Winning a NASCAR race isn't always about having the fastest car or making the best move when the time is right. Sometimes, it's just about avoiding the big crash.
That was the case during the Coke Zero 400, where Tony Stewart didn't so much win the race as he survived it, avoiding major wreck after major wreck as he weaved his way through the field. Stewart ultimately started at the back of the pack, but by the end he was out in front with many other drivers on the sidelines in smoldering cars.
Going into the race, most fans didn't give Stewart much of a chance. The popular driver's qualifying run was thrown out after NASCAR officials discovered an illegal air duct in the car. The minor infraction didn't carry a major points penalty, but meant Stewart would begin at the back of the grid, in 42nd place.
For much of the race, fans thought it would be either Matt Kenseth or Greg Biffle in the winner's circle. The two Roush Fenway Racing teammates were at the front for nearly the entire race. Kenseth proved he is the master of Daytona International Speedway by leading for 89 laps, after he won the Daytona 500 at the track in February. Biffle's car was strong as well, leading for 37 laps and running second behind his teammate most of the day.
Stewart's race was very different, as he slowly moved up from the back toward the front. The defending NASCAR champion narrowly avoided three major crashes that took out several other drivers. With each one, his position got better and better until he challenged for the win on the final lap.
With Biffle and Kenseth running side-by-side, Stewart made his move and split the two drivers. Shooting down the middle of the track, Stewart got several car lengths ahead with two turns left in the race.
It's a good thing he did. Moments later, Biffle was swept up in an accident that ultimately involved 18 other drivers - half of the remaining competitors on the track. Kenseth was able to avoid the crash, but without his drafting partner, he could only watch as Stewart rode away with the win. Jeff Burton was able to slip into second in the mayhem, so the Roush racer settled for third.
"I don't even remember what happened on the last lap," Stewart told NASCAR News Service. "I tried to get the 17 [Kenseth] and 16 [Biffle] pulled apart. Once we got them pulled apart we got them. What a weird day."
Despite the crash at the end, it wasn't a total loss for Kenseth. His third-place finish coupled with his leader laps allowed him to remain on top of the NASCAR point standings. And though Biffle crashed near the end, his performance actually bumped him up to third overall.
Stewart helped himself the most, however, rising four points in the standings to fifth overall. His three wins now tie him for the most in NASCAR with Brad Keselowski, meaning he'll almost assuredly be defending his title in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Joey Logano also moved up the rankings, into the second wild card spot. Many eyes are on the young rider as he attempts to qualify for his first Chase. Logano avoided the final crash and was able to finish in fourth place, bumping him up to fourteenth in the standings. Coupled with his one victory this season, that means Logano would leapfrog Carl Edwards and Paul Menard for the final spot in the playoffs if the season ended today.