DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. The payback was perfect. Tony Stewart turned the tables on Hendrick Motorsports to win the Nationwide Series opener.
Now, if only he can do it again Sunday.
Stewart and teammate Kyle Busch finished 1-2 Saturday, combining to hold off Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished third.
The Joe Gibbs Racing teammates showed they have learned some important lessons about cooperation from the drivers at Hendrick, the team that fired Busch to make room for Earnhardt Jr.
"We worked with each other the whole race. That's something that, you know, we've learned that from (those) guys," Stewart said. "And it just shows if you get two of these guys to work with each other, Kyle and I can. I think Kyle and I could have stayed up front all day no matter how many guys challenged."
That will be tested in the 500 and the expected showdown between Hendrick and Gibbs.
It will be Stewart, Busch and Denny Hamlin, who won his Daytona qualifying race Thursday, against Hendrick's all-star cast of Earnhardt, two-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon and Casey Mears.
Earnhardt, Daytona pole-winner Johnson and Gordon are all former 500 winners. Gibbs' drivers still are looking for that first win in NASCAR's biggest event.
But Earnhardt Jr.'s convinced Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing are for real.
"The Toyota has been fast," said Junior, who had his string of Speedweeks victories ended at two. "Those guys, you know, got knowledge to get cars around the track, know how to get to Victory Lane. They're going to be tough, I think, all year."
Joe Gibbs Racing switched from Chevrolets to Toyotas over the winter, giving the Japanese automaker a marquee team for its second season on the Sprint Cup and Nationwide circuits.
Stewart and Busch put on a good show Saturday, leading 93 of the 120 laps.
"This car was just fast," said Stewart, who finished second in both the Budweiser Shootout and his 150-mile qualifying race earlier in Daytona's Speedweeks. "It just had so much speed."
The field got strung out early in the race, but the last 20 laps were a wild, two- and three-wide melee that included a nine-car crash on lap 111 that took out Cup stars Kasey Kahne and Kevin Harvick.
Brian Vickers, in another Toyota, took the lead from the two Gibbs cars with five laps to go, but Stewart shuffled back into the top spot on the next lap, with Earnhardt shooting out of the pack in close pursuit.
"It was fun," said Earnhardt, whose No. 5 Nationwide team likely will be penalized next week after NASCAR confiscated its rear spoiler Thursday for illegal modifications. "We did what we had to do. We got a great finish. Those two guys they were tight all weekend, really fast, and worked great together in the draft as teammates."
Busch moved back to second on lap 119, with a push from Martin Truex Jr., and Stewart, with his flank well protected, raced on to a three car-length victory.
Busch dismissed a report that Truex had complained that he was blocked.
"What else you going to do, man? Shoot, he's pushing me through the tri-oval wanting to spin me out," Busch said. "So I'm sorry I saved it and kept it in front of him. Grow up, bud. What do you want me to do, pull over?"
Busch, who also finished second in the trucks race, is hoping to improve his finish Sunday.
"If I win tomorrow, I'm going to be the happiest man alive, that's for sure," Busch said. "That's what I've been saving my wind for this week."
Said Earnhardt: "Good luck."