Matt Kenseth took the lead just as Aric Almirola spun to bring out the eighth and final caution of the race. Rain began falling before green flag racing could resume, handing Kenseth his first Daytona 500 win.

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2009 Daytona 500 Race Recap

The Key Moment: Matt Kenseth took the lead just as Aric Almirola spun to bring out the eighth and final caution of the race. Rain began falling before green flag racing could resume, handing Kenseth his first Daytona 500 win.

In a Nutshell: For better or worse, the 2009 Cup season is out of the gates. Let’s see how this nag is going to run down the stretch.

Dramatic Moment: Action heated up as the race approached the halfway mark once threatening weather moved into the area.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

What in blazes was Dale Earnhardt Jr. thinking when he used up the No. 83 as a chew toy on lap 125? Even Junior’s most devoted fans have got to admit that amounted to an on-track mugging. Sure, Earnhardt was frustrated after a second unforced error in the pits — but taking out half the field was uncalled for. On Saturday, Jason Leffler was penalized five laps for a similar case of brain fade, but NASCAR swallowed its whistle on Sunday. Listening to Junior’s comments during the rain delay, it would seem he feels there’s one set of rules for the other 42 drivers and another set for him. Supposedly, Earnhardt radioed his team saying that, “If [Brian] Vickers wants to meet me in the garage to get his ass beat, I’m willing.”

With all the billions of dollars being thrown around to fix crumbling infrastructure as part of the stimulus package, Brian France pulled some “political strings” to get Daytona repaved in three years. The condition of the track is simply embarrassing nowadays with all those bumps and cracks. They call the Daytona 500 stock car racing’s Super Bowl, but the NFL doesn’t play their big game on a field of dead grass pock-marked with gopher holes. And when they do repave Daytona, this would be a perfect time to reduce the banking so the series could dump the pile-up plates forever.

Countless words were written this offseason about the dark financial clouds hanging over the future of NASCAR this season. Well, FOX found an interesting way to address the issue — basically ignoring it. More rodents, less news… that’s how you do an interminable pre-race show!

What kind of setup was the No. 24 team running that caused them all those problems with right front tires? By all indications, none of the other Hendrick teams had the same problem.

The paint scheme on the No. 44 car AJ Allmendinger drove Sunday was intended to honor the ARCA mount Kyle Petty drove to victory in his first big league stock car racing start back at Daytona in 1979. Well, Kyle sounded less than moved by the tribute. In fact, he labeled himself “crushed” the team hadn’t even consulted with him before going forward with it.

With NASCAR’s four teams per owner limit kicking in at the end of this season, I thought Rick Hendrick and Tony Stewart would be a bit more circumspect about the incestuous relationship between their two teams… I guess not. Hendrick was all but soul-kissing Stewart after Tony’s win in Saturday’s Nationwide Series event.

Speaking of Stewart, I recommend he not leave an open space on his fridge door for a Christmas card from Goodyear this year. After a Saturday practice crash destroyed the cars of Stewart and his driver Ryan Newman, both had some rather pointed comments about the quality of racing tires Goodyear provides.

Here’s another sign of the times: Todd Bodine won Friday’s Truck Series race in an unsponsored entry. Well, I guess with Bodine at the wheel, we can cross “Just For Men” off the list…

Lest anyone forget (and I know most of you have not), this Wednesday will mark the anniversary of Dale Earnhardt’s tragic death on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. Join me in lighting a candle at 7:03 for the seven-time champion who drove the black No. 3 car.

With a baseline as low as they’ve set up over the last eight years, the optimists amongst us felt that maybe this year, FOX would somehow improve an unpalatable product. No such luck, I’m afraid. They’ve bought back everything old time fans hate about their coverage: the Hollywood Hotel, DW’s Boogity, Boogity, Boogity, and that annoying “Let’s Go Raisin Boys” ditty. This year, they’ve added the animated Digger segment. Maybe I’m just getting old and cranky, but I’m thinking this might be the worst waste of resources ever in sports broadcasting. Let’s see… we’ve gone from a gimmicky camera angle, to an unnecessary animated mascot for that camera, to a named mascot, to a five-minute TV show (which I’m sure they hope is a chance to sell plush toys and other souvenirs). So, if you see an adult in a Digger t-shirt, contact your nearest lifeguard and have them removed from the gene pool. On one level, any distraction that keeps us from having to listen to the residents of the Hollywood Hotel or Larry McReynolds taking a broadax to the English language can’t be all that bad — but this cartoon is just so calculated and cynical it defies common sense. FOX’s David Hill claims that the new Digger show will lure kids to the sport and hook them on racing for life. If that’s the case, maybe they need to lose the subliminal tie to the Coors Light logo on the side of the gopher’s camera.

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Kyle Busch was the class of the field for most of the event, but his car was destroyed in the big lap 125 pileup. It’s tough not to feel bad for Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, and Jamie McMurray, too — all of whom ran well all day, but wound up caught up in that same mess.

Joey Logano’s first Daytona 500 didn’t go well, as he took a head-on hit into pit wall well before the halfway point of the race.

Newman’s debut at Stewart-Haas Racing was less than memorable. He wiped out two cars, blew an engine, then ran poorly on Sunday. Having his car fall off the jack in the pits was just rubbing salt into the wound.

Jimmie Johnson’s car just never got up to speed Sunday, and the entire team seemed befuddled trying to figure out why.

Jeremy Mayfield’s quixotic attempt to run the Daytona 500 started well in his qualifying race, but collapsed amidst a myriad of mechanical failures on Sunday. Cinderella might have found the glass slipper a good fit — but those things suck for kicking field goals.

Had the rain arrived just a few minutes earlier, Elliott Sadler would have been the upset winner of the Daytona 500 — certainly the biggest victory ever in his career.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Kenseth only led one green flag lap, but it was the lap that counted, as rain sealed the deal before Kevin Harvick got a chance to make a run at him. Kenseth also barely dodged the big wreck that took out several other top contenders.

Given the amount of work required to basically rebuild a team from scratch during the offseason, one might imagine Stewart was pleased with strong results during Speedweeks. His run in Sunday’s 500 was certainly a lot stronger than his eighth-place finish indicates.

Richard Petty Motorsports was formed on a wing and a prayer during the offseason, but the organization did have two drivers finish in the top five on Sunday.

Allmendinger was one of four drivers to race his way into the field in Thursday’s Twin 150s. He made the most of the opportunity with a third-place finish in the No. 44 Valvoline Dodge.

Worth Noting

  • A Ford won the Daytona 500 for the first time since Dale Jarrett’s win in the 2000 500.
  • It’s hard to believe it, but this is the first Daytona 500 win for a Jack Roush entrant. For Kenseth, it was his first victory since the Homestead season finale of 2007.
  • Scott Speed in 35th was the top finishing rookie in the race. Logano finished dead last.
  • The top 10 finishers drove two Fords, three Chevys, four Dodges, and a Toyota.
  • Allmendinger (third) scored the best finish of his Cup career. His previous best result was a ninth at Kansas last year.
  • Sadler (fifth) managed his first top-10 result since last year’s Brickyard. Not bad for a driver the team was ready to can during the offseason, huh?
  • Michael Waltrip (seventh) drove to his best finish since Loudon last summer.
  • Reed Sorenson’s ninth-place finish was his best since Loudon last year.
  • No driver who posted a top-five result in the 2008 Daytona 500 repeated the feat on Sunday.
  • This was just the fourth Daytona 500 to be shortened by rain.
  • Of the 12 drivers who were in last year’s Chase, just four — Kenseth, Harvick, Clint Bowyer, and Stewart — posted top-12 finishes at Daytona.

What’s the Points?

Oddly enough, one race deep into the season the point standings practically mirror the finishing result of the Daytona 500.

Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans, with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) — We’ll give this one three cans of fairly chilly generic stuff. Despite some hard hits, nobody was badly hurt during Speedweeks, and that’s worth an extra can.

Next Up: The series heads west like the Joad family this season to Fontana. Who could have guessed? California still isn’t the Promised Land. And get this: actual racing will not commence next Sunday until somewhere around 6:15 p.m. ET. Whose notion of a good idea was that? I guess we’ll all have to wait to see how stock car racing ratings do against the over-sexed denizens of Wisteria Lane, Lily, and her partners.

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About Matt McLaughlin

Matt McLaughlin
Matt joined Frontstretch in 2007 after a decade of race-writing, paired with the first generation of racing internet sites like RaceComm and Racing One. Now semi-retired, he submits occasional special features while his retrospectives on drivers like Alan Kulwicki, Davey Allison, and other fallen NASCAR legends pop up every summer on Frontstretch. A motorcycle nut, look for the closest open road near you and you can catch him on the Harley during those bright, summer days in his beloved Pennsylvania.

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