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Fire and Rain: Kenseth Wins Wild Daytona 500

by Pete McCole
Tuesday, February 28, 2012

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Matt Kenseth celebrates Daytona 500 win No. 2
Ford

Just when you thought you’d seen it all in the Daytona 500, the 54th running of the “Great American Race” will go down as the most bizarre of them yet.

In a race that saw a media sensation in the third female driver to ever start a Daytona 500, a day-long rain delay, an opening lap crash, a two-hour red flag for a jet fuel fire, and an overtime checkered flag that didn’t fly until Tuesday morning, Matt Kenseth emerged as a two-time winner in the season-opening race for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

The final 40 laps were run well after midnight due to a nearly two-hour red flag after Juan Pablo Montoya plowed into a jet dryer on lap 158, touching off a fire that scorched the track and covered turn three in jet fuel.

Once racing resumed, Kenseth - the 2009 Daytona 500 winner and 2003 Sprint Cup champion  - led the final 38 laps with a big push from his Roush-Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle and held off a final charge from Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in a green-white-checkered finish to win his 22nd-career Sprint Cup race.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. makes a move to pass Greg Biffle on the final lap of the Daytona 500, but does not have enough speed to catch winner Matt Kenseth
Getty Images for NASCAR
Earnhardt barely edged Biffle at the line to take second. Denny Hamlin and Jeff Burton rounded out the top five.

It was the second win of Speedweeks for Kenseth, who also won in Thursday’s Gatorade Duel qualifying race.

“I have to give a lot of credit to (engine builder) Doug Yates and the guys at the engine shop. We had great horsepower,” said Kenseth. “I could get a pretty good start on the bottom and either Denny (Hamlin) or Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. could push me for awhile and then they just couldn’t stay attached and I would get away from them just in time to get in front of Greg (Biffle) and the two of us together could make some unbelievable speed.

“I have to thank Greg. We worked together really good all day long. My guys did a great job. It was pretty cool to with the 150’s and I never dreamed we would be standing here tonight”

It was truly a Daytona 500 no one could have dreamed up.

Delayed by rain from it’s normal Sunday start, the 54th Daytona 500 started nearly 30 hours later with a green flag at 7pm on Monday under the lights – the first ever Monday start for the Daytona 500.

The lead-up to the race was one of the most hyped in history, as standout open-wheel star Danica Patrick was set to become just the third female driver to start a Daytona 500, the first of ten Sprint Cup starts driving for Stewart-Hass Racing.

Danica Patrick (10) and David Ragan (34) collide with the No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson on Lap 2
Getty Images for NASCAR
Guaranteed a start in the Daytona 500, Patrick was the feel-good pick to win the Daytona 500, but her race ended before she could complete a second lap as she got caught up in a crash after Jimmie Johnson got turned around in the tri-oval, eventually collecting Patrick, defending Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne and Kurt Busch. Patrick spent nearly 60 laps behind the wall getting repairs to her Chevrolet and would manage to limp to a 38th-place finish.

Once under green again, the race actually settled into a typical restrictor-plate pack race, with 14 lead changes through the first 100 laps. Martin Truex, Jr. led at halfway to collect a $200,000 bonus.

Lap 158 saw the caution flag fly for the seventh time when David Stremme lost an engine and spun out, bringing most of the field to pit road for scheduled fuel stops.

But no one could have ever predicted what happened next.

Track workers clean Turn 3 after a mechanical failure to Juan Pablo Montoya's car caused it to slide into a track dryer
Getty Images for NASCAR
Montoya’s no. 42 Chevrolet came off pit road to rejoin the field and suffered some sort of mechanical failure coming through turn three, sending the car out of control and impacting a truck towing a jet dryer near the top of the turn three banking.

The impact sent a fireball from Montoya’s car and hundreds of gallons of jet fuel pouring down the banking, which quickly ignited, touching off a conflagration that leaped 100 feet in the air and covered turn three in flames.

Safety crews tended to the flames while Montoya and the driver of the jet dryer were attended to. Both were not seriously hurt.

“I have hit a lot of things, but a jet dryer? I mean, no,” said Montoya. “Something fell in the rear of the car and the car just spun into the jet dryer. I felt a vibration and came in. They looked at everything and everything was ok and I still told them 'I think there is something broke' and I was coming back into the pits and the car just spun by itself.”

The resulting clean up led to a two-hour red flag while the let fuel was cleaned up and the track repaired.

During the red flag, the drivers were allowed to exit their cars and take a breather, and driver Brad Keselowski took the opportunity to pull out his cell phone and give updates to his fans on his Twitter account.

Among the first four cars who had no yet pitted, Dave Blaney found himself sitting in first place during the red flag, hoping to steal his first career Sprint Cup victory if the race was unable to continue.

Once the red flag was lifted, Blaney was forced to pit for fuel, handing the lead to Kenseth.

Back under green, Kenseth slid his no. 17 Ford Fusion up the track to pick up his teammate Biffle as they tried to use a two-car draft to pull away from the field.

That proved to be wishful thinking, as three more multi-car wrecks in the final laps brought out the yellow flag and put Earnhardt, Jr. and Hamlin right on their heels.

The 10th and final caution with two laps to go put the race into overtime, and at the green flag Kenseth and Biffle again paired up just ahead of Earnhardt, Jr. as the three pulled away over the next two laps.

Coming out of turn four on the final lap, Earnhardt, Jr. pulled out of line to the high side to make a run at Kenseth, but came up two-car lengths short.

“I would have liked to have won, but I told Greg (Biffle) I was going to push him on that last restart,” said Earnhardt, Jr. “I pushed him. I thought he was waiting and waiting and waiting. It looked like he might have been trying to make a move on the back straightaway. But, nothing materialized there. Then we came off of four, and I kind of waited until the last minute for him his opportunity to pass Matt (Kenseth) and nothing was happening. So, I just pulled out and went around him.”

Coming in sixth place was Paul Menard, followed by Kevin Harvick, polesitter Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Mark Martin.

11 cars failed to finish the event, including former Daytona 500 winners Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Trevor Bayne.

The victory concludes a dominating performance by the Roush Fenway Fords at Daytona Speedweeks that saw the team lead several practice sessions, sweep the front row on pole day and win the second Gatorade Duel qualifying race on Thursday with Kenseth. Kenseth became the first driver to win both a duel race and the 500 since 2004. It is Kenseth’s second Daytona 500 win in the last four seasons.

Results

FIN ST CAR DRIVER MAKE SPONSOR PTS/BNS LAPS STATUS
1 4 17 Matt Kenseth Ford Best Buy 47/1 202 Running
2 5 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet Diet Mountain Dew / National Guard 42/0 202 Running
3 2 16 Greg Biffle Ford 3M 42/1 202 Running
4 31 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota FedEx Express 42/2 202 Running
5 9 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet Caterpillar 40/1 202 Running
6 37 27 Paul Menard Chevrolet Peak / Menards 39/1 202 Running
7 13 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Budweiser 37/0 202 Running
8 1 99 Carl Edwards Ford Fastenal 36/0 202 Running
9 12 20 Joey Logano Toyota The Home Depot 36/1 202 Running
10 22 55 Mark Martin Toyota Aaron's Dream Machine 35/1 202 Running
11 30 15 Clint Bowyer Toyota 5-hour Energy 33/0 202 Running
12 26 56 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota NAPA Auto Parts 33/1 202 Running
13 7 9 Marcos Ambrose Ford Stanley 31/0 202 Running
14 32 47 Bobby Labonte Toyota Kroger 30/0 202 Running
15 24 36 Dave Blaney Chevrolet Ollie's Bargain Outlet 30/1 202 Running
16 3 14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet Office Depot / Mobil 1 29/1 202 Running
17 14 18 Kyle Busch Toyota M&M's Brown 27/0 202 Running
18 43 32 Terry Labonte Ford C&J Energy 27/1 202 Running
19 41 26 Tony Raines Ford Front Row Motorsports 25/0 202 Running
20 21 6 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Ford Ford EcoBoost 0 202 Running
21 18 39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet U.S. Army / Quicken Loans 23/0 202 Running
22 39 83 Landon Cassill Toyota Burger King 22/0 202 Running
23 33 38 David Gilliland Ford MHP Power Pak Pudding 21/0 202 Running
24 6 78 Regan Smith Chevrolet Furniture Row / CSX "Play it Safe" 21/1 200 Running
25 36 13 Casey Mears Ford GEICO 19/0 199 Running
26 38 93 David Reutimann Toyota Burger King 18/0 196 In Pit
27 10 33 Elliott Sadler Chevrolet General Mills / Kroger 0 196 Running
28 34 87 Joe Nemechek Toyota AMFMEnergy.com / Pellet & Wood Stoves 0 194 Running
29 20 5 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet Farmers Insurance 15/0 189 In Pit
30 11 98 Michael McDowell Ford K-Love / Curb Records 14/0 189 Running
31 19 1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet Bass Pro Shops / Tracker Boats 13/0 188 In Pit
32 23 2 Brad Keselowski Dodge Miller Lite 12/0 187 Running
33 27 43 Aric Almirola Ford Smithfield "Helping Hungry Homes" 11/0 187 Running
34 15 22 A.J. Allmendinger Dodge Shell / Pennzoil 10/0 177 Running
35 40 21 Trevor Bayne Ford Motorcraft / Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center 0 164 Running
36 35 42 Juan Montoya Chevrolet Target 8/0 159 Running
37 42 30 David Stremme Toyota Inception Motorsports 7/0 156 Out of Race
38 29 10 Danica Patrick Chevrolet GoDaddy.com 0 138 Running
39 28 51 Kurt Busch Chevrolet HendrickCars.com 5/0 113 Running
40 16 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet Drive to End Hunger 5/1 81 Blown Engine
41 17 7 Robby Gordon Dodge Mapei / Menards / Speed Energy 3/0 25 Out of Race
42 8 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe's 2/0 1 Running
43 25 34 David Ragan Ford Scorpion Truck Bed Liners 1/0 1 Running

* Denotes Rookie

Race Statistics

Average Speed: 140.256 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 36 Mins, 2 Secs.
Margin of Victory: 0.210 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 10 for 42 laps.
Lead Changes: 25 among 13 drivers.

Lap Leaders: G. Biffle 1-9; R. Smith 10-11; G. Biffle 12-14; P. Menard 15-16; D. Hamlin 17-40; J. Burton 41-57; J. Gordon 58; T. Stewart 59-60; J. Burton 61-67; G. Biffle 68-76; M. Truex Jr. 77-81; G. Biffle 82; T. Labonte 83-85; G. Biffle 86-99; M. Truex Jr. 100-101; D. Hamlin 102-129; G. Biffle 130; M. Martin 131-132; G. Biffle 133-138; D. Hamlin 139-143; J. Logano 144-145; M. Kenseth 146-157; G. Biffle 158; D. Blaney 159-164; M. Kenseth 165-202.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  D. Hamlin 3 times for 57 laps; M. Kenseth 2 times for 50 laps; G. Biffle 8 times for 44 laps; J. Burton 2 times for 24 laps; M. Truex Jr. 2 times for 7 laps; D. Blaney 1 time for 6 laps; T. Labonte 1 time for 3 laps; P. Menard 1 time for 2 laps; J. Logano 1 time for 2 laps; T. Stewart 1 time for 2 laps; M. Martin 1 time for 2 laps; R. Smith 1 time for 2 laps; J. Gordon 1 time for 1 lap.
Top 12 in Points: M. Kenseth - 47; D. Earnhardt Jr. - 42; G. Biffle - 42; D. Hamlin - 42; J. Burton - 40; P. Menard - 39; K. Harvick - 37; C. Edwards - 36; J. Logano - 36; M. Martin - 35; C. Bowyer - 33; M. Truex Jr. - 33.

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