Kenseth in the wee hours
Second victory in four years
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In a Daytona 500 otherwise completely different from those that preceded it. Matt Kenseth became the only two-time winner in the span of a decade.
“The secret was we had a really fast car,” said Kenseth, who won the rain-shortened 500 of 2009. “We’ve had fast cars before and I managed to screw it up. This time I didn’t.”
Kenseth took advantage of a bump draft behind him between his Roush Fenway teammate, Greg Biffle, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who managed to slip past Biffle for second.
“I was kind of surprised how it played out,” Earnhardt said. “I was committed to push Greg (Biffle), but we couldn’t get to Matt (Kenseth). When I couldn’t push Greg, I just pulled out and was able to get second.
“This is the first time I’ve finished one of these in a while, so it felt good.”
The 54th Daytona 500, run on a Monday night for the first time in its history, nearly ended in a manner so bizarre that it would’ve made the pothole caper of 2010 seem inconsequential. As a result, it ended on a Tuesday with two laps of overtime thrown in.
Hours before it actually ended, it appeared for quite a while that the winner might even be … Dave Blaney. Seem far-fetched? Most definitely.
A Chevy driven by Juan Pablo Montoya crashed into a jet dryer. Montoya was blameless, just driving alone at the end of the back straight when some sort of major suspension failure apparently occurred. The red Chevy spun wildly out of control and crashed into the jet dryer. Montoya’s car exploded on impact.
Several seconds later, fuel pouring out of the dryer erupted in an inferno. Miraculously, both Montoya and the driver of the truck (pulling the jet dryer) walked away, though the latter, Duane Barnes, had to be taken to Halifax Memorial Hospital for observation.
Blaney happened to assume the lead while leaders pitted. Landon Cassill was second, Tony Raines third. David Gilliland, a surprising third a year earlier, was fourth.
The race was stopped, and the concern was that the raging inferno had irreparably harmed the track surface, but it turned out not to be the case, and the Blaney miracle never occurred.
The race began rather absurdly, too, as a six-car crash on the second lap removed Jimmie Johnson, Elliott Sadler, David Ragan, Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick and Trevor Bayne from contention.
“I can’t wait to see who was the bonehead who did that,” said Ragan. Apparently, it was Sadler.
Eleven laps later an apparent flat tire sent Ryan Newman’s Chevy spinning down the back straight, though Newman managed to gather up his car without notable damage.
The race then settled into the familiar succession of almost random lead changes. What, in part, upped the ante was the realization that weather was still a factor and that rain was likely to arrive at some point past the halfway point. At lap 70, the top five consisted of Biffle, Ambrose, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano.
Another Hendrick Motorsports entry fell by the wayside before the halfway point when three-time 500 winner Jeff Gordon suffered engine failure in his No. 24. During the caution period that followed, it left Kasey Kahne running 11th and Earnhardt Jr. 25th.
Terry Labonte led and was still near the front on lap 88 when his Ford took a ride through the drenched trioval grass after contact with Ambrose’s No. 9.
One Toyota driver, Denny Hamlin, helped push another, Martin Truex Jr., into the lead at the halfway point, thus earning Truex a $200,000 bonus in a plan implemented for the first time in many years for this race. Once the bonus was secured, Truex yielded to Hamlin, who led most of the next 30 laps.
Bowyer’s Toyota ran out of fuel and coasted to a halt, thus slowing the field and facilitating stops for those whose cars did not run out. Racing resumed on the 133rd lap.
Engine failure in David Stremme’s Toyota on lap 157 brought the leaders to pit road again.
That’s when Montoya’s car crashed into the jet dryer.
Off the air, MRN’s Mike Bagley exclaimed that Montoya’s car had blown up on the back straight. Shortly after Montoya climbed out of his car, the jet dryer erupted in a yellow flash. The fire raged for minutes before a fire truck arrived, and even after it did, the fire raged.
The red flag lasted 2 hours, 5 minutes, 29 seconds, and the race had 100 miles (40 laps) remaining at midnight.
An incident on lap 177 brought out a yellow flag for a spin involving Casey Mears, Aric Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Ambrose. Eleven laps later Joey Logano’s Toyota appeared to set off a crash that collected the cars of Jamie McMurray, Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Almirola, Edwards and Regan Smith. Stewart’s Chevy received slight damage.
Stewart, whose stretch drive had been an exercise in frustration, finally found himself bearing the brunt of contact between Stenhouse and Logano.
Monte Dutton; 704-869-1841; twitter.com/montedutton