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Smokin' performance at Daytona

July 09, 2012, Andrew Shain, Special to NASCAR.COM,

Stewart leads parade of four Coca-Cola family drivers into the top five

After a pair of late-race crashes wiped out 29 cars at Daytona International Speedway, the smoke cleared with four Coca-Cola Racing Family drivers in the top five.

They were led by a guy with "Smoke" stenciled above his driver window who won the Coke Zero 400.

Tony Stewart

Daytona finish: First

Season standings: Fifth

It's not where you start but where you finish. Stewart qualified second but had to start 42nd after failing inspection. He hovered in the back for the first half of the race -- he was 30th at the halfway point. Stewart started moving through the field and took the lead with 30 laps left, lost it with eight laps remaining and stole it back on the final lap for his fourth win in the past eight July races at Daytona. The victory, his third of the year, pushed him up four spots in the points standings to fifth.

* Stewart on top after wild finish

What he said: "I wish I could explain it. The great thing about restrictor-plate racing is that 43 cars all have the same shot at winning the race, but that's also part of what makes it frustrating, too. It's just being at the right place at the right time, and when those last two big wrecks happened, we were in the right spot. We were ahead of them both times."

Jeff Burton

Daytona finish: Second

Season standings: 18th

Burton was another driver who spent time at the rear and got to the top of the pack by the time the checkered flag wave. He started 20th but went to the back with his Richard Childress Racing teammates to keep their cars cool and avoid getting caught in wrecks. He barely avoided three of them, including the last one where he was tagged from behind and saved the car. His second-place finish was his best result in his past 22 races and his best showing at Daytona in nine years. Burton gained two spots in the standings.

* Burton turns bad luck into runner-up finish

What he said: "Two top-five finishes down here [this season] is probably more than I can expect with all the wrecks and stuff. Hopefully, it's something that'll kick start our year a little bit. It's been a difficult year, and hopefully we can build on this. Momentum is created by running well. Momentum doesn't create good runs, good runs create momentum."

Joey Logano

Daytona finish: Fourth

Season standings: 14th

A late pit stop that pushed Logano to back of the field might have saved his evening. He spent much of the race around 15th place as the car got loose, and he was unable to mount a challenge. Logano spun through the infield grass in an accident in front of pit road, and he needed to replace a cooling fan. A pit stop for tires later left him buried past 30th place -- and far from the second-to-last multicar wreck. He moved up through the field with help of a teammate and avoided the last pileup for his third consecutive top-10 finish at Daytona. He moved up two places in the standings and holds the second wild-card spot in the Chase.

* Video: Multi-car wreck with less than 10 laps to go

What he said: "That was wild right there. How we missed that last wreck coming to the checkers I'll never know. But all-in-all, it was a good night. [Saturday] is one of those nights where we were luckier than we were good, but on these restrictor-plate tracks, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, and we were here [Saturday]. To come out of here with a top-five finish and to put ourselves in position for the final wild-card spot is huge."

Ryan Newman

Daytona finish: Fifth

Season standings: 15th

Newman had to go through a bit of hardship for a top-five. He started second and spent the first half of the race in the top five before he was spun out on pit road. He needed two additional pit spots to fix major sheet metal damage, which put him back to 33rd. He needed more repairs and was stuck outside the top 20 until the wrecks started clearing away cars. He nabbed his best finish at Daytona since winning the Daytona 500 four years ago. Newman stayed 15th in the standings.

* Video: Tight squeeze on pit road

What he said: "A top-five is what our team needed. I think we were about 15th or 16th going into Turn 3, and to come off of Turn 4 and be fifth at the start/finish line was pretty impressive. ... After what happened on pit road, I really didn't know what to expect. But the guys did a great job with the repairs and just a great job overall. We're still in contention for a spot in the Chase, and that's what we needed to do [Saturday night] is survive."

Bobby Labonte

Daytona finish: 10th

Season standings: 24th

Through the mayhem, Labonte grabbed his best finish of 2012. He started in 41st and, like others who finished in the top 10, hung in the back of the field for much of the race. It nearly cost him. Labonte got a lap down and was spun out on Lap 92. He had trouble breaking through the top 30, though he was able to get the lucky dog to return to the lead lap. Labonte gained 18 spots in the final 10 laps while avoiding the two big wrecks for a 10th-place finish. That was his best result in 35 races and helped him climb a spot in the standings.

What he said: "We were a tortoise out there. We were a second-and-a-half off of the pole in qualifying. We brought this car and just tried something completely different, and it wasn't very good. We just ended up there and missing those wrecks and that's all that saved us."

Jamie McMurray

Daytona finish: 13th

Season standings: 20th

Restrictor-plate races at Daytona are enough to make anyone queasy, but McMurray battled a stomach illness. He qualified 30th and snaked his way into the top five just short of the midway point rather than run in the back and avoid a big wreck. He was caught in the last accident but managed to finish 13th. McMurray has finished 13th,14th or 15th six times this season. He dropped a position in the standings.

What he said: "It was really hard to pass out there. I like this style of racing better than the tandem style that we had before, but I wish we could make it easier to pass. I am glad to have a 13th-place finish after the way we saw some of those wrecks. We had a fast Bass Pro Shops Chevy, just wish we could have finished a little better there in the end."

Greg Biffle

Daytona finish: 21st

Season standings: Third

Teammates Biffle and Matt Kenseth dominated the race, even after the No. 16 was penalized for pitting too early following a wreck at the entrance to pit road. He came back on the track 26th but would gain 19 spots in a 10-lap span to again meet with Kenseth. On the last lap, Stewart took the lead and the Roush Fenway tandem tried to wrestle their way back. Biffle spun and started the last big wreck of the race. He finished 21st for a second consecutive week but managed to gain a place in the standings.

* Kenseth, Biffle fall short at the end | Video: Biffle penalized

What he said: "We were right there. ... It was my fault. We had a good car. What happened was the No. 17 caught the No. 14 and moved up, and there was somebody outside of me and I couldn't move up. That's the way it goes."

Denny Hamlin

Daytona finish: 25th

Season standings: Seventh

Back problems kept Hamlin out of the car in practice, and he struggled with a loose car to start the race. He saved the car after it scraped the apron when he was hit from behind. Hamlin chose not to go into the pits and keep track position in the top 10. Hamlin inched his way forward and was third when he was collected in a big wreck with eight laps left. He limped around for the final laps and a 25th-place finish. Hamlin slid a couple of spots in the standings.

* Back spasms keep Hamlin from practicing

What he said: "I'm alright. None of the hits were too bad except for the last one in the right-side door. It was one of those weekends where it's tough to go into the race with not much practice, but we put ourselves in position to win and just got collected there at the end. ... Just looking forward to getting to some of these race tracks where you have control over your own destiny."

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