DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The 51st annual Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola produced a thrilling finish as Tony Stewart captured his third career win in the mid-summer classic at Daytona International Speedway.
With the checkered flag in sight, Stewart, running second, attempted to pass leader Kyle Busch. Busch’s No. 18 and Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet made contact and Busch spun into the outside wall in the tri-oval.
The victory was Stewart’s third in July in the last five years and his 14th overall win at "The World Center of Racing."
Stewart started on the pole after qualifying was rained out and the field was set according to point standings. He stayed near the front of the field all evening with the help of quick pit stops and led a race-high nine times for 86 of the 160 laps.
The Indiana native has now led 345 laps in the summer contest, the most of any active driver and sixth on the all-time list. The win also marked the second time Stewart has won the race from the pole, the most times of any driver.
"We had a strong car for sure," said Stewart, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader. "It was nice to be able to drive away in a line up front and get away from the crowd in the back."
Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top three and Busch, the defending winner of the race, was relegated to a 14th-place finish.
Hamlin, who seemed to have one of the strongest cars from the drop of the green flag, picked up his first top-10 finish in a points race at "The World Center of Racing".
"Yeah, I don’t know how to finish in the top 10 here," said Hamlin who led six times for 63 laps. "I can run up front for 95 percent of the time but can’t finish. I don’t think I’ve ever had a car this strong on a superspeedway. I’m proud of our whole team."
Defending Daytona 500 champion Matt Kenseth kept his No. 17 Ford in the top 10 throughout the night and finished eighth.
This year’s race marked the 25th anniversary of Richard Petty’s 200th win. The milestone event took place July 4, 1984 with President Ronald Reagan in attendance – the first time a sitting President of the United States attended a NASCAR race.
Kyle Petty, former NASCAR driver and Richard’s son, served as Grand Marshal, giving the 43-car field and his dad the command to start their engines. Petty led the field during the parade lap in a replica 200th winning No. 43 car.
Daytona Beach native and NBA star Vince Carter served as Honorary Pace Car driver and Tampa Bay Buccaneer tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. was an Honorary Race Official. Papa John’s founder John Schnatter served as Honorary Starter.
Grammy-nominated rock band "Buckcherry" performed a pre-race concert and the National Anthem was sung by the 82nd Airbourne Chorus out of Fort Bragg, N.C.
Tickets for the 52nd Annual DAYTONA 500 on Sunday, February 14 are available by calling 1-800-PITSHOP or visiting www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com.