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Matt Kenseth wins rain shortened Daytona 500

by Mark J. Cipolloni
Sunday, February 15, 2009

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Matt Kenseth celebrates his first Daytona 500 win (Top) and his Dewalt Ford races hard (below)
Matt Kenseth led just one green flag lap Sunday but it was the right one.  Kenseth took the lead of the Daytona 500 from Elliott Sadler just before the rain began to fall and mother nature did the rest to give Kenseth his first Daytona 500 win in his Dewalt Roush Fenway Ford.  Kevin Harvick was 2nd in his Chevrolet and AJ Allmendinger, who struggled badly his rookie year, a sensational 3rd in his Richard Petty Motorsport Dodge.

NASCAR tried to dry the track and get the race restarted but the light rain never let up and when it began to fall harder NASCAR declared the race official after 152 of 200 laps before a capacity crowd of some 200,000 at Daytona International Speedway, plus a Fox national television audience.

A major crash on the backstretch of lap 124 took out many of the top contenders including the race's dominant driver, Kyle Busch's Toyota, who up to that point appeared to be able to lead at will.

Busch, who had led 88 laps to clearly establish himself as the race favorite, was a victim in a 10-car wreck that had cars sliding through the backstretch infield apron and down the end of the backstretch straightaway in a huge cloud of smoke and debris.
   

The No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing crew works on the car after Kyle Busch was caught up in an accident on Lap 124
Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR
The accident was triggered when Brian Vickers moved over to block Dale Earnhardt, Jr. near the end of the backstretch. Earnhardt was forced off the track onto the apron and into the grass. When Earnhardt tried to steer his sliding car back on the track, he clipped the rear end of Vickers' Toyota, sending Vickers shooting across the track directly in front of the oncoming field of 200-mph stock cars. At that point, it was pure havoc.  No one was injured, but the accident sent a number of cars to the junk heap.

The 10-car crash collected Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Robby Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Scott Speed, and Brian Vickers.

That crash changed the entire complexion of this, the 51st running of the Great American race.  After that the remaining drivers were racing hard trying to get to the front before the approaching rain started to fall.

Kenseth, who didn't win a single race in 2008, used a push from Kevin Harvick to speed past Sadler going into Turn 1 on lap 146.  Then the caution flew when Aric Almirola went spinning off the backstretch after Kasey Kahne made contact with him.

Under caution the rain began to fall on lap 149 and the race never went back green.  By lap 152 the rain was falling hard enough that NASCAR threw the red flag and about 16 minutes after that the race was called at 6:49 PM ET.

Kenseth started the race from 39th position after his crew had to change an engine in his Jack Roush Ford sponsored by DeWalt.

Ironically, the runner-up in the abbreviated race -- 152 out of a scheduled 200 laps were completed -- and winner of the Daytona 500 two years ago, Kevin Harvick, also started in the rear of the field due to engine problems.
   
Third-place finisher AJ Allmendinger had a storybook finish since he just hooked up with the Valvoline Dodge team several weeks ago. His performance Sunday should help him find additional sponsorship.
 
It was a cool, overcast afternoon when the 51st running of this classic got underway. Drivers mashed the gas to the floor right from the git-go and three different drivers led the first three laps, Truex, Martin and "wild thing" Busch, who took over on the third lap and was leading when Almirola spun by himself on the eighth circuit.
 
When racing resumed, Busch remained out front with Martin, Labonte, Earnhardt and Edwards right behind. 

A mandatory caution at lap 26 allowed the teams to check their tire wear after rain washed the rubber off the track Saturday night and Sunday morning. NASCAR officials informed the teams at the start of the race of the mandatory caution.
 
Once all the teams had pitted, Busch resumed his lead with Earnhardt on his bumper. Gordon was third, Hamlin fourth and Martin fifth.
 
Jeremy Mayfield, who started his own team about a month ago and was one of the feel-good stories in making the race, had his luck change at lap 33 when a problem cropped up with his motor.
 
At 40 laps, Busch had Kenseth on his bumper, who had started from the rear after changing motors. Ragan had moved to third, Earnhardt was fourth, Hamlin fifth and Ragan sixth.
 
Robbie Gordon dropped from the middle of the pack to 42nd when a punctured tire prompted an unscheduled pit stop.
   
At 50 laps, Busch still led and looked as though he clearly had the fastest car in the field but Earnhardt and Stewart were just a car length behind. Earnhardt and Stewart, however, blew past Busch on lap 53. One lap later, Busch pushed Stewart past Earnhardt. On the next lap, Travis Kvapil smacked the wall, bringing out the afternoon's second caution.
   
When the green flag fell again, it was Stewart out front with Gordon second. Busch was third. Also running in the front pack was McMurray, Hamlin, Edwards, Martin, Kenseth, Vickers, Ragan and Kurt Busch, who finished second in this race last year.
 
Earnhardt, who completely missed his pit stall and had to go around the track again, was way back in 35th on the restart.
   
By lap 70, Gordon led, followed by Busch, Hamlin, McMurray, Kenseth, Edwards, Vickers, Stewart, who was shuffled backwards by one of the famous Daytona drafts, Martin and Allmendinger.
 
Stewart's teammate and defending champion of the Daytona 500, spent considerable time in the pits and lost several laps, which pretty much ended his chance for winning "The Great American Race" again.
 
On lap 81, rookie Joey Logano, running back in the field to gain some experience, was in the wrong place at the right time. Another rookie, former Formula One driver Scott Speed, got loose coming out of four and had to ease off the throttle. Logano, right behind him, had to make a jerky turn left to stay off Speed and spun across the track. He smashed into the inside retaining wall almost head-on, tearing his Home Depot machine to smithereens. Logano was not injured.
 
On the restart at lap 85, it was Busch again and Hamlin moved into second. Allmendinger was third with Truex fourth. Gordon held on in fifth, followed by Edwards, Kenseth, Stewart, Ragan, McMurray and Burton.
   
The best race drivers in the world were mixing it up as though it was the last lap, rather than halfway. Gordon went from fifth to second with a nifty slingshot move down the backstretch, which resulted in Truex getting shoved back to 20th spot. Once Gordon made his move, others tucked in on his bumper and formed a freight train back to where Truex wound up.

NASCAR media contributed to this story.

Results

FIN ST CAR DRIVER MAKE SPONSOR PTS/BNS LAPS STATUS
1 43 17 Matt Kenseth Ford Dewalt 190/5 152 Running
2 38 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Shell / Pennzoil 170/0 152 Running
3 20 44 A.J. Allmendinger Dodge Valvoline 165/0 152 Running
4 22 33 Clint Bowyer Chevrolet Cheerios / Hamburger Helper 160/0 152 Running
5 30 19 Elliott Sadler Dodge Stanley 160/5 152 Running
6 29 6 David Ragan Ford UPS 150/0 152 Running
7 25 55 Michael Waltrip Toyota NAPA 146/0 152 Running
8 37 14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet Office Depot / Old Spice 147/5 152 Running
9 32 43 Reed Sorenson Dodge McDonald's 138/0 152 Running
10 11 2 Kurt Busch Dodge Miller Lite 134/0 152 Running
11 1 1 Martin Truex Jr. Chevrolet Bass Pro Shops / Tracker 135/5 152 Running
12 28 00 David Reutimann Toyota Aaron's Dream Machine 127/0 152 Running
13 3 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet DuPont 129/5 152 Running
14 8 42 Juan Montoya Chevrolet Target 121/0 152 Running
15 23 07 Casey Mears Chevrolet Jack Daniel's 118/0 152 Running
16 2 5 Mark Martin Chevrolet Kellogg's / Carquest 120/5 152 Running
17 21 47 Marcos Ambrose Toyota Little Debbie / Kingsford / Clorox 112/0 152 Running
18 16 99 Carl Edwards Ford Aflac 109/0 152 Running
19 41 34 John Andretti Chevrolet Window World 106/0 152 Running
20 31 16 Greg Biffle Ford 3M 103/0 152 Running
21 36 78 Regan Smith Chevrolet Furniture Row Companies 100/0 152 Running
22 12 96 Bobby Labonte Ford Ask.com 102/5 152 Running
23 34 21 Bill Elliott Ford Motorcraft 94/0 152 Running
24 13 9 Kasey Kahne Dodge Budweiser 91/0 152 Running
25 35 66 Terry Labonte Toyota Window World 88/0 152 Running
26 15 36 Scott Riggs Toyota Red Bank Outfitters 85/0 152 Running
27 10 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota FedEx Express 82/0 152 Running
28 14 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet Amp Energy / National Guard 84/5 152 Running
29 26 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet Caterpillar 76/0 152 Running
30 9 8 Aric Almirola Chevrolet Guitar Hero 73/0 152 Running
31 5 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe's 70/0 152 Running
32 39 77 Sam Hornish Jr. Dodge Mobil 1 72/5 152 Running
33 24 12 David Stremme Dodge Penske Racing 64/0 152 Running
34 27 7 Robby Gordon Toyota Jim Beam 61/0 152 Running
35 42 82 Scott Speed * Toyota Red Bull 58/0 152 Running
36 40 39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet U.S. Army 55/0 150 Running
37 17 98 Paul Menard Ford Quaker State / Menards 52/0 139 In Pit
38 19 26 Jamie McMurray Ford Crown Royal 49/0 139 Accident
39 6 83 Brian Vickers Toyota Red Bull 46/0 134 Accident
40 18 41 Jeremy Mayfield Toyota All Sport 43/0 126 Accident
41 4 18 Kyle Busch Toyota M&M's 50/10 124 Accident
42 33 28 Travis Kvapil Ford Golden Corral 37/0 90 Out
43 7 20 Joey Logano * Toyota The Home Depot 34/0 81 Accident

* Denotes Rookie

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