50 days to Daytona: Tony Stewart’s loss was Ryan Newman’s gain

In the 2008 Daytona 500, Tony Stewart’s heartbreaking loss translated into an exhilarating win for Ryan Newman.

With 50 days to go before the 2017 Daytona 500 (live on FOX on Feb. 26), it’s time to take a look back at the 50th running of the race in ’08.

Stewart, seeking his first win in NASCAR’s most prestigious event in his 10th try, had the lead when the white flag flew signifying one lap to go.

Getting what he later called “a push from heaven” from his Penske Racing teammate Kurt Busch, Newman, who hadn’t won in 81 races, surged to the front when Stewart made the ill-advised decision to go low and try to hook up with his own teammate from Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle Busch.

With Stewart out of the way on the high side, Busch pushed Newman to the lead and, ultimately, the victory.

“Kurt was the push from heaven that made it all happen,” Newman said after the race. “Without a doubt, he could have easily gone three-wide and split us through the center and made one heck of a mess there. But he chose to be a teammate, and that was the most honorable thing that he could do.”

Stewart, on the other hand, was left to lament the fact that in a split second, with two choices to make, he made the wrong one. And going low to try to hook up with Kyle Busch instead of moving up high to block the Penske train cost him dearly.

“It would be a lie to come in here and say I was happy about, you know, going from first to third on the last lap of the Daytona 500,” he said after Newman rode Kurt Busch’s high-speed, high-side shove to the dramatic win. “We tried to win the Daytona 500. That’s all I can say. I just made the wrong decision on the backstretch.

“My intention was to get in front of Kyle and pull Kyle along with us. It’s hard to explain. It’s probably one of the most disappointing moments in my racing career.”

In a twist of irony, Newman and Stewart would be teammates in the next Daytona 500 in 2009 – after Stewart left JGR to help form Stewart-Haas Racing and hired Newman to be his fellow SHR driver.

But in seven more attempts, Stewart never again came as close to winning a Daytona 500. He retired as a NASCAR Premier Series driver at the end of last season with a pair of wins in the Daytona July race, but came up empty for his Cup career in the 500.