Tony Stewart celebrates his third win of 2012 and his fourth in the Coke Zero 400. (Getty)
At this point, it's probably safe to say that Tony Stewart is the king of Daytona in July. However, he'd still trade some of those July races for just one Daytona 500.
The defending Sprint Cup Series champion, second only to Dale Earnhardt in Daytona International Speedway wins, notched his fourth Coke Zero 400 victory Saturday night. Stewart used a nifty last-lap pass to break up to storm past Roush teammates Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle, and held on for the win as the sheetmetal apocalypse happened in the field behind him as he headed towards the checkered flag.
It was Stewart's 18th overall win at Daytona. In addition to four in the Coke Zero 400, he has six in the Nationwide Series, three in the Budweiser Shootout, two in the now-defunct IROC Series and three Gatorade Duel qualifying race victories. But he's winless in 14 tries at the Great American Race.
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"It's hard — the great thing about is that 43 cars all have the same shot at winning the race, but, that's also part of what makes it frustrating too," Stewart said. "We've had really good luck at Daytona, obviously — I wish I could trade a couple of these races in for just one Sunday race in February."
On the final restart with two laps to go, Stewart started on the outside line with Kasey Kahne behind him and Kenseth and Biffle paired up to the inside. As the two pairs battled for the lead entering turn one on the final lap, Stewart and Kahne got separated when Kahne and Jeff Burton made contact.
Without the drafting assistance of Kahne, Stewart pulled as close as he could to the right side of Biffle's car, separating Biffle from the back bumper of Kenseth's car with the side draft. The separation of the Roush cars slowed the two on the inside enough to allow Stewart to propel around them both on the outside and slide in front on the backstretch.
"The biggest challenge was [Kenseth] and [Biffle] obviously, and when they hooked up, I don't think there was anybody that could beat them," Stewart said. "But we were able to stay in touch with them, and I got a great restart with Kasey Kahne helping me on that last restart there. I'm not sure how [Kahne] got shuffled back there in 1 and 2, but we just had to try to separate the 17 and 16 there."
Stewart originally qualified second to Kenseth on Friday, but during his qualifying run, a cap came off a cooling hose in the cockpit of his car, a violation that disallowed the run and forced Stewart to start near the back of the field. After getting separated from the main draft early, Stewart methodically worked his way up to the front after catching back up to the field thanks to a caution flag. And he was pretty lucky too, narrowly missing the race's first big crash when Denny Hamlin spun right behind his rear bumper.
The win was Stewart's third of the 2012 season, and vaulted him up to fifth in the points standings, making him a virtual l[ock for the Chase, either via the top 10 in points or the wild card.
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