“One thing about racing: When you think you’ve seen it all, it finds a way to show you something you never thought you’d see.”
So said Brad Keselowski during a lengthy, two-hour red flag at Monday night’s Daytona 500. The Penske Racing driver was talking about the reason for the red flag: an enormous fire on the racing surface caused when Juan Pablo Montoya spun into a jet dryer while under caution.
After the track was finally deemed safe for racing at around Midnight EST, it was Matt Kenseth who emerged victorious, beating Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle and perennial favorite Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to the finish after a green-white-checker finish.
It was Kenseth’s second win in four years in the Great American Race, making him the first repeat winner of the event since Jeff Gordon won for a third time in 2005. The Wisconsin driver had previously won the rain-shortened 2009 race.
After a crash-marred final 40 laps, Kenseth held off a too-late charge from Earnhardt, Jr., who passed Biffle for second off Turn 4, but could not reach the No. 17 Ford.
After the race, Kenseth was thrilled with his second Daytona 500 victory.
“It feels great. We had a really fast car all day and overcame a lot of adversity and problems with the car that we figured out,” Kenseth said in the post-race press conference. “We had a great pit stop at the end that put us into position. I wasn’t expecting to win when I woke up this morning so it feels good to be sitting here.”
For third-place finisher Biffle, it was simply a missed opportunity.
“We had a great [Speedweeks]. Coming out of here with a third place finish is really exciting for us,” Biffle said. “I still am a little blown away by the end of that race and that we weren’t able to push up to the back of the 17 car. I was kind of surprised by that. Next time maybe we will do something a little bit different.”
Denny Hamlin finished a strong fourth in his first race with new crew chief Darian Grubb atop the pit box. Jeff Burton rounded out the top-5.
Richard Childress Racing teammates Paul Menard and Kevin Harvick were sixth and seventh, respectively. Carl Edwards came back from a late crash to finish in eighth, while Joey Logano and Mark Martin finished out the top-10.
Montoya’s incident occurred after a lap 156 caution for David Stremme’s blown motor and spin. After reporting a heavy vibration, Montoya said that the car simply “turned right” going into the third turn, sending him directly into a jet dryer cleaning the track, spilling fuel and causing an enormous fire that spanned the length of the asphalt surface. After dousing the fire, track workers spent well over an hour removing the jet dryer from the high banking and cleaning debris, as well as checking the track for any issues.
The driver of the jet dryer was taken to a local hospital, but is believed to be in good condition.
All told, the race saw 25 lead changes among 13 drivers, and ten cautions over 42 laps, not counting the two-hour red flag.
Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson was knocked out of the race early after contact from Elliott Sadler sent him into the wall on Lap 2. The wreck collected defending race winner Trevor Bayne and 500 rookie Danica Patrick, both of whom spent significant time in the garage repairing damage.
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