DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) Tony Stewart drove through the grass, passed his buddy Dale Earnhardt Jr. and wound up in Victory Lane.
Stewart, the 2002 NASCAR Nextel Cup champion, claimed his first win Saturday on his 42nd career start in the stepladder Busch series.
He also ended Earnhardt's three-race Busch winning streak at Daytona International Speedway.
''I had the drama, had the recovery, had the comeback,'' said Stewart, who charged to the lead with three laps remaining and won under a yellow flag after a last-lap crash. ''I could not have scripted it any more exciting if I was making a movie.''
Stewart, driving a Chevrolet owned by fellow Nextel Cup bad boy Kevin Harvick, led a race-high 46 laps on the 2 1/2-mile oval.
But Stewart's hopes nearly ended with 25 laps to go when a bump from Carl Edwards sent Stewart skidding through the infield grass at 190 mph. Somehow, he kept the car going in the right direction, steering it back onto the high-banked oval.
''I couldn't pay the fines for what I was thinking,'' Stewart quipped. ''There were a lot of things going through my mind. The first was, 'What am I going to tell my mom from the emergency room?'
''It turned out a lot better than I thought it would. I thought I was going to hit the wall. It was just a matter of how hard.''
Stewart fell to eighth, then all the way to 17th after his crew needed extra time on the next pit stop to repair the damage.
Meanwhile, the focus turned to Earnhardt. Junior played a waiting game early in the race, content to stay near the back of the pack along with teammate Martin Truex Jr., the defending Busch Series champion.
After the halfway point, Earnhardt and Truex began drafting their way toward the front, quickly moving into the top 10. When the other leaders made their final pit stops during a caution period with 20 laps remaining, Junior stayed on the track and moved into the lead. Truex took only two new tires and came out second.
That's when Stewart began his charge, slicing through the field and moving all the way to fifth on another restart with four to go.
Then, with drafting help from Harvick, Stewart went roaring past the leaders on the outside of turn three. They held on for a 1-2 finish as a three-car accident behind them brought out a caution for the final lap.
''He deserved to win a lot more than he has, and we're glad he broke that wall down,'' said Harvick, who will use Stewart in five more races this season.
Earnhardt, who will go into Sunday's Daytona 500 as the favorite to repeat last year's victory, shrugged off the third-place finish.
''That's Tony Stewart,'' Earnhardt said. ''He can do anything.''
Truex, who will make his first Daytona 500 start Sunday, was encouraged by his fourth-place showing.
''Harvick and Stewart must have ganged up,'' Truex said. ''They were coming like a freight train, and there was no way we were going to stop it.''
Kasey Kahne wound up fifth, followed by Robby Gordon, Michael Waltrip, Greg Biffle, 19-year-old Reed Sorenson and Carl Edwards. Cup regulars the ''Buschwhackers'' took eight of the top 10 spots.
''We got ganged up on by those Cup guys,'' said Sorenson, a Busch rookie.
NASCAR spokesman Mike Zizzo said a postrace inspection revealed Stewart's car was too low by a fraction of an inch, but inspectors later determined that the off-course excursion caused damage to the underside of the car that made it too low.
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