 after another failed effort in a strong car. In 17 seasons spanning NASCAR and IndyCar, Stewart has been able to cross most everything off his to-do list. He still has a big checkered flag to chase at Daytona.
Stewart eventually returned to the track — only 82 laps back. Safe to say, he was a bit of a long shot. He finished 41st and Harvick 42nd.
It also ended Harvick’s attempt to become the first in NASCAR history to win the exhibition Sprint Unlimited, a twin qualifying race and the Daytona 500 in the same Speedweeks.
“It was just one of those deals,” Harvick said.
Harvick stripped his firesuit down to his waist and rode off in a golf cart, a more solemn ride than his two trips to Victory Lane this week. Harvick had dominated in Speedweeks as the prelude to his final season driving a Richard Childress Chevrolet. He won last weekend’s Sprint Unlimited and one of the Duel races, each time plopping infant son Keelan into the cockpit for a quick rub of good luck.
This time, his battered No. 29 couldn’t be saved.
The early nine-car wreck started when Kasey Kahne let off the gas to slow as they neared the first turn at Daytona International Speedway. Kyle Busch tried to do the same, but couldn’t avoid contact.
Busch sent Kahne spinning across the track. Juan Pablo Montoya, 2010 race winner Jamie McMurray and Brad Keselowski also were involved. So were Kurt Busch and Casey Mears. Montoya is a former Indianapolis 500 winner. Busch won the 2004 Cup title. None of them had a chance to pad his resume.
The accident came a day after a horrific wreck in a second-tier NASCAR series race hurled chunks of debris, including a heavy tire, into the stands and injured nearly 30 people.
The next nine-car wreck came 105 laps later and took out Edwards. Edwards said his team was ready to come back and dominate at Phoenix after a miserable month at Daytona.
Joe Gibbs Racing also needs to rebound after a 1-2-3 run of Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch was quickly down to just Hamlin. Kenseth’s smoky No. 20 hit pit road with a transmission issue and Busch’s race soon ended with a blown engine. Busch was furious as he walked alone back to his hauler.
Hamlin failed to keep his fast pace and fell back to 14th.
“All of the guys at JGR built an awesome piece,” said Busch, who won the second duel of Speedweeks. “But we’ve got to have engines that last.”
Kenseth led a race-high 86 laps and left with the lead after 149 laps.
“You can’t drop out and win championships,” he said. “We had all the right things, we just didn’t make it to the end.”
Hamlin didn’t have an engine issue, he had a former teammate issue. Hamlin took aim with former JGR driver Joey Logano, who moved on to Penske Racing.
Hamlin tweeted, “(at) keselowski sorry I couldn’t get close to you cuz your genius teammate was too busy messing up the inside line 1 move at a time.”
Keselowski, the reigning Sprint Cup champion, escaped the first wreck that knocked out the heavy favorites and dodged danger again in the Edwards’ crash. He led the race with 20 laps left but smacked into some debris on the speedway and slowed down just enough to finish fourth.
“We wrecked about three times today and still had a shot at the win,” Keselowski said. “We just came up short.”
Stewart, who won the crash-marred Nationwide race Saturday, never got the chance to at least be in the hunt. His second-tier win was his 19th victory at Daytona in all other races at the track except the 500. He has more wins at one of NASCAR’s most famous tracks than everyone except Dale Earnhardt (34).
Earnhardt won the Daytona 500 in his 20th try.
Stewart will at least stretch it out to 16.
The race wasn’t a total loss for Stewart. His Stewart-Haas Racing team fields the car for pole winner Danica Patrick. Patrick became the first woman to lead a lap in the Daytona 500. She led five laps and finished eighth. On the starting grid, Stewart gave her a big hug and whispered into her ear before she slid into the cockpit.
Told the accident spoiled the start of his season, Stewart wasn’t buying it.
“To hell with the season,” he said. “I wanted to win the Daytona 500.
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