Poor Matt Kenseth.
|Matt Kenseth wins the Daytona 500.|
The Best Buy Ford driver fended off late-race advances from Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Greg Biffle and Denny Hamlin early Tuesday morning to claim his second career Daytona 500 championship. And when it was over, people were talking about everything but him.
Kenseth’s victory -- the kind of understated, workmanlike effort that has characterized his NASCAR career -- came in the aftermath of the most bizarre race in Daytona 500 history. When people look back on Speedweeks 2012, they’ll remember a maddening rainout that delayed the race for the first time in its 54-year history, a horrifying caution-flag crash that immolated a track jet dryer and delayed the race’s finale by more than two hours and… oh yes… Kenseth.
Delayed more than 36 hours by a steady rain that enveloped the entire state of Florida, the Daytona 500 finally took the green flag just after 7 pm ET Monday; under the lights for the first time in the event’s storied history. Unfortunately, NASCAR’s first “Prime Time 500” was forced into infomercial territory by a bizarre incident with 40 laps remaining that stretched the bounds of believability.
|Montoya's Third Turn Inferno|
Under caution for David Stremme’s blown engine, Juan Pablo Montoya was hustling to catch the tail of the field when a mechanical failure sent his Target Chevrolet careening out of control and into the back of a jet dryer that was blowing debris from the track surface in Turn Three. The impact split the jet dryer’s fuel tank, igniting 200 gallons of jet fuel and sending a mushroom cloud of flame billowing into the night sky. Both Montoya and the driver of the jet dryer scrambled away without injury, but the inferno melted the demolished equipment into the race track, necessitating a two hour, five minute red flag while track crews extinguished the blaze, washed down the racing surface with a mixture of water and household laundry detergent and returned the track to raceable condition.
“Tide… tough enough to clean Daytona International Speedway and your boxer shorts.”
"It was bizarre," said Earnhardt, who waited out the delay before coming up a car length short in a bid to end his 1,351-day, 129-race Sprint Cup winless streak. "It was frustrating. Nothing like I've ever seen at a racetrack before."
The checkered flag finally fell at 12:56 am ET; long after most fans had drifted off to sleep; blissfully unaware of the insanity that had erupted around them. "When you think you have seen it all, (racing) finds a way to show you something you never thought you'd see," said Brad Keselowski during the stoppage. "And that's the case today in the Daytona 500."
Photo Credits: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images, Andrew Weber/US Presswire