Rookie pushes Stewart to Nationwide triumph

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:04 PM ET

DAYTONA — An absolutely amazing finish to Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series DRIVE4COPD 300 Saturday capped off what — up to the last three laps — was a pretty routine outing at Daytona International Speedway.

On the final lap Tony Stewart, driving the No. 4 JR Motorsports Chevrolet, got a huge push from rookie Landon Cassill in the No. 1 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet, allowing him to cross the finish line a minuscule 7/1000ths of a second ahead of Clint Bowyer.

Cassill finished third and crowd favourite Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fourth in the No. 5 JRM Chevrolet.

How close was it?

Well less than a quarter of a second separated winner Stewart and fourth place Earnhardt

It was the fourth consecutive Daytona Speedweeks Nationwide victory for Stewart.

And he thanked the 21-year-old Cassill for the help he needed to get that final push to the start/finish line.

“We just got a great run,” Stewart said. “We had a good pusher with Landon Cassill, to be able to get the two of us up there.”

Stewart said that he never had any doubts that he could work with a raw rookie at Daytona.

“We had a lot of confidence going into the last stretch,” he said. “We watched all afternoon what (Cassill) was doing when he was drafting with the No. 22 (Brad Keselowski).

“Landon may be a rookie in this series but he’s been around a long time in racing.”

Cassill was the unlikeliest of contenders, considering that his ride Saturday in the No. 1 Chevrolet was a one-only race deal.

At of the end of the DRIVER4COPD 300 race Cassill was essentially unemployed, with nothing lined up for next week’s race in Phoenix.

What makes that even more astonishing is that the kid now leads the points parade in the Nationwide series, as Sprint Cup drivers Stewart and Bowyer are not eligible for NNS points this season.

“I’m the points leader?” Cassill said. “I’m sorry, I don’t have a ride next week, so I’m going to bask in this for about seven days.”

As for Stewart, despite his domination of the Nationwide race at Daytona, the two-time Sprint Cup champion has been snake bitten at the Daytona 500.

He said that Saturday’s NNS victory will give him a confidence boost on Sunday in a race he’s never won in 12 previous career starts.

“This is a great way to lead into (the 500),” he said. “Nothing better than going back to the motorhome and know you have a shot to do it again.”

Danica Patrick, who started in fourth place on the grid, was in contention for much of the day but was either unwilling or unable to hook up with more experienced drivers for any length of time.

Bowyer, who pushed her to the front a couple of times complained that she wouldn’t return the favour.

“Maybe it was her spotter,” Bowyer said. “But she’s got to learn to push as well as be pushed.”

After Bowyer abandoned her, Patrick faded to mid pack, but still ended up with her best NASCAR finish of her short career, 14th, one lap down from the leaders.

dean.mcnulty@sunmedia.ca


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