Tony Stewart, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Ducks Unlimited Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished 14th in the rain-delayed Coke Zero 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday night at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
Persistent showers dampened the 2.5-mile superspeedway, pushing the race into the night by more than three hours. When the race finally did start at almost midnight, Stewart and Co. took a conservative approach to the annual Fourth of July contest.
To finish first in a restrictor-plate race one must first finish, which meant Stewart would hang at the back of the pack for the majority of the event in an attempt to better avoid the multicar crashes that plague the pack-style racing of Daytona.
From his 31st-place starting spot, Stewart aptly displayed the art of preservation early in the race. Relying on his dexterity and detailed guidance from spotter Bob Jeffrey, Stewart weaved his way through a pair of incidents – one of which took place on lap three – and emerged without a scrape.
The team continued to employ a survival mentality as the race wound down. With about 50 laps to go, Stewart started to flex the muscle of his Bass Pro Shops/Ducks Unlimited Chevy, a glimpse of which was seen on Friday during final practice when it posted the fourth-quickest lap. Stewart cracked the top-10 for the first time on lap 110.
During the race’s seventh caution on lap 129, crew chief Chad Johnston called Stewart to pit road for fuel and fresh tires. While many of the leaders stayed out, gambling they would have enough fuel to go the distance, Stewart and Johnston were assured of making it to the finish even if multiple attempts at a green-white-checkered took place. Perhaps even more valuable were the four new Goodyear tires on the No. 14 machine, allowing Stewart plenty of grip for the race’s final laps. Proving this, Stewart raced from 22nd place and back into the top-10 in a mere 10 laps.
Another adage of restrictor-plate racing is that cautions breed cautions, and two more were displayed before the finale – the last of which came out on lap 156 when driver Sam Hornish Jr. spun on the backstretch, leading to a green-white-checkered finish.
In sixth place with a car that handled better on the outside of the draft, Stewart looked to be in the proverbial catbird seat when green-flag racing resumed with only two laps to go. Rather than being able to leverage his track position, however, Stewart was shuffled back to 14th place, where he was running when the frontrunners started colliding as the field came to the checkered flag.
The incident triggered a dramatic crash that caused Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Chevy to take flight, crashing into the protective fencing and connecting with several cars before coming to rest directly in front of pit road. Stewart suffered a good bit of damage to his own racecar, but was able to finish the race.
“I really thought we were going to have a shot there with our Bass Pro Shops/Ducks Unlimited Chevrolet,” said Stewart, a four-time winner of the Coke Zero 400 (2005, 2006, 2009 and 2012). “I don’t know what happened there at the end, but the No. 3 car literally went over the top of me. That was one of the crazier things I’ve been a part of. I’m glad Austin is OK, and I’m hoping the same for the fans that were injured.”Five fans sustained minor injuries. All were treated and released by medical personnel.