Early wreck in Daytona 500 takes out favorites

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DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (AP) - Tony Stewart dealt with more Daytona 500 heartache.

And he wasn’t the only contender whose run at the checkered flag ended long before the finish.

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

Stewart, who won the crash-marred Nationwide race Saturday, never got the chance to be in the hunt. With one big wreck, the sentimental favorite to win the Daytona 500 turned into a handyman. He grabbed his tools and banged away on the No. 14 in the garage for do-it-yourself repairs.

Told the accident spoiled the start of his season, Stewart wasn’t buying it.

“To hell with the season,” he said. “I wanted to win the Daytona 500.”

Harvick, the driver to beat in Speedweeks, had his bid at a second Daytona 500 win end in the same crash that took out Stewart. Matt Kenseth had the dominant car and led a race-high 86 laps until an engine issue forced him from the track with the lead.

“You can’t drop out and win championships,” he said. “We had all the right things, we just didn’t make it to the end.”

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.

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.

Stewart eventually returned to the track _ 82 laps back. He finished 41st, and Harvick was 42nd.

“If I didn’t tell you I was heartbroken and disappointed, I’d be lying to you,” Stewart said.

The wreck ended Harvick’s 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.

Harvick stripped his firesuit down to his waist and rode off in a golf cart, a more solemn ride than his two trips to Victory Lane this week. Harvick had dominated in Speedweeks as the prelude to his final season driving a Richard Childress Chevrolet. He won last weekend’s Sprint Unlimited and one of the Duel races, each time plopping infant son Keelan into the cockpit for a quick rub of good luck.

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