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Stewart among those collected in early wreck

June 03, 2012, Viv Bernstein, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com

Twelve cars were collected early at Dover, including defending series champion Tony Stewart. (Getty Images)

DOVER, Del. -- Twelve-car pileup brought out red flag, cost defending champ shot at victory

Tony Stewart stood off to the side and watched as his team took hammer and wrench to his battered No. 14 Chevrolet. The FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks was in only its ninth lap when a pile-up in Turn 2 took out 12 race cars including Stewart.

As they pounded the sheet metal, the frown didn't leave his face.

"It's just a crappy weekend, and when you get back there with some of those guys, you've got to be more patient," Stewart said after emerging from the infield car center. He had started 29th, far back in the field after struggling in Friday practice to find the right set-up.

"It's part of racing. If you knew everything was going to go smooth then you wouldn't even bother coming."

--JUAN MONTOYA

"As far back as we started, I didn't really have the luxury to be as patient as I would have liked to have been," said Stewart, who didn't return until Lap 72.

It was Stewart who had touched off the wreck when he tried to slip underneath Landon Cassill's No. 83 Toyota in Turn 2. Cassill's race car slid sideways, Stewart slid as well and the rest of the field behind them had nowhere to go on the narrow Dover International Speedway track except into each other. The wall of wrecked cars forced NASCAR to red flag the race for 19 minutes, 54 seconds to clean up the mess.

"I was real loose off [the corner] anyways and I didn't actually feel him touch me," Cassill said. "I don't know if he did.

"Tony's one of the most patient drivers, especially in this part of the race. I had just gotten passed by [Jamie McMurray] and I was trying to diamond the corner a little bit. He was just barely there. If he touched me or he didn't, when there's a car there, it gets you really loose."

Video: Thirteen-car wreck brings out red flag

Also collected in the wreck were Juan Montoya, Regan Smith, Reed Sorenson, Scott Speed, David Gilliland, Stephen Leicht, Casey Mears, Michael McDowell, Dave Blaney and Travis Kvapil.

Smith was directly behind Cassill and Stewart, and when they went sideways, he did, too. That led to the bigger pileup behind.

"I'll take full blame for that," Smith said. "Somehow they got checked up in front of me and I just didn't have time to get whoa'ed up enough. I hate that there's so many wrecked race cars here."

Cassill, Gilliland, Mears, McDowell and Speed never returned to the track. But a horrible start didn't turn into a disastrous day for Stewart. He was able to salvage a 25th-place finish in part because so many of the cars damaged in that wreck never came back or returned to the track after him.

It was enough to move Stewart from ninth to eighth in the standings. He passed Kyle Busch, who blew an engine and finished 29th. But Stewart has just a seven-point edge on Brad Keselowski in 11th place, and will have to rely on his two victories to hold on for a wildcard spot in the Chase if he continues to struggle on the track.

It has been a rough stretch for Stewart, who complained loudly about the wrecks at Talladega Superspeedway in May when he was involved in a nine-car crash. He finished 24th at Talladega and, after a third-place showing at Darlington, was 25th at Charlotte last week.

Montoya hasn't fared well lately, either. He hasn't finished inside the top 20 since Richmond in April. His No. 42 Chevrolet was badly damaged Sunday and he was 100 laps down by the time he made it back to the race. Montoya finished 28th, 104 laps off the pace.

"I thought I slowed down enough and I got run from behind,'' Montoya said. "It's part of racing. If you knew everything was going to go smooth then you wouldn't even bother coming. It's been a hard year for us and [we'll] just keep working at it. Everybody's working hard and things will come around."

In all, the early wreck at Dover collected 12 cars, more than any other crash this season. The last major wreck before that was the one involving Stewart at Talladega. Indeed, it has been an open question in recent weeks why there haven't been that many wrecks during races. And all weekend long, drivers had espoused theories on why there weren't more crashes. Were drivers more cautious because of the points system? Were they just smarter drivers after years of experience with the race car? Was it merely the natural ebb and flow of racing in NASCAR?

Whatever the reason, Gilliland didn't expect a major crash in the opening laps at Dover.

"Usually at the start everybody is really patient, a lot of give and take,'' he said. "But not [Sunday]. It just didn't work out that way [Sunday]."

So much for theories.

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