Matt Kenseth won the first primetime Monday night Daytona 500, a crazy race delayed first by rain and then by fire, a lengthy marathon that ended nearly six hours after it began with a green-white-checkered finish.
The Roush Fenway Racing Fords had been fast all through Daytona Speedweeks, as Kenseth won his second Daytona 500 in the last four years and the third for Ford in the last four years.
Kenseth held off Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and Greg Biffle in a second Roush entry on the green-white-checkered to win, with Denny Hamlin fourth in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, followed by Jeff Burton’s Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
The second five was RCR teammates Paul Menard and Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards in a third Roush Fenway Ford, Joey Logano’s JGR Toyota and Mark Martin, in his first race for Michael Waltrip Racing.
It was not an easy night for Kenseth, who battled a variety of issues early in the race.
“We had a lot of problems and almost ended up a lap down. I had my radio break and my tach break and we pushed all the water out and had to come in and put water in it,” Kenseth said. “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.”
All during Speedweeks, Kenseth was fast, and he attributed a lot of his speed to the Roush Yates Ford engines in his Fusions.
“I have to give a lot of credit to Doug Yates and the guys at the engine shop,” said Kenseth. “We had great horsepower. 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 and 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.”
Edwards started the race from the pole, flanked by his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Biffle. And almost immediately, there was chaos, which would prove to be an unwelcome omen for the rest of the night.
Just past the start-finish line to complete Lap 1, Elliott Sadler turned Jimmie Johnson nose-first into the outside wall, triggering a melee that also snared 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, Danica Patrick, David Ragan and Kurt Busch. Ragan t-boned Johnson’s car viciously after it bounced off the wall, but all the drivers escaped injury.
However with a points penalty expected for the No. 48 team later this week after being caught with illegal C-posts in qualifying, the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion could start the season in a deep points hole.
“I’m just really bummed out for this whole Lowe’s team,” said Johnson, who finished the race 42nd. “For all the hard work that has gone into getting this Lowe’s Chevrolet (ready) and to have it barely complete two-and-a-half miles of green-flag racing is pretty sad.”
“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, someone had to cause it,” added Ragan.
The track went green on Lap 8, with the Roush Fords of Biffle, Matt Kenseth and Edwards out front. Five laps later, Ryan Newman spun at the exit of Turn 2 to bring out another yellow. On pit road, Newman lost a tire and was rammed by AJ Allmendinger.
The next notable incident came on Lap 81, when the engine expired in Jeff Gordon’s Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, dropping another pre-race favorite from the field.
“All the temps looked good,” said Gordon. “All the gauges looked good. Just kind of came out of nowhere. First it popped and then it went up in a big ball of flames.”
Martin Truex Jr. than made a statement by leading at Lap 100 and collecting the $200,000 halfway leader bonus, in large part with a push from Hamlin, who then took over out front.
On Lap 129, Tony Stewart pitted just as a caution came out for Clint Bowyer, who ran out of fuel, coasting to a stop in Turn 2. That sent the field down pit road yet again.
And then the craziest moment, perhaps ever, in the Daytona 500. Under caution on Lap 160, Juan Pablo Montoya had something break in his Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet and ran into the back of one of the track jet drying trucks, causing a fuel spill and a huge fire in Turn 3.
A red flag period of 2 hours, 5 minutes and 29 seconds ensued, as the track had to be scrubbed clean of the large fuel spill. Once the green came out, it was Kenseth who was out front, with Biffle on his bumper and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick behind them.
The race restarted on Lap 183, Kenseth leading Biffle, Earnhardt and Hamlin. Four laps later, Jamie McMurray wobbled in the far side of the tri-oval, triggering a big wreck that involved Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart, Aric Almirola, Regan Smith and Carl Edwards.
On Lap 194, the track went green with Kenseth and Biffle again out front, ahead of Hamlin and Earnhardt.
But on Lap 197, there was yet another wreck, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. turning Stewart and taking Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman with them. That sent the race to a green-white-checkered finish.
On the restart, Biffle got behind Kenseth, Earnhardt close by in third. Kenseth led at the white flag, the top three alone racing for the victory. Kenseth took the victory, with Earnhardt moving to second on the last lap.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.