Tony Stewart Like a Duck to Water

There may be no place on Earth where Tony Stewart is more comfortable than behind the wheel of a racecar. Racing is the thing he’s been doing quite well since he was seven years old. And though Stewart cut his teeth on the open-wheel tracks which hosted sprint cars and midgets, it’s the massive tracks dotting the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series calendar that have helped make Stewart a household name that transcends motorsports.

A 48-time race winner in NASCAR’s premiere division, Stewart has won at every type of track the Sprint Cup Series visits. And it’s on some of motorsports’ most renowned stages where Stewart’s star has shown brightest, perhaps no more so than Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, site of Sunday night’s Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola.

Stewart has 19 total victories at Daytona, second only to NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt, who has 34 total victories at Daytona. Four of Stewart’s wins at Daytona have been in the Sprint Cup Series, and all have been in the Coke Zero 400.

Stewart leads all active drivers in Coke Zero 400 victories. Jeff Gordon is next best with three while another NASCAR Hall of Famer, David Pearson, owns the most Coke Zero 400 wins with five.

Stewart is second in laps led at Daytona with 668, trailing only Gordon, who has led 710 total laps. Stewart, however, leads all active drivers in laps led in the Coke Zero 400 (369).

While success at Daytona eventually became the norm for Stewart, superspeedway racing was outside the norm for the Columbus, Indiana, native when he came to the Sprint Cup Series as a rookie in 1999. But like a duck takes to water, Stewart took to negotiating the close-quarter racing and the art of the draft that is racing at Daytona.

It’s fitting that as Stewart returns to Daytona for his 34th Sprint Cup start at the sweeping, 2.5-mile oval that he has Ducks Unlimited on the quarterpanels of his signature No. 14 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing.

As it has since 2013, Ducks Unlimited, the world’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to conserving North America’s continually disappearing waterfowl habitats, will share the orange-and-black No. 14 Chevy with Bass Pro Shops during the Coke Zero 400. Since 1937, Ducks Unlimited has conserved more than 13 million acres thanks to contributions from more than a million supporters across North America.

Winning at Daytona is a real feather in Stewart’s cap. He is the only active Sprint Cup driver to win back-to-back Coke Zero 400 wins, and augmenting his four wins are seven top-threes, nine top-fives and 14 top-10s in 33 starts at Daytona.

In his most recent Sprint Cup victory at Daytona, Stewart led 22 laps en route to the checkered flag in the 2012 Coke Zero 400. It was a race in which Stewart exercised textbook patience. He waited to make his case for the win well past the race’s halfway mark, taking the lead on lap 131 and leading 21 circuits before relinquishing the top spot to the duo of Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle on lap 152. A massive crash set up a two-lap dash to the finish and Stewart regained the lead on the final lap with an impressive drive around Biffle and Kenseth off turn two and down the backstretch when another multicar wreck brought out the caution, securing Stewart’s victory.

As Stewart comes back to Daytona three years removed from his last win there, he would like nothing more than to duck back into victory lane in his Bass Pro Shops/Ducks Unlimited Chevy when the checkered flag drops after the 57th running of the Coke Zero 400.


Speedway Digest Staff

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