NASCAR Daytona Preview: Tony Stewart Can Make Daytona Dash For Chase Berth

(NASCAR Wire Service)

Staff Report ~ NASCAR Wire Service

Tony Stewart (Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Tony Stewart (Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Throughout his 17-year NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career, Tony Stewart has averaged 17.5 top-10 finishes per season.

This year, he only claims one – a sixth-place showing in April at Bristol.

And there are only 20 races left.

Stewart’s struggles have put him in an unescapable hole in the driver point standings. The three-time NSCS champion ranks 26th in the standings, 130 points behind Aric Almirola for the final spot on the current Chase Grid.

Luckily for Stewart, under the new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format, a win in the next 10 races is all he needs to secure a berth in NASCAR’s playoffs.

One visit to Victory Lane can turn his season around.

That visit could occur in Sunday’s Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway (Pre-Race: 7 p.m. ET on NBC | Race: 7:45 p.m. ET on NBC) – a track Stewart has dominated in the month of July.

Stewart boasts 19 wins at DIS across NASCAR’s national series, more than any driver not named Dale Earnhardt. Of those 19 triumphs, four have come in a NSCS points race – all in the Coke Zero 400.

“Everybody has got a shot at Daytona,” Stewart said. “We’ve been in that position before and have actually been able to take advantage quite a few times. The biggest thing is it gives you confidence that you’ve got a shot.”

The last time Stewart took advantage of his position at Daytona was July 7, 2012. He led 22 laps just past the midway point before giving up the point to Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle. The No. 14 Chevrolet driver waited patiently all the way until a two-lap restart at the end of the race when he passed Kenseth and Biffle on the final go-around to win under caution.

“The biggest challenge was Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle because when they hooked up, I didn’t think there was anybody that could beat them,” Stewart said. “But we were able to stay in touch with them, and I got a great restart with Kasey Kahne helping me.

“They were coming on the outside in (turns) three and four and the last wreck happened, and we were just fortunate enough to be leading still.”

Stewart’s only win since his 2012 Daytona checkered came at Dover in 2013 (57 starts and 75 races ago). He will try to turn his performance around at the track where he has led the most July laps (369) among active drivers and where he’s the only active driver to win two consecutive July races (2005-06).

While Stewart has exceled in his career at restrictor-plate racing – particularly at Daytona – he finds it frustrating.

“I’m glad we’re halfway decent at it, but it’s still always frustrating when you have to rely on what everybody else does,” Stewart said. “It’s not what you do. It’s what you do along with somebody else who decides that they’re going to follow you and help you. That’s the part that frustrates you as a driver.

“The great thing about restrictor-plate racing though is that 43 cars all have the same shot at winning the race, but again, that’s also part of what makes it frustrating, too. It’s just being at the right place at the right time.”

Roush Fenway Racing duo readies to replicate Daytona February finish

February in Daytona was a total team effort for Roush Fenway Racing.

RFR drivers Ryan Reed, 21, and Chris Buescher, 22, showed experience beyond their years in the season-opening Alert Today Florida 300 at Daytona International Speedway, finishing 1-2 on a track that often proves challenging to young drivers.

On the final lap of the race, Reed and Buescher were running third and fourth, respectively. Drafting together, Buescher pushed Reed past the leader, 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski. Buescher tried to maneuver around Reed on the backstretch, but failed to do so, finishing .089 seconds behind his teammate as the runner-up.

“Four years ago, I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, was told I would never drive a racecar again, and now I’m standing in Victory Lane at Daytona with Roush Fenway,” said Reed, after crossing the finish line. “Oh my god, we won Daytona!”

Following the race, Buescher discussed the importance of their finish to RFR and his excitement for Reed.

“For our organization this is huge,” he said. “I am so proud to get Ryan his first win first off. That is a huge accomplishment and to do it here, I am extremely happy for him.”

Reed and Buescher will attempt to bring another Daytona trophy back to the RFR shop after Saturday’s Subway Firecracker 250 (7:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network).

Buescher enters the race on a roll. The Texan has built a hefty 29-point lead over Ty Dillon in the NASCAR XFINITY Series standings by logging eight top-10 finishes in the last 10 starts. He has also notched two wins – at Iowa and Dover – in his last five races.

“We have a good superspeedway program at Roush Fenway,” Buescher said. “I just need to try to position myself in a good spot at the end of the race to get a win.”

Reed has struggled since his Daytona victory, failing to finish in the top 10 since then. However, he has proven he can navigate the 2.5-mile track with a fourth-place finish there last summer, as well as an 18th-place showing after starting 39th in the 2014 opener.

“I will always be excited to head back to Daytona after getting my first win there in February,” Reed said. “Our cars are traditionally fast at restrictor plate tracks so hopefully we will be racing with our teammates for the win again come Saturday night. It would be so amazing to sweep the season at Daytona and that’s just what we intend to do.”

NASCAR Race Weekend Guide

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Race: Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola
Track: Daytona International Speedway
Date and Time: Sunday, July 5 at 7:45 p.m. (ET)
Tune-In: NBC, 7 p.m. (ET), MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 400 miles (160 laps)
What to Watch For: The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will air on NBC for the first time in 2015 as part of a 10-year broadcast deal. … Joey Logano looks to become the sixth driver to sweep Daytona. … Jeff Gordon, the active Daytona wins leader (6), makes his final start at the 2.5-mile track. … Kyle Busch returns to Daytona for the first time since breaking his leg and foot there a mere four months ago. Busch is coming off his first win of the season, at Sonoma. … Eight winless drivers who have previously taken the checkered flag at Daytona can lock themselves into the Chase with a victory on Sunday. … Aric Almirola attempts to defend his title as last year’s July winner at “The World Center of Racing.”

Race: Subway Firecracker 250
Track: Daytona International Speedway
Date and Time: Saturday, July 4, 7:30 p.m. (ET)
Tune-In: NBC Sports Network, 6:30 p.m. (ET), MRN, SiriusXM Ch. 90
Distance: 250 miles (100 laps)
What to Watch For: Nick Harrison joins the Richard Childress Racing No. 3 team as the new crew chief for Ty Dillon, as Dillon attempts to move up from second in the XFINITY Series standings. Dillon’s former crew chief Danny Stockman Jr. will head the No. 33 team and guide Ty’s brother Austin Dillon on Saturday. … Ryan Reed can join NASCAR Hall of Famers Darrell Waltrip (1983-84), Dale Earnhardt (1990-94) and 12-time Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2003 sweep and 2004 season opener) as the fourth XFINITY Series driver to win consecutive races at Daytona. … NASCAR Next alum Erik Jones is back in the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota after piloting it to victory two weeks ago at Chicagoland.

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