“On the last lap, Stewart had a chance to go high to block (Newman) and (Busch), but they just had such a big run, I think he knew it was going to be a waste of time.”
The disappointment was a stark contrast to the euphoria in the Penske camp, which finished 1-2 in NASCAR’s Super Bowl and finally gave the storied car owner his first victory in a restrictor-plate race. Despite total domination in Indianapolis, Penske never could figure out how to win at Daytona.
He finally did it with teamwork — the same teamwork Gibbs and Hendrick preached all week — and a pair of drivers who share in each other’s success. It took years for Penske to build this and make his teams even. Once they were, Newman didn’t get along with Penske star Rusty Wallace.
But when Wallace retired after the 2005 season, Penske tabbed Busch, a former series champion, to replace him. He and Newman forged an instant working relationship that is finally paying dividends.
“I was very emotional crossing the line finishing second, because I know we did something very special for The Captain tonight,” said Busch, the runner-up, who was near tears when he visited Victory Lane.
The win was the first for Dodge at Daytona since Ward Burton’s win in 2001 and came hours after new chairman Bob Nardelli guaranteed the victory. Besides the win, Dodge drivers took six of the eight top spots.
Pledging his commitment to NASCAR despite sluggish car sales and just so-so on-track performance, Nardelli seemed certain he’d be in Victory Lane late Sunday night.
“A Dodge is going to win today. That’s why I’m here,” Nardelli boasted Sunday morning. “I told the pilots, ’Make sure you get 12 hours of rest because we’re going to be here a while.’ I’m looking forward to being in that winner’s circle and having that champagne flowing.”
The victory earned Penske a $1 million bonus from Nardelli, who had promised the payout to any Dodge team that won the Daytona 500. Penske vowed to pump the money right back into his race team, and the car owner already was thinking about the rest of the season.
“Comparing it to the Indy 500, as Ryan knows, we’ve been open-wheel guys and coming down here has been tough,” Penske said. “This has got to go to the top of the charts here, this win. What I’m going to try to do this year is have them back-to-back, have one in May, too.
“That’s my real challenge right now.”
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
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