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.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.