Daytona Beach, Fla. — Tony Stewart's freaky season of bad luck took another turn when the two-time NASCAR champion fell ill during Saturday night's race at Daytona International Raceway.
Stewart started the Coke Zero 400 and ran as high as third, but gave way to J.J. Yeley on lap 72. Stewart got out of his No. 20 Toyota, sat down in his pit stall and wiped beads of sweat off his face with a towel while drinking water.
NASCAR officials said crew chief Greg Zipadelli informed them Stewart had been up the night before with some sort of virus.
Yeley, who spent three seasons as Stewart's teammate at JGR, failed to qualify for Saturday's race. He now drives for Hall of Fame Racing, an affiliate of JGR.
This is the kind of bizarre occurrences that have plagued Stewart all season.
He had his heart broken on the last lap of the Daytona 500, when a victory in NASCAR's biggest race was snatched away from him by winner Ryan Newman. It was an agonizing defeat, but he didn't let it linger. He had no hard feelings when he returned to Daytona this week.
"My buddy that came with me from home, we were talking about how many wins we actually have here," Stewart said. "We've got a lot of wins, and this is a race that has been really good for us. I'm looking forward to it actually."
Stewart had good reason to be excited for Saturday night. He won this 400-mile race in 2005 and 2006. The first year he led all but nine of the 160 laps, and led half of the race the next season. He might have made it three straight, too, but wrecked with teammate Denny Hamlin while they were running first and second in last year's race.
All said, he has won 12 races here and had a dominant car in February when he won the Nationwide Series race, finished second in two exhibitions, then was leading the 500 with a half-lap to go when Newman snatched the win away from him.
In hindsight, it was the first sign of things to come. He has had strong cars all year, only to lose his shot at a win in freak fashions.
Accidents, broken parts, blown tires and even the weather have plagued Stewart and stretched his winless streak to a career-worst 31 races.
"I'm scared to get in cars, planes, everything," Stewart said. "I'm scared to walk, open doors without looking before I walk through - it's the oddest year I think I've ever seen. I've never seen this team and even in my career - I've never seen us have a string of bad luck like this."