Stewart's car engulfed in confetti at Daytona International Speedway - NASCAR photoEnlarge Photo
Tony Stewart won a typically crazy Coke Zero 400 on the Daytona International Speedway high banks on Saturday night, as lap leader (and 2012 Daytona 500 winner) Matt Kenseth could only sit and watch from a third-place vantage point while fellow Chevy driver Jeff Burton pushed Stewart to the front of the pack.
Stewart came from 42nd on the grid after earning second in qualifying and having his time and speed disallowed by NASCAR, which found an open cooling hose in the cockpit, a rules violation.
The cap on the cooling hose fell off during his qualifying run.
Weaving his way to the front, the three-time and reigning Sprint Cup champion took his third 2012 victory and his 18th at Daytona (including non-points-paying races).
Behind this trio all hell broke loose on the final lap as Kenseth's Roush Fenway Racing Ford teammate Greg Biffle was unable to continue pushing Kenseth--like he did in February--got loose and started a reaction that collected cars that could only limp to the checkered flags. Included among them were Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Bobby Labonte, David Ragan, Cint Bowyer… actually too many to count. In all, 14 drivers failed to finish the 160-lap race.
This was a strange night from the get-go. Less than three hours before race time, NASCAR vice president Steve O'Donnell came to the media center and announced that Penske Racing driver AJ Allmendinger was temporarily suspended from competition after failing a random drug test at Kentucky last week.
NASCAR's statement said Dinger had "a positive 'A' test from the Medical Review Officer. As stated in Section 19-11B (6,7) of the NASCAR Substance Abuse Policy. Pursuant to the rule book, Allmendinger has the opportunity to request within the next 72 hours that his “B” sample be tested. NASCAR will follow its policies and procedures set forth in the rule book in dealing with this matter."
Sam Hornish rushes to the No. 22 Pennzoil Dodge - NASCAR photoEnlarge Photo
Penske Racing immediately sent for a plane to fetch Sam Hornish Jr from the SpeedTV studios; he brought his seat inserts, suit and helmet and the team set about putting the No. 22 Pennzoil Dodge to Hornish's specifications. As his former IRL team owner John Barnes said, "It seems natural to see Hornish in a yellow Pennzoil car" like the open-wheel one he used to earn his first title.
Hornish had a tire explode during the second half of the race, putting him into survival mode for a 30th place finish--and had he not been able to make it to the track in time for the race--he made it to Daytona's airport next door with less than a half-hour to spare--Kenny Wallace was standing by for the Penske team and also for Richard Childress Racing, in the event DeLana Harvick went into labor with Kevin's and her first child.
Penske Racing's statement said the following: NASCAR has a strict drug testing program that Penske Racing fully supports. Penske Racing will work with NASCAR through this process and its next steps." Team president Tim Cindric was in Toronto for the IZOD IndyCar Series race; team owner Roger Penske was returning from a European vacation.
The balance of the top 10 were Joey Logano, Ryan Newman (giving Stewart Haas Racing two cars in the top five), Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, MIchael Waltrip, Bobby Labonte and David Reutimann.
The drivers' standings has Kenseth still in front, with Dale Earnhardt Jr, Biffle, Jimmie Johnson (who crashed big in mid-race), Stewart and expectant father Harvick sixth. Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr, Keselowski and Bowyer complete the top 10. The NASCAR troops are off to New Hampshire Motor Speedway next weekend for their first visit to the track this year.