Commentary

Stewart takes Nationwide race

NASCAR blog from Daytona

Updated: February 14, 2009, 4:25 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.

All times are ET

3:56 p.m.

A bad start to the day ended well for Tony Stewart.

Stewart had to fight off quite a challenge from former teammate Kyle Busch on the last lap, but held on to win the Nationwide Series Camping World 300 on Saturday.

Busch was running second and pushed Stewart down the backstretch and into Turn 3, causing Stewart's No. 80 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy to get a little loose and slide up the track.

Busch tried to slide underneath for the lead, but Stewart kept his foot on the throttle and moved back down the track, pinching Busch against the yellow line as Stewart stayed in front to the finish line.

***

Brian Vickers went to the front with 25 laps to go, becoming the 10th driver to lead the race. Carl Edwards became the 11th leader with 15 laps to go.

Brad Keselowski was running second and trying to get by Edwards when he blew a tire and hit the outside wall hard with 12 laps to go.

Keselowski kept control of the No. 88 Chevy. The caution flag came out and Keselowski headed to the pits to change tires.

***

More bad news today for General Motors, which will get the attention of all the GM teams in the NASCAR garage.

The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that GM is considering Chapter 11 bankruptcy as one option as a Tuesday deadline approaches to present a viability plan to the U.S. government. The company may need more government money to stay afloat in the coming months.

3:18 p.m.

Jason Leffler was shocked when he learned about his five-lap penalty for aggressive driving.

"I was trying to let [Steve Wallace] back in line," Leffler said on his radio. "You are kidding me. We weren't even racing hardly."

Wallace wasn't so sure.

"I guess [Leffler] couldn't see over the steering wheel," Wallace said, perhaps taking a dig at Leffler's short stature. "It's just a shame. We had a good car. I've never had a problem with Jason. I don't know what happened. I was just riding and had my tires straight and got hooked. What goes around comes around."

***

Mike Bliss and David Ragan hit each other past the tri-oval while racing side-by-side on Lap 90. Both cars slid down the end of pit road, bringing out the fifth caution.

2:56 p.m.

On Lap 35, 10 of the top 11 are Cup drivers. Brad Keselowski was seventh, the only driver in the top 11 who isn't a full-time Cup competitor.

The race had eight lead changes among five drivers in the first 43 laps of the 120-lap event.

Busch wasn't kidding earlier. He leads the race on Lap 53. But Keselowski leads after 70 laps, making seven different leaders and 12 lead changes.

***

Big crash on Lap 72. Jason Leffler got into the left-rear quarter panel of Steve Wallace's car, causing Wallace to slide sideways on the backstretch.

Scott Lagasse Jr. and Justin Allgaier had nowhere to go and slammed into Wallace.

Wallace was furious at Leffler, swinging his arms at Leffler's car as it went back by under caution.

NASCAR levied a five-lap penalty on Leffler for aggressive driving.

2:08 p.m.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. refused to be interviewed before the start of the Camping World 300 because he said he was feeling under the weather. Earnhardt has been fighting the flu for a week.

Earnhardt is one of 14 full-time Cup drivers who are competing today in the Nationwide race.

***

Kyle Busch, running sixth after 12 laps, had this to say on his radio: "Everybody just get out of the way. I'm coming."

Brendan Gaughan, competing for Rookie of the Year this season in the Nationwide series, moved up 21 spots in the first 15 laps.

Michael Annett is headed to the pits on Lap 17 with a right-rear tire going down. It caused him to go a lap down.

The first caution comes on Lap 27 because of debris on the track.

***

Earnhardt and Kenseth had to drive off into the grass while exiting the pits because Brad Keselowski pulled out too far coming out of his pit box.

Earnhardt is Keselowski's boss. Earnhardt swerved back toward Keselowski after the incident, clearly not happy with his driver.

"Just part of Daytona," Keselowski said about the pit incident. "The closure rate is so fast here and I just pulled out in front of Dale. I didn't mean to do that."

1 p.m.

Stu Grant, general manager of Worldwide Racing for Goodyear, said Ryan Newman's blowout Saturday was caused by a puncture from debris, not a tire wear problem.

"We have looked at the remains of the tire," Grant said. "We know it had 12 laps [of use in the practice session]. The tire had no evidence of high wear, no evidence of any kind of blistering or any kind of abuse. The evidence indicates a classic case of a clear puncture on the right rear."

Tony Stewart was critical of Goodyear after the accident. Stewart's car was right behind Newman when the tire blew, causing both cars to crash and force Stewart-Haas Racing to go to backup cars.

"Tony is a passionate race car driver and extremely frustrated right now with the condition of his race cars," Grant said. "It's unfortunate circumstances, but his frustrations are why we're hearing those comments."

Grant said he planned to speak to Stewart later today.

Newman had a tire problem Thursday, as did a few other drivers, when the tread came off the tire. That batch of 12 tires was pulled out by Goodyear.

"There is no similarity whatsoever," Grant said. "The tires on Thursday had severe wear issues and were worn down to belts. The tread was intact on the tire that failed today, but had a clear puncture."

Grant said he's happy with the way the majority of tires have held up this week at Daytona.

"I honestly feel really good about our tire performance," he said. "We've had good wearing, and the tire has allowed teams to adjust the car to improve handling."

Tony Stewart and MediaCourtesy Gregg Ellman/Harold HinsonTony Stewart did one of the things he enjoys most ... taking on Goodyear.

12:14 p.m.

Joey Logano scraped the wall in Happy Hour. His crew was closely examining the No. 20 Toyota to see if it had any frame damage.

The car had significant dents in the right-rear quarter panel, but the team can repair body damage and keep Logano in the primary car. Logano was eighth in the final practice.

***

Pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr. wasn't happy when Happy Hour ended. He was 19th on the speed chart in the No. 1 Chevy.

"The track's real slick and everybody's just hanging on," Truex said. "That's the worst we've been all week. We're going back to square one. We're still trying to make the car go over the bumps decent, but it's tough.

***

Mike Arning, PR director for Stewart-Haas Racing, clarified the backup-car situations for the two SHR drivers.

Stewart is using his Bud Shootout car, but Newman is going to a car that was a communal backup for both drivers. It's painted in Stewart's Office Depot colors, but will be wrapped in the Army black and gold for Newman on Sunday.

***

Reed Sorenson's early fast lap (191.575 mph) held up for the top spot in Happy Hour. Matt Kenseth was second on the speed chart at 191.042 mph in the No. 17 Ford. Dodge had two cars in the top three. Kurt Busch was third at 190.815 mph in the No. 2 Dodge.

***

Mike Harris, one of the true legends among motorsports journalists, is retiring from the Associated Press on July 1. Harris started covering racing for AP in 1980. Sunday will be his 30th Daytona 500.

NASCAR vice president Jim Hunter acknowledged Harris in the media center Saturday and NASCAR officials brought in a cake to mark the occasion. Harris, one of the most respected writers in sports, received a heartfelt round of applause from reporters in the room.

11:17 a.m.

Well, it didn't take long for Tony Stewart to show that famous temper as a team owner.

Stewart took his frustrations out on Goodyear after teammate Ryan Newman blew a right-rear tire in Happy Hour. Stewart was running right behind Newman, causing both cars to wreck.

"Just a Goodyear right-rear tire, the same thing we've been talking about all week," Stewart said. "The same thing we talked about all last year. I guess it's part of their marketing campaign -- the more we talk about it the more press they get. But they forget it's supposed to be in a good way, not a bad way."

Stewart will switch to his Bud Shootout car, forcing him to give up his third-row starting spot. Stewart believed he had a winning ride with his primary car, but he isn't so sure about the Bud Shootout car.

"The only time we've had in it is in the cold and in the dark," Stewart said.

Stewart finished third in the Shootout. He finished second in his qualifying race Thursday in the primary car.

10:52 a.m.

Happy Hour was an unhappy moment for Stewart-Haas Racing. Ryan Newman blew a right-rear tire in front of Tony Stewart, causing both cars to wreck in the final practice session.

[+] EnlargeTony Stewart and Ryan Newman
Courtesy Gregg Ellman/Harold HinsonTony Stewart, left, and Ryan Newman look over the damage after their Happy Hour crash.

"The tire just exploded in the middle in Turns 1 and 2," Newman said. "It gave me about 100 yards of warning with a very slight vibration. I was going to come in, but had no time."

It means Newman will go to the backup of his backup car. He also wrecked in the qualifying race Thursday when he was bumped from behind by David Reutimann.

"Our [third] car is our California car, so it's not a defined speedway car," Newman said. "But fortunately there isn't much difference in the cars these days. It's a bad situation and we don't want to be in it, but we'll do what we can."

Stewart is hoping his damage won't force him to go to a backup car. If so, he would give up his third-row starting spot and move to the back.

The famous 43 was No. 1 on the speed chart halfway through Happy Hour. Reed Sorenson posted the fastest lap in the final practice, at 191.575 mph.

Truthfully, that doesn't mean a whole lot in a draft of cars at Daytona, but it's still nice to see for the newly branded entry of Richard Petty Motorsports.

Kevin Harvick has switched to his Bud Shootout car, which means he will start the Daytona 500 at the back of the field.

However, he started in the back for the Shootout and won the race in the 28-car field. More importantly, he started 34th when he won the 2007 Daytona 500 by inches over Mark Martin.

Funny comment from Bob Osborne, crew chief for Carl Edwards. Osborne noticed Edwards was running behind Elliott Sadler's No. 19 Dodge in a pack of cars early in Happy Hour.

"Get around that 19," Osborne said. "He's slower than a goat."

10:30 a.m.

Happy Valentine's Day to everyone.

Thought I would start with something nice since I hate to be the bearer of possibly bad news right off the top today to start the blog. But the weather situation is looking a little iffy for the Daytona 500 tomorrow.

There's a 50 percent chance of rain Sunday with thundershowers predicted for late afternoon. The race starts at 3:30 p.m. ET. Let's hope for the best.

Showers are also possible today for the Camping World 300 Nationwide event, which starts at 1:15 p.m. ET.

But first up today is Happy Hour, the final practice for the Cup guys before tomorrow's race.

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Terry can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter