DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. —Matt Kenseth had the most power and Greg Biffle had the most patience Saturday night at the Daytona International Speedway.
But Tony Stewart had the best plan to drive around, through and away from all the craziness that was the Coke Zero 400.
Stewart’s outside pole qualifying run was disqualified on Friday when NASCAR found an illegal air duct under the driver’s seat. Despite starting 42nd, he drove around a lot of cars in the first 200 miles, drove through three big crashes, and then away from a final-turn calamity that involved 18 other cars for his fourth Daytona summer victory in eight years.
“What a weird day,” Stewart said.
Kenseth led a race-best 89 laps. Biffle, who pushed him most of the way, led a second-best 37.
They were in tandem on the final lap when Stewart managed to pry them apart in the second turn. He shot past both as they tried to regain their momentum and was three car lengths ahead when half the cars remaining in the race crashed in the fourth turn.
“I don’t even remember what happened on the last lap,” Stewart said. “I tried to get the 17 (Kenseth) and 16 (Biffle) pulled apart. Once we got them pulled apart we got them.”
With everyone crashing, Jeff Burton wound up second while Kenseth was third.
“I kind of let them down,” Kenseth said. “We had the best car, me and Greg did.”
Kenseth was poised to make a final run at Stewart in the final turn when Biffle was swept into the accident. Without a drafting partner, Kenseth couldn’t do it on his own.
Biffle was 21st.
Stewart, who might face penalties for the duct work, became a contender after he avoided multi-car crashes of six, 11 and 14 cars, and then being ahead of the massive 18-car accident at the finish.
It was so crazy Logano was fourth after being in the middle of two of the crashes. Ryan Newman was fifth after being hit early on pit road; Carl Edwards was sixth after surviving one wreck; Kasey Kahne was seventh after crashing twice and being hit on pit road; and Brad Keselowski was eighth after tearing most of the back-half of his car off in a single-car spin late in the race.
Even before the race started, things were out of sorts. Sam Hornish Jr. got a last-minute call in Charlotte, N.C., to replace A. Allmendinger in Roger Penske’s No. 22 after NASCAR said Allmendinger failed a drug test earlier in the day.
Allmendinger has three days to ask for another test. If refuses or fails a second test, he will be suspended indefinitely from driving until he completes a drug treatment program.
Hornish arrived at the car nine minutes before the green flag waved. His crew was working to get him fitted in the car during the first warm-up lap. He was last when the race started, and he brought out the first caution when he blew a tire on the backstretch and crashed on the 82nd lap.
A crash involving six cars on the 91st lap hurt the chances of Friday night’s Nationwide Series winner Kurt Busch, 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, Bobby Labonte, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola and Juan Pablo Montoya
Other contenders where taken out with another big crash 37 laps short of the scheduled finish. Several of the lead-lap cars were pulling off the track for pit road when Martin Truex Jr. rear-ended Jimmie Johnson’s car, sending it head-first into the inside wall.
Cars driven by Bill Elliott, Joey Logano, Jeff Gordon, Regan Smith, Kasey Kahne and Michael Waltrip also were involved.
Biffle was approaching pit road when the accident started. He stopped for tires and gas, but NASCAR penalized him getting service during a caution. While Biffle clearly was committed to pit road, the caution light was on before Biffle got onto pit road. If he had driven through without a stop, he wouldn’t have been sent to the back of the lead lap cars.
After working with Biffle the entire race, Kenseth made a second pit stop during the caution to be paired up with his teammate for the stretch drive.
It took 27 laps but Kenseth got out front with a push from Biffle, and that put him ahead of a 14-car pileup that started when Hamlin and Biffle touched coming through the tri-oval. That sent Hamlin spinning, and it triggered a chain reaction that didn’t end until cars driven by Trevor Bayne, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Marcos Ambrose, David Gilliland, David Ragan, Dave Blaney, Paul Menard, David Reutimann, Casey Mears, Gordon, Truex and Montoya were crashed.
Kenseth led the green-white-checkered restart with Tony Stewart in second and Biffle in third.
That’s when it got crazy – just the way Stewart likes it.