Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Matt Kenseth Survives Long Daytona Weekend

The Daytona 500 was supposed to be run at 1 P.M. on Sunday afternoon, but the rains came and postponed it until noon on Monday.  But at around 10:15 Monday morning, NASCAR and Daytona International Speedway officials decided to postpone the race again, pushing the race back until 7 P.M., making it the first prime-time NASCAR race.  The race included a 2 hour, 5 minute red flag after Juan Pablo Montoya destroyed a jet dryer, and, a little after one o'clock in the morning, Matt Kenseth won the first Daytona 500 run on a Tuesday.
Matt Kenseth with the Harley J. Earl Trophy (Photo courtesy Getty Images)
 The race promised fireworks, and it sure delivered.  On lap 2, Jimmie Johnson was hooked by Elliot Sadler, and it started a chain-reaction crash.  Along with Johnson, the crash also included Trevor Bayne, David Ragan, Kurt Busch, and Danica Patrick.  Johnson would go on to finish 42nd, and it could leave him in a hole heading into Phoenix.  If Johnson is penalized for an illegal C-post (chances are he will), he could start the race in Phoenix with -22 points!  That sixth championship just got a little more tricky.

Danica Patrick and Jimmie Johnson wreck on lap 2 (Photo courtesy Associated Press)
 NASCAR and DIS decided to make a $200,000 bonus to the driver who led the race at halfway.  Martin Truex Jr. led that lap, so Truex Jr. should be getting a pretty nice check in the mail. 

The race was about 40 laps from the finish when Clint Bowyer's 5-Hour Energy Toyota ran out of gas.  I guess there is no crash; you just stop on the track.  Under the ensuing caution, something broke on Juan Pablo Montoya's car, and it sent him careening towards one of the jet dryers trying to dry the track.  After being released from the infield care center, Montoya told reporters, "I told them when I left the pits something wasn't right and I felt a weird vibration when we were with the pack. ... I was going down the back straightaway. ... I got on the brakes to travel up and while I was telling the spotter to have a look on how the rear was moving, the car just turned right."

Track workers try to contain the fire from a jet dryer (Photo courtesy US Presswire)
The ensuing explosion and fire was a big one; crews worked feverishly to contain the 200 gallons of jet fuel that were now igniting on the race track.  The driver of the truck had to be helped down, and was sent to Daytona's Halifax Medical Center for further observation.  He was soon released, and is now comfortably resting at his Michigan home. 

After a two hour and five minute red flag delay, which included Tide, Brad Keselowski tweeting from inside the car, some famous Bondo, and a shuttle bus filled with crew members, the race was resumed with 40 laps to go.
Brad Keselowski was tweeting during the red flag (Photo courtesy Brad Keselowski)
 Following the long delay, it didn't take long for another caution to come out.  Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears both spun down the track, in a synchronized spin.  Neither car was really damaged, and following the Montoya accident, this was very mild. 

Another crash on Lap 187 collected Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne, AJ Allmendinger, and Brad Keselowski.  Then, Tony Stewart spun on lap 196 to set up a green-white-checkered finish.  The crash collected Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, and 2011 Nationwide Champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr., among others. 

When the race took the green flag, it was a mad dash to the finish.  After taking the white flag, Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. hooked up behind Matt Kenseth and tried to make a move, but they could not catch him.  Kenseth's Ford engine was just too much for them to handle, and he won his second Daytona 500.  Even though his car was fast, it didn't mean Kenseth wasn't a little bit worried that he would be passed on the last lap.  "The 16 had one of the strongest cars all week, and I think ours was right there, as well.  Our car, for some reason, was a lot faster out front than it was in traffic.  My car was one of the faster cars, so it was harder for some of the cars to push you and stay locked onto you.  And we had enough speed once we took the white, I felt sort of OK about it, but I still thought they were going to get a run and pass me," Kenseth told reporters. 
Matt Kenseth beats Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle to the line (Photo courtesy Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, who had a very fast car all night, finished fourth, while Richard Childress Racing teammates Jeff Burton, Paul Menard, and Kevin Harvick finished fifth, sixth, and seventh, respectively.  Carl Edwards finished eighth, followed by Joey Logano in ninth.  Mark Martin, in his debut with Michael Waltrip Racing, rounded out the top ten. 

Mark Martin races with Dave Blaney (Photo courtesy SPEED)
 This year's Daytona 500 will definitely go down as one of the most memorable.  Between rain and fire, no one will forget this for some time.  The race proved to be a great season-opener, and I'm ready to move on to Phoenix.  Though, I might first take a nap.  Or two.

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