Long: Tony Stewart finally gets chance to go to victory lane after a Daytona 500 win

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Tony Stewart was among the last to arrive to Daytona International Speedway’s victory lane Sunday night.

The future NASCAR Hall of Famer walked in to little fanfare, as cameras of all shapes and sizes focused on Kurt Busch, who drove through a maze of wrecked vehicles and then by fuel-starved cars in the final laps to win Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Stewart, now just a NASCAR owner after retiring from the series last season, arrived to the packed victory lane moments before Busch emerged from his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.

Stewart was finally in victory lane for a Daytona 500.

No other track has teased, tormented and tortured Stewart like Daytona. Sure, he has 19 total wins here, but it only makes what transpired in 17 Daytona 500s so vexing.

“We probably could have, should have won four or five of them and they got away,’’ said Greg Zipadelli, Stewart’s longtime crew chief who later became the competition director for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Few hurt as much as the 2007 race when Stewart had one of the dominant cars before losing control and crashing into Busch.

Their paths intertwined in the 2008 Daytona 500 when Busch pushed Ryan Newman by Stewart on the final lap to help Newman win. Stewart finished third.

Stewart said he couldn’t look at Zipadelli for the week after that race, feeling he cost the team the win by not moving up to block Newman’s run.

There were other disappointments.

A favorite in 2002 after his Clash win, Stewart ran only two laps before his engine blew. He finished last. So frustrated, Stewart drove back to North Carolina instead of flying home.

Such disappointments became a pattern. The three-time series champion would excel in the events leading up to the 500 but be denied a victory in the sport’s biggest race.

His chances of winning faded in his final years driving in the series. His final three Daytona 500 appearances ended in finishes of 41st, 35th and 42nd before he missed last year’s race because of a back injury suffered a few weeks before the race.

No year could compare to 2001. Stewart tumbled down the backstretch and was taken to Halifax Health Medical Center. As Stewart was being treated, Dale Earnhardt was transported there after suffering fatal injuries in his last-lap crash.

Stewart went on to become one of the dominant voices in the garage in the following years. Five years after Earnhardt’s death, Stewart complained about the style of racing and said that if it continued “we’re going to kill somebody.’’

Stewart hated how blocking became prevalent — and necessary — to win restrictor-plate races. Even though he missed last year’s 500 because of his back injury, he made it clear he wouldn’t come back to run this event one more time because he never had won it.

It appeared as if his streak would continue Sunday even as an owner. Stewart-Haas Racing drivers Danica Patrick and Clint Bowyer were eliminated by accidents. Kevin Harvick’s damaged car finished 22nd.

When Busch was the only SHR car left on the lead lap, Stewart moved to Busch’s pit box.

Although Busch ran near the front it seemed only a matter of time before something would happen to him. After all, Busch was winless in 63 career restrictor-plate points races before Sunday.

Even when Busch crossed the finish line ahead of Ryan Blaney and AJ Allmendinger, Busch’s crew chief, Tony Gibson, didn’t react. It took him a few moments to register what had happened. Stewart helped.

“You just won the Daytona 500!’’ Stewart told Gibson.

Stewart then turned to Zipadelli.

“Hey buddy, we finally got one of these.’’

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NASCAR Open starting lineup at Bristol

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Michael McDowell will start on the pole for the NASCAR Open at Bristol Motor Speedway after a random draw. Aric Almirola joins him on the front row.

Click here for NASCAR Open starting lineup

The winners of each segment advance to the All-Star Race, along with the fan vote winner. Last year, Kyle Larson won a segment in the Open to advance to the All-Star Race and then won that event. Other segment winners last year were William Byron and Bubba Wallace. Alex Bowman advanced through the fan vote a year ago. Bowman has already qualified for this year’s All-Star Race.

 

NASCAR Open at Bristol 

Race Time: 7 p.m. ET Wednesday

Track: Bristol Motor Speedway; Bristol, Tennessee (0.533-mile speedway)

Length: 85 laps over three segments, 45.3 miles

Segments: Segment 1 is 35 laps. Segment 2 is 35 laps. Segment 3 is 15 laps.

TV coverage: FS1

Radio: Performance Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: Fox Sports app (subscription required); goprn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Xfinity race: Saturday at Texas (200 laps, 300 miles), 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Next Truck race: Saturday at Texas (167 laps, 250.5 miles) 8 p.m. ET on FS1

Martin Truex Jr. to start on pole for All-Star Race at Bristol

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Martin Truex Jr., who is seeking his first All-Star Race win, will start on the pole for Wednesday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway after a random draw.

Truex will be joined on the front row by Alex Bowman.

Rookie Cole Custer, who earned a spot in the All-Star Race with his win Sunday at Kentucky, will start eighth.

Click here for All-Star Lineup

  • Positions 17-19 will go to segment winners from the NASCAR Open. The 20th starting spot goes to the fan vote winner, which will be announced after the NASCAR Open

Among the special rules for the race:

# The Chose Rule will be used. As drivers approach a designated spot on the track, they must commit to the inside or outside lane for the restart.

# The car number will move from the door toward the rear wheel to give sponsors more exposure.

# Cars that have automatically qualified for the All-Star Race will have underglow lights on their cars.

 

NASCAR All-Star Race at Bristol 

Race Time: 8:30 p.m. ET Wednesday

Track: Bristol Motor Speedway; Bristol, Tennessee (0.533-mile speedway)

Length: 140 laps over four segments, 74.6 miles

Segments: Segment 1 is 55 laps. Segment 2 is 35 laps. Segment 3 is 35 laps. Segment 4 is 15 laps (only green flag laps count in this segment).

TV coverage: FS1

Radio: Performance Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: Fox Sports app (subscription required); goprn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Xfinity race: Saturday at Texas (200 laps, 300 miles), 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Next Truck race: Saturday at Texas (167 laps, 250.5 miles) 8 p.m. ET on FS1

Xfinity playoff grid after Kentucky doubleheader

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The Xfinity Series went to Kentucky Speedway for a doubleheader and Austin Cindric left the track with two wins and a spot in the playoffs.

Cindric, who claimed the first oval track NASCAR wins of his career, is now third on the playoff grid among the six drivers locked into the postseason. He has 15 playoff points.

Noah Gragson, who is second on the grid, won three of four stages in Kentucky and has 18 playoff points.

Six spots remain to be filled on the playoff grid. The last two drivers currently in the top 12 are Ryan Sieg (+57 points above cutline) and Brandon Brown (+14).

The first four drivers outside the top 12 are Myatt Snider (-14 points from cutline), Jeremy Clements (-30), Alex Labbe (-42) and Jesse Little (-47).

Cup playoff grid after Kentucky Speedway

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Cole Custer delivered the first curveball to the NASCAR Cup Series’ playoff chase Sunday when he won at Kentucky Speedway.

Custer entered the race 25th in the points, nine spots back from the cutoff line for 16-driver field.

Now, Custer is one of nine drivers locked into the playoffs, meaning the cutoff for the postseason is 15th in points.

Among those currently in the playoff grid who are not locked in, the last two are William Byron (+30 points) and Jimmie Johnson (+24).

The first four drivers sitting outside a playoff spot are Austin Dillon (-24 points from cutoff), Tyler Reddick (-41), Erik Jones (-42) and Bubba Wallace (-84).