Teammates Stewart, Hamlin Wreck Early At Daytona

Saturday, July 7th 2007, 9:57 pm
By: News On 6

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin hardly acted like teammates Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.

First, they wrecked each other. Then, they blamed each other. Now, they have to deal with the fallout.

Stewart, the two-time defending Pepsi 400 champion, ran into the back of Hamlin on lap 14 and ended up knocking both cars out of contention at NASCAR's most revered track.

Hamlin was leading the race and Stewart was right behind on a slippery track. Hamlin wiggled slightly coming out of turn four, then got nudged by Stewart.

Hamlin thought he saved his Chevrolet from hitting the wall, but then Stewart tapped him again. Hamlin slid into the wall and collected Stewart with him.

``All of a sudden he just stops on the exit of turn four in front of 42 cars and he can't expect all of us to drive around him,'' Stewart said. ``He just wrecked two really good race cars. He tried to wreck us in practice on Friday and didn't get it done. At least he finished it off today.

``He's a young guy and he wants to be successful, but I don't know if he knows what the definition of team is right now.''

Hamlin countered by saying Stewart caused the collision. But he later took the high road and accepted responsibility for the crash _ an unusual move considering how rare it is for the race leader to start an accident.

``It's tough to put blame on anyone,'' Hamlin said. ``I know I definitely got hit coming off the corner. But the circumstances that led up to that, I'm not sure. ... If he wants to blame it on me, I'll be the bigger man and take responsibility for it. He's been around this sport longer than I have and he probably knows more than I do.''

Team owner Joe Gibbs tried to diffuse the situation between his drivers, saying they were battling for the lead and then got caught up in the emotion of getting knocked out early.

``It's just one of those unfortunate things,'' Gibbs said. ``Both guys are going as hard as they can and I think both these guys are real competitive. I think they are good teammates and I think it is just something that happened.

``I am sure Denny feels bad it got away from him there. I am not sure what happened, but I think it's a shame because we had two good cars. ... Sometimes guys get upset, which is understandable.''

It looked like the wreck might be contained to the teammates, but then Reed Sorenson slammed into Bobby Labonte farther back in the pack and ended up wrecking fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr., too.