Matt Kenseth takes fiery finish at Daytona 500
BY JENNA FRYER February 28, 2012 1:02AM
Updated: March 30, 2012 8:04AM
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Matt Kenseth won his second Daytona 500, holding off Dale Earnhardt Jr. late Monday to end one of the more bizarre races in NASCAR history.
Kenseth had Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle lined up behind him on the final restart, and Biffle played the role of dutiful teammate for the two laps of overtime. Earnhardt pulled out behind Biffle as they closed in on the finish line but couldn’t catch Kenseth.
It was an anticlimactic ending
after rain postponed the race for the first time in its 54-year history from Sunday to Monday. Then came a frightening fire that was touched off when Juan Pablo Montoya hit a safety truck, causing a two-hour delay.
Journeyman driver Dave Blaney was leading the race when it was red-flagged with 40 laps left after Montoya’s car spun into the truck.
The truck, which holds 200 gallons of jet kerosene, burst into flames. Montoya’s car slid into the grass, and he gingerly climbed from it as fire trucks rushed to the scene. The inferno raged on, and NASCAR red-flagged the race on the 160th of 200 laps.
Jet fuel poured down the surface of the third turn at Daytona International Speedway, creating a fiery lasting image of NASCAR’s biggest race of the year.
Earlier, five-time Sprint Cup
Series champion Jimmie Johnson had his worst career finish in the race. He wrecked on the second lap, ending his night long before his car reached full speed.
Johnson was 42nd, his worst finish in 53 starts at the famed track. Since winning the Daytona 500 in 2006, he has finished 39th, 27th, 31st, 35th, 27th and 42nd in the race.
This one was maybe more disappointing than the others, especially because he was coming off a career-low sixth in points in 2011.
‘‘I’m just really, really bummed to start the season this way,’’ Johnson said. ‘‘For all the hard work that has gone into getting ready for tonight, we didn’t get to complete 21/2 miles of green-flag racing.’’
Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon joined Johnson in the garage near the halfway point after his car blew an engine.
Johnson had little control over his exit. Elliott Sadler nudged Johnson from behind, turning his car into the wall and collecting several other cars. David Ragan slammed hard into Johnson’s spinning car.
Danica Patrick, Kurt Busch and defending Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne also were caught up in the mess, which happened early in a race that drivers, crews and fans waited more than 30 hours to get under way because of rain.
‘‘It is disappointing,’’ said Ragan,
who finished last in the 43-car field. ‘‘It is ridiculous to sit around this long for the Daytona 500 and on the very first lap for someone to be driving as reckless as whoever caused that. I can’t wait to see who was the bonehead that did that.’’
Crew members worked feverishly to get Patrick back on the track. They eventually did and she still was running at the end, but she finished 38th, 64 laps back.