Matt Kenseth won the Daytona 500, which was pushed into a third day by a fiery crash that halted the rain-delayed race for a further two hours.
Nascar’s season opener started in primetime last night for the first time in its 54-year history after a rainout on its scheduled Sunday start. The race ended at almost 1 a.m. eastern time today after 202 laps, with Kenseth crossing the finish line two-tenths of a second ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Kenseth’s win under the lights at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida, capped an eventful race that featured a lap two crash involving Jimmie Johnson and Danica Patrick, and a collision that sent a fireball across the circuit with 40 laps left.
“What a great race,” Kenseth, 39, said in a televised interview after winning his second Daytona 500. “We had a lot of problems. We had the engine spew out water, we had a little bit of a fuel problem, we lost the tachometer, we lost our radios.”
Kenseth -- who also won in 2009 when the race was halted by rain with 48 laps remaining -- earned $1.43 million for crossing the line first. Earnhardt Jr. collected $1.05 million of the record $19.1 million prize fund.
Driving the No. 17 Ford, Kenseth took the lead this morning when the green flag dropped to restart the race with 34 laps remaining. He then held off Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle, who finished in third place.
Denny Hamlin was fourth, followed by Jeff Burton, Paul Menard, Kevin Harvick, pole sitter Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Mark Martin.
Originally rescheduled to begin at noon yesterday, the start was moved to about 7 p.m. last night because of more weather concerns.
Patrick’s Early Crash
Patrick, the third female driver after Janet Guthrie and Shawna Robinson to start the Daytona 500, qualified 29th on the grid and finished 38th in her debut at the race after her car was damaged on a second-lap crash.
“The car is a little banged up, so it didn’t feel perfect,” Patrick said in a televised interview. “As it got later and later in the race, I didn’t want to play a part. I just didn’t want to have an influence on it.”
Johnson, a five-time Nascar season champion, exited the race after the incident. He spun into the wall following a bump from behind by the car of Elliott Sadler. He was then struck in the side by David Ragan as his car came back across the track while Patrick and defending champion Trevor Bayne took damage trying to avoid the crash in front of them.
“When I was sitting in the middle of the race track I knew someone was going to come along,” Johnson said in a televised interview with Fox. “Ragan had nowhere to go, but I unfortunately got drilled by him pretty hard. I’m just really, really bummed to start the season this way.”
The race was halted with 40 laps left when Juan Pablo Montoya lost control of his car and slammed into the back of a safety truck, which burst into flames after the collision along the outside wall of Turn 3. About 200 gallons (758 liters) of jet fuel used to power the turbine of a track dryer on the truck spilled across the circuit and caught fire, engulfing the back of the truck and sending clouds of black smoke into the sky.
Drivers were forced to stop while the fire was extinguished, the truck was carried off the banked oval by forklifts and the track was repaired.
Drivers waited on the track during the delay, talking with one another as well as fans and Fox broadcasters. Brad Keselowski had his mobile phone and Tweeted pictures and messages during the red flag.
It was after midnight when the race resumed under a yellow caution flag.
When the green flag dropped, Kenseth moved into the lead, followed by Biffle and Earnhardt Jr. Dave Blaney, who was leading when the race was red-flagged, slipped back into the pack after having to stop for gas.
“We had a really fast car all day and were able to overcome a lot of adversity,” said Kenseth, who is the ninth driver with multiple Daytona 500 wins. “I wasn’t expecting this, so it feels great to be sitting here.”