Tony Stewart (4), with a shove from Landon Cassill (1), nips Clint Bowyer (33) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the finish of the NASCAR Nationwide Series Drive4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway.
By Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - You couldn't blame Clint Bowyer if he's getting tired of being beaten - barely - by his teammates.
With a shove from Landon Cassill, Tony Stewart surged past Bowyer, his teammate for a day at Kevin Harvick Inc., to win Saturday's Drive4COPD 300, Stewart's fourth straight victory in the season-opening NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway.
Bowyer, who lost Thursday's second Daytona 500 qualifying race by .005 seconds to Richard Childress Racing teammate Jeff Burton, came home second, .007 seconds behind Stewart.
Cassill ran third, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had pushed Bowyer for six laps after a restart on Lap 115 of the 120-lap race.
Turner Motorsports teammates Reed Sorenson and Jason Leffler were fifth and sixth, respectively. Danica Patrick finished 14th, one lap down, her best result in 14 Nationwide starts.
Stewart, who earned his 10th victory in 91 Nationwide starts, had to overcome a cut tire, which forced him to restart 11th-the last driver on the lead lap-when the field came to the green flag on Lap 115. Fortunately for Stewart, he hooked up with Cassill, who pushed him to the front.
"We restarted 11th, and it really wasn't a huge drama," Stewart said. "They reminded me that we went from 14th to third in two laps (earlier in the race), so we knew we had a good enough car to do it. It was just a matter of what the scenario was going to be.
"The Gibbs teammates (Kyle Busch and Joey Logano) were separated (for the restart). Clint and Dale Jr. were separated there. So everybody had to find their partners again, and that gave us a chance to get with Landon Cassill and get a big run at the front."
Bowyer was philosophical about the close finish.
"(Junior) shoved me all the way to the last lap," Bowyer said. "Coming off (Turn) 4, we had a good run, and I tried to block the No. 4's momentum (Stewart), and about that time Junior ducked under me, so I had to block him, and all hell broke loose.
"That's the thing about this place. No matter what the race is, the ending's always great."
Cassill also was involved in another pivotal moment of the race.
With the field bunched after a restart on Lap 104, Cassill moved down on drafting partner Brad Keselowski, knocking Keselowski's No. 22 Dodge into the infield grass. Keselowski, the defending Nationwide Series champion, turned back across the track and sandwiched the No. 39 Ford of Josh Wise against the outside wall in the tri-oval, then bounced off the wall himself.
The crash ended Keselowski's streak of 102 straight races without a DNF (did not finish).
The race produced restrictor-plate racing like no one had ever seen before. By Lap 55, a paired-up four-car breakaway involving the tandems of Keselowski-Trevor Bayne and Busch-Logano had opened a 17-second lead over Stewart and Bowyer, who were running fifth and sixth at the time.
By the time NASCAR called a debris caution on Lap 100, there were only 12 cars on the lead lap-unheard of in modern-day restrictor-plate racing, which typically features large packs of cars racing in close quarters within a few seconds of each other.
Note: Pit road at Daytona has been a veritable briar patch for Earnhardt, and Saturday was no exception. Stopping under caution on Lap 17, Earnhardt drove past his No. 5 pit stall and headed for the No. 88, his Sprint Cup number. The crew remedied that by holding out a No. 88 pit sign for Earnhardt on the next stop, meaning that both Earnhardt and JR Motorsports teammate Aric Almirola had No. 88 signs.