Throwback Thursday: The night Smoke dumped Rowdy at Daytona

Kyle Busch (18) leads Tony Stewart (14) late in the 2009 Coke Zero 400.

John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR

The final laps of the 2009 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway were unfolding in familiar fashion at The World Center of Racing — with drivers racing in a tight pack for the win at the front of the field.

On this hot July 4 night, the main combatants were two former teammates — Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch — who traded the lead back and forth in the race’s waning moments.

Busch seized the spot from Stewart coming to the white flag, leaving the driver nicknamed "Smoke" with one last chance to retake the lead and capture his third victory in the popular summer classic at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.

As the two drivers exited Turn 4 and roared into the tri-oval with the checkered flag in sight, the left front of Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet hooked the right rear of Busch’s No. 18 Toyota, sending the driver nicknamed "Rowdy" violently into the outside wall where all four of his wheels briefly left the ground.

As Stewart crossed the finish line, Busch was clobbered by the No. 9 Dodge of Kasey Kahne, who lifted the No. 18 car straight up in the air as numerous others crashed all around them.

Busch walked away uninjured but obviously perturbed, leaving the track without speaking with reporters after having to be forced by four NASCAR officials into a safety vehicle. 

Stewart, meanwhile, celebrated a victory that was by all accounts bittersweet.

"I went where I had to go, and he went where he had to go," Stewart said of the last-lap collision with Busch, his teammate from the previous season. "You hate seeing a guy that’s been up front all day, especially a guy that’s helped me the whole race, wreck like that. You’re kind of forced in that position. But I made my move to the outside, and he went to block us and we were already there.

"It still doesn’t mean you like it. That’s not the way to win these things. If I did something wrong, I’m sorry."

As the Sprint Cup Series returns to Daytona for Saturday night’s 400-miler, rest assured that no one has forgotten that wild July 4 night five years ago — when the real fireworks were on the track rather than in the sky.

Kyle Busch (18) is T-boned by Kasey Kahne (9) after being punted by Tony Stewart on the final lap of the 2009 Coke Zero 400.


Tony Stewart takes the checkered flag to win the 2009 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Kyle Busch (18) and Kasey Kahne (9) slide across the finish line in the 2009 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Tony Stewart celebrates a bittersweet win in the 2009 Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.