Stewart settles for second in wild Daytona finish

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If anybody else besides Jimmie Johnson was ahead of him, Tony Stewart likely would have been in the perfect position to strike on the final lap of the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Stewart, who has won 19 times at the famed 2.5-mile oval, was running in third when tonight’s race went into a green-white-checkered finish and found himself powering Johnson into the lead on the outside groove just after the restart. A push from Kurt Busch then propelled the three-time Sprint Cup champion past Kevin Harvick for second as the white flag waved.

But that was as far as “Smoke” could rise against the all-too-strong Johnson, and his bid to collect an even 20 triumphs at the “World Center of Racing” ended in a runner-up finish as a second last-lap pileup commenced behind him in the tri-oval.

“I didn’t get as good a restart as I wanted, but I think it kind of worked to our favor there,” said Stewart. “Kurt Busch gave us a really good push from behind there and that got us back to getting Jimmie the shove he needed.

“It got us out there far enough ahead to where we could worry about racing him. That is some strong Hendrick horse power up front there. You get three or four of these Hendrick cars together and they are fast…Just glad we were ahead of the carnage.”

Nonetheless, by virtue of his second-place finish tonight, Stewart has been able to climb back into the Top 10 in the Sprint Cup standings after falling out of that bracket due to back-to-back results outside the Top 20 at Sonoma and Kentucky last month.

One wonders if Stewart would be higher up in the championship if not for those two finishes, as he has collected four Top-5s since winning in early June at Dover International Speedway – a victory that now appears to have clearly jump-started his 2013 campaign.

Montoya: ‘Hopefully I get a chance to do Indy again’ (VIDEO)

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Juan Pablo Montoya is on site at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, his latest trip in a summer and fall filled with a lot of international travel and a number of different race cars he’s been in.

Montoya is committed to a full season in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Acura Team Penske in 2018, as he’ll share one of the team’s Acura ARX-05s with Dane Cameron.

However, the question of whether he’ll be able to race in the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil remains.

Team Penske has said it plans to only run four cars next month of May, with Helio Castroneves as the fourth driver alongside the three full-time cars driven by Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power.

While Montoya has said elsewhere that he’s shopping offers and has talked with other teams, it’d be highly surprising to see the two-time Indianapolis 500 champion who developed the Chevrolet engine for IndyCar’s 2018 Dallara universal body kit in a Honda-powered IndyCar, although he is running Honda’s brand (Acura) in sports cars.

Montoya elaborated on his Indy 500 prospects in an interview with NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton at the Circuit of The Americas.

“Not full-time no,” Montoya told NBCSN of his IndyCar 2018 prospects. “Hopefully I get a chance to go to Indy, hopefully with Penske, (and) if not someone else. We’ll see.”

Photo: IndyCar

Montoya has extolled the early testing both on the 2018 IndyCar and on the Acura ARX-05.

The first Acura chassis has run at Road Atlanta and Sebring International Raceway thus far, and will be put through its paces at other venues over the next few months.

“It’s been good. We did a lot of work with INDYCAR on that car. Fans are gonna like it,” Montoya said of the 2018 kit.

“Going to IMSA with the Acura program, we’ve done a lot of testing. It’s a beauty to drive. It drives better than what it looks! I haven’t had that much fun driving a race car in a long time.”

Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype international (DPi) race car to be campaigned by Team Penske in 2018