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Keeping Pace

Stewart Struts Nationwide Stuff

NASCAR Nationwide Series victory is Stewart’s 15th win in a stock car at Daytona, moving him into a tie with Cale Yarborough for third all-time. He trails only Dale Earnhardt (34 wins) and Bobby Allison (16) for most at Daytona.

Jenna Fryer

Associated Press

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Kevin Harvick knew his race cars were good enough to get either him or Tony Stewart into Victory Lane.

Once Dale Earnhardt Jr. was out of contention, their path was wide open.

Stewart held off Carl Edwards, Harvick and Justin Allgaier to win the Nationwide Series opener at Daytona International Speedway for the fifth time in six years. Kevin Harvick Inc. owned the car he drove to victory Saturday, as well as in 2005 and 2006.

“They have always given us great race car, every time,” Stewart said.

It was Stewart’s 15th win in a stock car at Daytona, moving him into a tie with Cale Yarborough for third all-time. He trails only Dale Earnhardt (34 wins) and Bobby Allison (16) for most at Daytona.

“I would trade a couple of them just for a win in a Sunday race here,” said Stewart, who is 0 for 11 in the Daytona 500. He’ll start sixth in today’s main event.

Stewart and Harvick clearly had the best cars from the moment they hit the track this week, making Harvick convinced he’d get a KHI win as either a driver or owner by the end of the race.

“Tony and I talked right before the race, and I said I didn’t think they could beat both cars, as good as they were in practice,” Harvick said. “Best car I’ve ever had here, and I think we worked a long time, a lot of hours in our speedway program, and it all paid off today.”

But the effort was overshadowed by Danica Patrick’s NASCAR debut and Earnhardt’s spectacular crash.

Patrick announced Monday she would run the Nationwide race, basing her decision on a successful stock-car debut three days earlier in the ARCA event. So all eyes were on her from the first practice all the way through her involvement in a race-ending, 12-car accident just past the halfway mark. She was running in the middle of the pack when several cars wrecked in front of her, and Patrick tried to duck low to avoid them. But she couldn’t dodge everything, slammed into the outside wall, and then spun through the grass.

Edwards and Brad Keselowski were racing side-by-side when both drifted to the center of the track in an apparent attempt to claim the same spot of real estate. As they bounced away from each other, Keselowski hooked the rear of Earnhardt’s car to send his Chevrolet into the wall and then upside down onto its roof.

He skidded along the track, where he was tagged by several other cars, before sliding through the infield grass and finally rolling back onto the wheels. He took the mandatory ambulance ride to the infield care center, and emerged in an unusually jovial mood for a driver who had just rolled his car.

“You don’t want to flip one upside down and it not be spectacular. You don’t want to waste your opportunity, right?” Earnhardt joked. “It’s good to flip upside down every once in a while, but it’s just too expensive for me.”

The Earnhardt and Patrick accidents sent both JR Motorsports cars back to North Carolina in crumpled heaps, a costly setback for a team that is still seeking sponsorship. Patrick’s 13 races are sponsored, but Earnhardt may have to pay out of his own pocket for the No. 88 to run a full season.

“We’re going to have to go back and balance our books after that. This has been a rough day for JR Motorsports,” Earnhardt said.

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Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.

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