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Daytona Beach, FL (Sports Network) - Tony Stewart won the Nationwide Series season-opener at Daytona International Speedway for the fourth consecutive year after beating Clint Bowyer by the slimmest of margins in Saturday's DRIVE4COPD 300.
Stewart nipped Bowyer, the pole sitter, by only 0.007 seconds in a race that featured a track record-tying 35 lead changes.
During a caution period with less than 15 laps remaining, Stewart cut his right rear tire and had to pit unexpectedly. He ran in the 11th spot for the final restart with six laps to go.
Stewart hooked up with Landon Cassill in the closing laps to advance through the field. Bowyer held the lead on the final lap, with pushing help from Dale Earnhardt Jr. Stewart and Cassill were riding on the outside lane, while Bowyer and Earnhardt Jr. held the inside lane.
Cassill pushed Stewart well enough for him to cross the finish line by about one foot ahead of Bowyer for his sixth Nationwide race win at Daytona.
"Landon pushed and pushed, and he did a really good job," Stewart said. "We got that momentum built. We never had to check up, and we were never 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. We just ran them down and got there in just enough time."
Stewart moved into a tie with Earnhardt Jr. for the second most Nationwide wins at Daytona. Dale Earnhardt won his record seventh Nationwide race at this track on this date 17 years ago.
"That's a pretty cool feeling to know we've closed in on something that [Earnhardt's] done here," Stewart said. "This was his playground. You just watched him play with guys here. He was the best at this place. To even be remotely close to him in the record books, in anything here, is very humbling."
Stewart and Bowyer gave Kevin Harvick Inc. a 1-2 finish.
"Awesome ending," Bowyer said. "That's what is so much fun about this place. No matter what the race is, the ending is always great."
Cassill finished third, while Earnhardt Jr. took the fourth spot. Reed Sorenson completed the top-five.
"Towards the end there, Tony got lined up behind me on that restart with four or five to go," Cassill said. "He just pushed me through and told me what to do. I just followed directions."
During his first pit stop, Earnhardt Jr. overshot his pit stall and had to make his stop on the following lap. Earnhardt Jr. got confused when he thought his pit area was in the No.88 team's area. His Sprint Cup Series ride is in Hendrick Motorsports' No.88 car, but he drove his own (JR Motorsports) No.5 car in the Nationwide race.
Jason Leffler, Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Michael Waltrip, who the Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona on Friday, and Trevor Bayne finished sixth through 10th, respectively.
Danica Patrick began her sophomore season in NASCAR's second-tier series by finishing a career-best 14th. Patrick led her first-ever lap in Nationwide a quarter of the way through the 300-mile race. She got drafting help from Stewart when she took the lead away from Busch.
The race featured two multi-car crashes. Michael Annett triggered a six-car incident on lap 24. Annett got tapped from behind in the tight pack and spun into the turn one wall. Elliott Sadler, running a full-time schedule for KHI in Nationwide this year, was among those caught up in the wreck.
Brad Keselowski, last year's series champion, was involved in a five-car crash along the frontstretch on lap 105. Keselowski got bumped by Cassill and then slid onto the infield grass before he shot up the track and slammed hard into Josh Wise. NASCAR halted the race for about five minutes during the fifth and final caution for extensive track cleanup.
02/19 17:53:35 ET
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