Ryan Newman leads Penske 1-2 at Daytona
Ryan Newman got a shove from his teammate Kurt Busch on the last lap to give car owner Roger Penske his first Daytona 500 win.
And what a win it was. It was the 50th running of "the Great American Race" and Penske's Dodges held off a spine-tingling, last-lap challenge by Joe Gibbs Toyota teammates Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch.
The race, one of the most competitive in Daytona's storied history with 42 lead changes at the start/finish line, went right down to the wire.
Any one of 10 to 15 drivers could have won when the green flag waved for the final three-lap showdown. Three caution flags in the final 25 laps kept re-arranging the lineup.
At one point, Jeff Burton was the leader on a restart and wound up 13th. On another restart, Juan Pablo Montoya was second on a restart and wound up out of the top 20.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. struggled with his Chevrolet most of the day and finished ninth but he brought the crowd of 200,000 to its feet several times trying to work his way to the front. He made it a couple of times but couldn't stay there.
Bobby Labonte was 11th, trailed by Brian Vickers, Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick and former Indy 500 winner Sam Hornish Jr.
Four-time champion Jeff Gordon was a contender but fell out of the race with suspension problems. Defending champion Jimmie Johnson had problems most of the day and was involved in an accident near the end that ended his chances.
In fact, it was not a good day for Hendrick Motorsports as Casey Mears, who ran a steady race all day, was also involved in an accident near the end.
After a sensational pre-race show that would have put Cecil B. DeMille to shame, the best drivers in the world took the green flag on a splendidly-sunny Sunday afternoon. Daytona International Speedway spared no expense for the 50th anniversary running of the Daytona 500.
Entertainers from several decades, including Chubby Checker, Kool and the Gang, Michael McDonald and Brooks and Dunn, played for the sellout crowd of 200,000 as replica rebuilds of past winner's cars rolled around the track.
The crowd also included former winners such as Fred Lorenzen, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Junior Johnson.
By the time the cars rolled off for parade laps, goose bumps ran up arms while the Air Force Thunderbirds zoomed over the track. It was certainly one of those magic moments in sport.
Front-row starters Johnson and Michael Waltrip quickly gave way to Joe Gibbs teammates Stewart and Denny Hamlin.
Johnson also drafted with the leaders, as did Hornish, who was particularly impressive hanging on to the lead draft inside the top 10. Hornish has very limited experience in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, having run only a handful of races.
Former champion Matt Kenseth and hard-charging Carl Edwards also put their Roush Fords in the lead pack.
Sadler slapped the wall near the 70-lap mark and had to make an unscheduled stop.
Joe Nemechek dropped out of contention before the halfway point with mechanical problems.
The first caution flag of the day fell on lap 79 for debris on the track. Most of the field pitted with Kurt Busch, his younger brother, Kyle, and Kenseth leading the field on the restart.
At the halfway point, it was Kyle Busch leading the field with Ryan Newman in tow. Greg Biffle was third with Gordon next, followed by Hamlin, Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Earnhardt, David Ragan, Martin Truex Jr., Casey Mears and Kahne.
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