Tony Stewart was eyeing a top five during his final start at Daytona International Speedway when his No. 14 Chevrolet snapped loose in Turn 2 and slammed the wall on Lap 149 of the Coke Zero 400.
But the news wasn’t all bad Saturday night for the three-time series champion, who was granted a waiver to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup after missing the first eight races with a fractured back. The catch was he needed to be ranked in the top 30 in points and score a victory during the regular season.
He accomplished the latter last week when he snapped a three-year winless drought with a win at Sonoma Raceway.
Now he provisionally is in the playoffs for the first time this season.
Stewart, who was running in the top 10 when the crash occurred and was as high as sixth, finished 26th and moved up two spots to 30th in the points — three points ahead of Brian Scott.
A 22-car wreck on Lap 90 that collected several of the drivers around him in points helped
“We knew we might be able to gain points here, but you know it’s a coin toss that you might get in a wreck here,” Stewart told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “For us it was more trying to take care of us, and when that big (22-car) wreck happened, that really opened the door for us to really take care of us. Two of the three guys around us in points got caught up in it.”
Still, he missed the chance to build a larger cushion on 30th, and he took full blame for it.
“I hadn’t been loose all day, but I got loose, and then I over corrected for it and drove it in the fence, definitely my fault,” Stewart said. “We were one of the teams that didn’t take tires on (a previous) caution, and we put tape on the nose. I was a little bit tight, and a couple laps before that I came off of (Turn) 4 and Casey Mears luckily was paying attention because I ran him all the way up the race track because I got tight off of four, so I tried to get to the top … I don’t know why I got loose, but I got loose going into (Turn) 1.”