DAYTONA BEACH Fla. – Matt Kenseth won the 54th running of the Daytona 500. A race that began on Monday and finished early Tuesday morning.
In a race that was delayed a day by rain for the first time in its storied history and featured a frightening and fiery crash with a piece of safety equipment, the 500 became a story of survival.
Among the favorites who didn’t survive was five time Cup champion and 2006 Daytona winner Jimmie Johnson.
After starting eighth Johnson was hit from behind by Elliott Sadler as the field raced towards turns one to start the second lap of 200. Johnson’s Chevy was turned front first into the wall. The crash caused a chain reaction behind him that took out last years Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, along with David Ragan, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick.
“We were all just trying to make our lane work,” Johnson said. “A lot of energy in the lane. I was kind of pushing the No. 78 (Regan Smith) a little bit. I could feel some help from behind. Just turned me around. Sent me down to the inside lane and back up to the outside lane.”
As Johnson slid back across the track he was hit hard by Ragan.
“I knew at some point someone was going to come along unfortunately,” he said. “David Ragan had nowhere to go. I unfortunately got drilled by him pretty hard.”
Johnson’s teammate four time champion and three time Daytona 500 winner, Jeff Gordon saw his night end early when the engine in his Chevy imploded in flames on lap 81.
The most frightening incident of the night came on lap 160 during a caution period when Juan Pablo Montoya lost control of his car and crashed into a jet dryer. A fireball erupted as Montoya’s crumpled car came to rest in the grass at turn three. The jet dryer driver was able to escape injury, but it took the track several minutes to bring the flames under control. The cleanup and repair to the track forced a red flag period for nearly two hours.
When the field got the green with 40 to go the story came down who could beat the dominate Roush-Fenway Racing paring of Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth. All the Roush-Fenway drivers have been strong the entire Speedweeks and that trend continued in the 500 as Biffle and Kenseth ran up front for the entire race.
The next to last caution of the night came on lap 187 and involved seven cars including pole sitter and Roush-Fenway driver Carl Edwards The caution set the stage for a seven lap shootout. Edwards who started on the pole suffered from fuel pressure issues and fell back early in the race. He was also penalized for removing a tear off from his windshield during the red flag.
Kenseth and Biffle again hooked up and tried to hold off the rest of the field. The biggest threats coming as they had most of the race, from Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Denny Hamlin fell in behind.
All bets were off though when the tenth caution of the night erupted with four laps to go. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., spun Tony Stewart setting off an eight car melee. All those involved including Stewart were able to continue.
The caution set up a green-white-checkered flag finish. Kenseth and Biffle separated themselves from the field on the restart with Earnhardt Jr. close behind in third. Heading to the checkered, Earnhardt was able to get past Biffle to finish second.
“I could get a pretty good start on the bottom and either Denny or Dale Jr. could push me for awhile and then they just couldn’t stay attached,” Kenseth said. “I would get away from them just in time to get in front of Greg and the two of us together could make some unbelievable speed. I have to thank Greg. We worked together really good all day long. He had a really fast car all day as well.”
Kenseth held on to take the checkered flag to win his second Daytona 500, his first coming in 2009 and his 22 NASCAR Sprint Cup career win. He was also a survival story as Kenseth suffered several issues throughout the race.
“I had my radio break and my tach break,” Kenseth said. “And we pushed all the water out and had to come in and put water in it. These guys did a great job. They never panicked and I think they enjoyed their day more because they couldn’t hear me on the radio with my radio problems. My guys did a great job.”
Hamlin finished fourth with Jeff Burton rounding out the top five.
In her NASCAR Sprint Cup debut Danica Patrick finished 38th, 64 laps down after getting swept up in the first crash of the race.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup series has quick turnaround as the series heads to Phoenix this coming weekend.
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