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Originally published Sunday, February 24, 2013 at 4:05 PM

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Early wreck in Daytona 500 takes out favorites

Tony Stewart dealt with more Daytona 500 heartache.

AP Sports Writer

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. —

Tony Stewart dealt with more Daytona 500 heartache.

And he wasn't the only contender whose run at the checkered flag ended long before the finish.

Stewart, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick all won secondary Daytona races during Speedweeks. Just not the Daytona 500.

Stewart, who won the crash-marred Nationwide race Saturday, never got the chance to be in the hunt. With one big wreck, the sentimental favorite to win the Daytona 500 turned into a handyman. He grabbed his tools and banged away on the No. 14 in the garage for do-it-yourself repairs.

Told the accident spoiled the start of his season, Stewart wasn't buying it.

"To hell with the season," he said. "I wanted to win the Daytona 500."

Harvick, the driver to beat in Speedweeks, had his bid at a second Daytona 500 win end in the same crash that took out Stewart. Matt Kenseth had the dominant car and led a race-high 86 laps until an engine issue forced him from the track with the lead.

"You can't drop out and win championships," he said. "We had all the right things, we just didn't make it to the end."

Harvick and Stewart were collected in an early crash that knocked out several top contenders, shaking up NASCAR's opener and paving the way for underfunded rides driven by Regan Smith and Michael McDowell to finish in the top 10.

Stewart made it 0 for 15 in the Daytona 500 after another failed effort in a strong car. In 17 seasons spanning NASCAR and IndyCar, Stewart has been able to cross most everything off his to-do list. He still has a big checkered flag to chase at Daytona.

Stewart eventually returned to the track - 82 laps back. He finished 41st, and Harvick was 42nd.

"If I didn't tell you I was heartbroken and disappointed, I'd be lying to you," Stewart said.

The wreck ended Harvick's attempt to become the first in NASCAR history to win the exhibition Sprint Unlimited, a twin qualifying race and the Daytona 500 in the same Speedweeks.

"It was just one of those deals," Harvick said.

Harvick stripped his firesuit down to his waist and rode off in a golf cart, a more solemn ride than his two trips to Victory Lane this week. Harvick had dominated in Speedweeks as the prelude to his final season driving a Richard Childress Chevrolet. He won last weekend's Sprint Unlimited and one of the Duel races, each time plopping infant son Keelan into the cockpit for a quick rub of good luck.

This time, his battered No. 29 couldn't be saved.

The early nine-car wreck started when Kasey Kahne let off the gas to slow as they neared the first turn at Daytona International Speedway. Kyle Busch tried to do the same, but couldn't avoid contact.

Busch sent Kahne spinning across the track. Juan Pablo Montoya, 2010 race winner Jamie McMurray and Brad Keselowski also were involved. So were Kurt Busch and Casey Mears. Montoya is a former Indianapolis 500 winner. Kurt Busch won the 2004 Cup title. None of them had a chance to pad his resume.

The accident came a day after a horrific wreck in a second-tier NASCAR series race hurled chunks of debris, including a heavy tire, into the stands and injured nearly 30 people.

The next nine-car wreck came 105 laps later and took out Carl Edwards. Edwards said his team was ready to come back and dominate at Phoenix after a miserable month at Daytona.

Joe Gibbs Racing also needs to rebound after a promising 1-2-3 run by Kenseth, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch quickly fell apart. Kenseth's smoky No. 20 hit pit road with engine woes and Busch's race soon ended with a blown engine. Busch was furious as he walked alone back to his hauler.

Hamlin failed to keep his fast pace and fell back to 14th.

"All of the guys at JGR built an awesome piece," said Busch, who won the second duel of Speedweeks. "But we've got to have engines that last."

Hamlin didn't have an engine issue, he had an ex-teammate issue. Hamlin took aim at former JGR driver Joey Logano, who moved on to Penske Racing.

Hamlin tweeted, "(at) keselowski sorry I couldn't get close to you cuz your genius teammate was too busy messing up the inside line 1 move at a time."

Keselowski, the reigning Sprint Cup champion, escaped the first wreck that knocked out the heavy favorites and dodged danger again in the Edwards' crash. He led the race with 20 laps left, but smacked into some debris on the speedway and slowed down just enough to finish fourth.

"We wrecked about three times today and still had a shot at the win," Keselowski said. "We just came up short."

So did Stewart. His second-tier win was his 19th victory at Daytona in all races at the track other than the 500. He has more wins at one of NASCAR's most famous tracks than everyone except Dale Earnhardt (34).

Earnhardt won the Daytona 500 in his 20th try. Stewart's wait will stretch out to at least 16.

The race wasn't a total loss for Stewart. His Stewart-Haas Racing team fields the car for pole-winner Danica Patrick. Patrick became the first woman to lead a lap in the Daytona 500. She led five laps and finished eighth. On the starting grid, Stewart gave her a big hug and whispered into her ear before she slid into the cockpit.

"He just said, `Block this all out,'" Patrick said. "You go do it. It's your time now."

Once again, it wasn't Stewart's time.

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Follow Dan Gelston online: https://twitter.com/APGelston and http://racing.ap.org

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