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February 25, 2013

Early wreck in Daytona 500 takes out favorites

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Tony Stewart grabbed his tools and banged away on the No. 14 for do-it-yourself repairs.

With one big wreck, the sentimental favorite to win the Daytona 500 turned into a handyman.

He had some star-power company in the garage Sunday.

Kevin Harvick, the driver to beat in Speedweeks, had his bid at a second Daytona 500 win end in the same crash, and Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards also ran into trouble.

Harvick and Stewart were collected in an early crash that knocked out several top contenders, shaking up NASCAR’s opener, and paving the way for underfunded rides driven by Regan Smith and Michael McDowell to finish in the top 10.

Harvick, Busch and Stewart all won secondary Daytona races during Speedweeks. Just not the Daytona 500.

“If I didn’t tell you I was heartbroken and disappointed, I’d be lying to you,” Stewart said.

Stewart made it 0 for 15 in the Daytona 500 after another failed effort in a strong car. In 17 seasons spanning NASCAR and IndyCar, Stewart has been able to cross most everything off his to-do list. He still has a big checkered flag to chase at Daytona.

Stewart eventually returned to the track — only 82 laps back. Safe to say, he was a bit of a long shot. He finished 41st and Harvick 42nd.

It also ended Harvick’s attempt to become the first in NASCAR history to win the exhibition Sprint Unlimited, a twin qualifying race and the Daytona 500 in the same Speedweeks.

“It was just one of those deals,” Harvick said.

Harvick stripped his firesuit down to his waist and rode off in a golf cart, a more solemn ride than his two trips to Victory Lane this week. Harvick had dominated in Speedweeks as the prelude to his final season driving a Richard Childress Chevrolet. He won last weekend’s Sprint Unlimited and one of the Duel races, each time plopping infant son Keelan into the cockpit for a quick rub of good luck.

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