Tony Stewart’s triumphant return to Daytona International Speedway hit a snag Saturday afternoon when the Hendrick Motorsports engine in his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet let go midway through the second round of Daytona 500 practice.
And he was not alone.
Stewart’s was the second Hendrick engine failure during the session, as Bobby Labonte’s Phoenix Racing car suffered a similar issue. And just moments after Stewart’s powerplant blew, his SHR teammate Danica Patrick also lost an engine.
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Because all three drivers had what NASCAR termed "unapproved" engine changes, Stewart, Patrick and Labonte will all have to drop to the rear of the field prior to the start of the Daytona 500 and will begin the race at the back of the pack.
Stewart said he was surprised by the engine failure.
"It wasn’t anything that we knew was a warning," Stewart said. "It just happened all at once. The good thing is we have a lot of depth at Hendrick and the motor that they’ll put in for tomorrow will be just as good as this one."
Stewart said he wasn’t worried about how his car would perform for Daytona 500 qualifying on Sunday.
"We’ve only got a make a small run tomorrow, so I’m very confident," said Stewart.
Crew member from Stewart-Haas Racing and the Hendrick Motorsports work to replace the engine in Tony Stewart’s Daytona 500 car.
Hendrick Motorsports executive vice president and general manager Doug Duchardt said the team had the engines were set to the edge of their capacities for qualifying.
"Across the board we’re trying to the best we can for qualifying tomorrow for those two laps," said Duchardt. "We’ve worked through that process. Obviously, we’ve been pushing the limit and found the limit there. We feel like we understand what’s happening. … The drivers have been consistent. It feels like something in the bottom end of the engines."
Duchardt said the team is not worried about durability issues for the Speedweeks races going forward. "For tonight and the rest of the week, when we go to race, we don’t really have any concerns."
Patrick, who won the pole for last year’s Daytona 500, said she was confident the problem would get resolved.
"I don’t doubt everybody in their effort and their ability to fix it," said Patrick. "So yeah, the bright side is that it didn’t happen on qualifying it happened before and we will get something else in there and we will do our very best."
While the engine news was not welcome for SHR or Hendrick, Stewart had some good news: He continues to be pain free in the car following his first return to the cockpit since a horrific crash last August.