Rough return: Stewart takes hard hit in Sprint Unlimited

Matt Kenseth (20), Tony Stewart (14), Jeff Gordon (24) and Carl Edwards (99) are involved in a multi-car crash.

Andrew Weber/Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports


Tony Stewart’s return to racing lasted just 35 laps in the Sprint Unlimited.

Stewart was running seventh on Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway when he was collected in a nine-car wreck triggered by Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth in the tri-oval.

The No. 14 Chevy also made contact with Kenseth and Carl Edwards before it came to a rest on the wall just before entering Turn 1.

"We’re OK, bud," Stewart initially told his crew.

After he was released from the Infield Care Center, Stewart joked, "No pain right now, we’ll see what happens when the adrenaline wears off."

Stewart was drafting with Logano coming off of Turn 4. As he pushed the No. 22 entering the front stretch, Kenseth went spinning in front of them.

The three-time Cup champion acknowledged, "As much as I hate blocking, you have to do it. That’s what you have to do."

"Joey got a run, Matt tried to protect his spot and just missed it by four inches it looked like on the monitor there watching the replay," Stewart said. "It’s just part of what happens here."

After watching the replay, Kenseth admitted he "cut off Joey and didn’t leave enough room."

Rivals welcome return of Tony Stewart

"I was just trying to watch both lanes and I was trying as hard as I could to help my teammate — to help Denny (Hamlin) and I was watching him and I was trying to get Kyle (Busch) in our lane," Kenseth said. "I don’t know, Joey must have got a run there and I didn’t know it. 

"I really don’t know what happened.  I was kind of looking forward and I thought I had both lanes clear and didn’t really know when I moved down and obviously I guess I wasn’t clear."

Although anything can happen at Daytona, what Stewart wasn’t prepared for was three of his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevys being swept up in the wreck. Kurt Busch (14th) making his debut in the No. 41 Chevy and Danica Patrick’€™s (16th) evening also ended prematurely.

The sole SHR car to complete the event was Kevin Harvick, who posted a top-five in his first appearance with the organization. 

With just 18 cars starting the event, drivers used the Unlimited as a glorified test session. For Stewart, who has been sidelined since Aug. 5 after breaking his leg in a Sprint Car accident in Iowa, it was an opportunity to return to racing.

"I’ve waited for seven months to race, I damn sure wasn’t going to sit there and ride around, just ride in line," Stewart said. "I needed to race. I needed to race hard so I needed to do that just for me more than anything."