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Auto Racing

Early wreck takes out several favorites

TBO.com Staff
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 09:40 PM

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DAYTONA BEACH -

Tony Stewart grabbed his tools and banged away on the No. 14 for do-it-yourself repairs.

With one big wreck, the sentimental favorite to win the Daytona 500 turned into a handyman.

He had some star-power company in the garage Sunday.

Kevin Harvick, the driver to beat in Speedweeks, had his bid at a second Daytona 500 win end in the same crash, and Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards also ran into trouble.

Harvick and Stewart were collected in an early crash that knocked out several top contenders, shaking up NASCAR's opener, and paving the way for underfunded rides driven by Regan Smith and Michael McDowell to finish in the top 10.

Harvick, Busch and Stewart all won secondary Daytona races during Speedweeks. Just not the Daytona 500.

"If I didn't tell you I was heartbroken and disappointed, I'd be lying to you," Stewart said.

Stewart made it 0 for 15 in the Daytona 500 after another failed effort in a strong car. In 17 seasons spanning NASCAR and IndyCar, Stewart has been able to cross most everything off his to-do list. He still has a big checkered flag to chase at Daytona.

Harvick, meanwhile, failed in his attempt to become the first in NASCAR history to win the exhibition Sprint Unlimited, a twin qualifying race and the Daytona 500 in the same Speedweeks.

"It was just one of those deals," Harvick said.

Junior takes second after late charge

Dale Earnhardt Jr. swerved below Danica Patrick, powered past Greg Biffle and pulled in behind leader Jimmie Johnson.

It was the closest he came to the front of the field.

Earnhardt used a last-lap charge to finish second in the Daytona 500 for the third time in the past four years, another runner-up performance that left NASCAR's most popular driver clamoring to get back to Victory Lane at one of auto racing's showcase events.

"It's like a drug, I assume," said Earnhardt, who also finished second in 2010 and 2012. "It's such a high. You just don't know when you'll ever get that opportunity again or if you'll ever get that opportunity again. I knew before I won in 2004, I was reserved to the idea I may be trying to win this race my entire career because I knew all too well how that was for my father."

Johnson held off Earnhardt to win the Daytona 500 for the second time.

For Earnhardt, it was another oh-so-close finish in "The Great American Race," an event forever linked to his family name because of triumph and tragedy.

The second-place finish turned around what had been a lackluster Speedweeks for Earnhardt, whose father died from a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500.

Hillsborough High coach saw wreck up close

Hillsborough High football coach Earl Garcia was in the stands Saturday when a spectacular wreck occurred and sprayed debris into the crowd.

Garcia said he was sitting in the second level of the grandstand during the Nationwide race, about 200 yards away from where Kyle Larson's car became airborne and flew into the fence that protects fans from the speeding cars.

"We were safe," Garcia said.

The wreck happened on the last lap of the race, "and everybody's eyes were on it when the kid went into the fence," Garcia said.

"Whenever you have debris going into stands, you know it is bad," he said. "The fence catches most of the big pieces, but that tire assembly just went over."

The focus shifted at that point from the track to the stands, he said.

"There must have been 20 emergency vehicles on the racetrack side and we heard ambulance after ambulance coming from the other side," he said. "There were people scurrying around, track workers were running into the area and that's an indication it wasn't good.

"Stretchers were being carried up into the stadium area," he said, "and people being carried down."

He said people in his section were safe.

"We were not in any danger, whatsoever," he said.

From staff, wire reports

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