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Stewart wins first Daytona 500 qualifier, Patrick wrecks

Thu 23rd, February 2012

Daytona Beach, FL (Sports Network) - Defending Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart won Thursday's first of two Gatorade Duel qualifying races for the Daytona 500, while his teammate, Danica Patrick, crashed hard into the wall on the final lap at Daytona International Speedway.

Stewart held off Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Marcos Ambrose before the opening 150- mile qualifier ended under caution when Patrick made contact with Aric Almirola and slammed into the inside wall along the backstretch. Stewart secured the third starting position for the Daytona 500. Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle locked down the front starting row during last Sunday's time trials at Daytona.

Earnhardt Jr. finished second, while Ambrose took the third spot. Jeff Burton and Edwards completed the top-five.

Patrick, who competed in a Sprint Cup event for the first time, climbed out of her battered car uninjured. She wound up finishing 16th. Patrick will use a back up car and start from the rear of the field in Sunday's Daytona 500.

Michael McDowell's sixth-place finish and Robby Gordon's ninth-place run allowed both drivers to race their way into the Daytona 500. Gordon started the qualifier with a tire rub, as he fell back in the field with smoke pluming from the side of his car on the opening lap. He took advantage of an early- race caution to drive onto pit road for repairs.

The big incident in the first race occurred on lap nine when David Gilliland got loose and shot up the track before collecting Juan Pablo Montoya and Paul Menard in turn one. All three drivers will also use their back up cars for the 500-mile race.

Michael Waltrip, who needed to race his way into the Daytona 500, wrecked with eight laps to go. Just after pitting for fuel, Waltrip lost control and then made contact with the outside wall while coming out of turn two. He ended up finishing 18th.

Waltrip has qualified for the Daytona 500 each year since 1987.

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