Big Names Wind Up In Wall At Daytona

Sunday, February 18th 2007, 6:25 pm
By: News On 6

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Favorite Tony Stewart crashed out of the Daytona 500.

Ditto defending champion Jimmie Johnson. And Dale Earnhardt Jr.

What was a tame event Sunday at Daytona International Speedway turned into a crashfest after Stewart and Kurt Busch, running 1-2 on lap 153, banged together, hit the wall and lost their shot at winning the stock car Super Bowl.

"It mishandled in the corner and took off on me," said Stewart, whose No. 20 Chevrolet appeared to run across the bottom of the banking seconds before the accident.

It was just the latest disappointment for Stewart at Daytona, where he has 11 victories in other races but is 0-9 in NASCAR's biggest event.

And the crash came just three laps after Stewart completed a tremendous comeback, charging from the rear of the field with the help of friend Earnhardt to regain the lead.

Stewart was leading on lap 79 when he ran over debris from Kyle Petty's blown tire, damaging the front end of his car. On the ensuing pit stop, he ran into more trouble, first killing his motor as he pulled into his pit behind Robby Gordon and then being trapped momentarily in the pit when David Gilliland ran into and turned Gordon around.

The two-time series champion then compounded the problem by getting caught speeding driving out of the pits.

"I tried to get ahead of Robby coming in, you know, at the tail of the field," Stewart said. "I tried to get ahead of him. Then him and the 38 got together. Then I wasn't paying attention to the pit lane speed. It was my fault and I got us behind."

Meanwhile, Earnhardt was having handling problems and slipping toward the back of the field, too.

The two found each other and began to draft toward the front -- in a hurry. But Stewart was impatient.

"I thought it would be quicker than it was to the front," he said. "But it took longer than I anticipated. The cars are just so tight back there. It's so hard to drive back there in the bad air. But I never got worked up."

Busch, also looking for his first 500 win, took the blame.

"I bumped in the 20 car and we were both taken out of the Daytona 500 off my mistake," he said. We were poised for a good run at the end and we got bottomed up. I made the first mistake and I apologized to the 20 car. I know it doesn't help any."

Johnson, who won here last year despite racing without crew chief Chad Knaus, who was ejected from Daytona for cheating, was never a factor Sunday.

He was well behind the leaders, in the midst of a huge pack of cars racing two- and three-wide on lap 174 when his No. 48 Chevrolet appeared to slid, igniting a multicar crash that also involved Tony Raines, David Reutimann, Jeff Green and Denny Hamlin.

"I got loose in the center (of the turn), thought I had it saved and, unfortunately, wound up in the fence," Johnson said.

Earnhardt's No. 8 Chevy was never really good Sunday, but he hung in nearly to the finish before being taken out in yet another multicar crash just four laps from the scheduled finish.

"I was coming off (turn) two and saw sparks on the wall," Junior said. "I was behind the 88 (Ricky Rudd) and couldn't see anything. It just took us out."