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Matt Kenseth Wins One Bizarre Daytona 500

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, February 28 2012

Matt Kenseth celebrates victory after Monday's, er, Tuesday's Daytona 500. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Matt Kenseth survived floods, fire, a broken two-way radio and a green/white checkered restart to emerge victorious in the 54th running of the Daytona 500 on Monday night/Tuesday morning at Daytona International Speedway.

Kenseth, who led 50 of the 202 laps, became a two-time 500 winner with the result.

“It feels good,” he said. “We had a really fast car and have fast cars in the past and I figured out a way to mess it up. I am thankful everything worked out on the restarts and I am glad it all worked out.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. made a run at Kenseth coming out of the final turn but could only finish second.

Greg Biffle, Kenseth’s Roush Fenway Racing teammate, was third.

“We had great horsepower,” Kenseth said. “I could get a pretty good start on the bottom and either Denny (Hamlin) 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.”

Hamlin, who led a race-best 57 laps, was fourth and Jeff Burton was fifth.

Rounding out the top 10 were Paul Menard, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Mark Martin.

The flooding came on Sunday in the form of steady rain in the Daytona Beach area. The rain forced postponement of the start, first to Monday morning, and then, when it didn’t abate early in the day, until 7 p.m.

The fire came late in the race when the car of Juan Pablo Montoya broke during a caution. When the car broke as Montoya was heading up the back stretch, it spun out of control and into the rear of a jet dryer

The lead pack heads for the finish. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

which was cleaning off the track. The dryer exploded in flames.

Jet fuel ran down the banking near Turn 3 and ignited. A huge fire ensued and it took track workers several minutes to extinguish. The red flag shut the race down for 2 hours and 5 minutes.

“Something fell in the rear of the car and the car just spun into the jet dryer. I felt a vibration and came in. They looked at everything and everything was ok and I still told them ‘I think there is something broke’ and I was coming back into the pits and the car just spun by itself.”

Then there was the wrecking. There was lots of it and it started early. Like a lap and a couple yards in. That first wreck involved a couple of the biggest stars – and storylines – in the series.

It started when five-time Jimmie Johnson was hit from behind by Elliott Sadler and pushed sideways. Behind him a large handful of others got caught up, including Danica Patrick, who was making her first Cup start.

Johnson’s car was just spinning to a stop when it was T-boned by David Ragan.

“When I was sitting in the middle of the race track I knew somebody was going to come along, unfortunately,” Johnson said.

“We were all just getting up to speed and I had some help from behind that got me out of control. From there on I was just spinning.”

Patrick’s car was taken to the garages and any hopes she had for a good finish were history.

Also caught up was Trevor Bayne, last year’s 500 winner, and Kurt Busch.

Ragan called the instigator – Sadler – a “bonehead”.

“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,” Ragan said. “It is just a shame for it to be that early in the biggest race, the first race of the year. We just got caught up in it.”

When the race restarted on lap seven, Biffle had the lead andKenseth, was second. Three laps later, Regan Smith moved to the lead for a couple laps but Biffle reclaimed it  and had on lap 12 when Ryan Newman

Danica Patrick's night didn't go well. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

spun to bring out the second caution of the night.

Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing, who did not pit, led the field to the field to green on the lap 17 restart. Alongside was Menard of Richard Childress Racing, who also did not pit. Menard and Hamlin exchanged the lead but then Hamlin went low and the field fell in behind.

Hamlin held the lead for 24 laps. He gave it up to RCR’s Burton on lap 44. Pushing Burton to the front was Biffle.

Burton brought the race-leading pack in on lap 59 under green. Behind him was Biffle.

When the pitting cycled through, Burton had the lead back. Having trouble on the sequence was defending Cup champion Tony Stewart, who had his way into the pits blocked and had to take an extra lap, meaning he would re-enter the race as a single without help.

On lap 63, just after pitting ended, debris brought out a yellow flag. Burton restarted on lap 68 with the lead but Biffle, with a push from Richard Petty Motorsport’s Marcos Ambrose, quickly went to the lead.

Fifteen laps later, Martin Truex Jr. of Michael Waltrip Racing passed Biffle for the lead.

On lap 81, Jeff Gordon’s engine exploded to bring out caution No. 4.

“Pretty strange,” Gordon said.

“There has been so much reliability testing that if we had seen some high temps or some high water pressure, then I would have kind of expected some of this to happen. But, I was actually seeing some surprising low temps and low pressures. I don’t know, maybe something was off there.”

First out the pits was Biffle, but Terry Labonte, who did not pit, had the lead on the lap 87 restart. Biffle was second but moved to the lead on lap 88. Shortly after, Labonte was tapped from behind by Ambrose. Labonte spun to a stop in the infield grass and out came the yellow for a fifth time.

The race restarted on lap 92 with Biffle leading and Ambrose next to him on the outside.

Truex moved to the front heading to the line on lap 101 – the half way point. By leading that lap, Truex collected a $200,000 bonus and made sure the race would be concluded on Monday.

A lap later, Hamlin moved past Truex for the lead.

Hamlin held the lead until lap 129 when a caution came out for the slowing car of Clint Bowyer, who ran out of fuel.

Green-flag pitting had just started when the yellow came out. Stewart had already entered the pits before they closed. That put him in the second row for the restart on lap 132. Mark Martin and David Stremme, who did not pit, were first and second.

Biffle quicky passed both and was back in the lead.

Hamlin moved back to the lead on lap 138. Five laps later, Hamlin’s JGR teammate moved to the lead.

With 55 laps to go, Kenseth moved to the lead.

With 43 laps to go, Stremme’s engine blew and that brought out another yellow. During the ensuing pitting, teams used differing strategies as rain began closing on the track.

It was during that caution that Montoya lost control of his car and rear-ended one of the jet dryers.

That brought out a red flag. Sitting in first place as the clean-up progressed was Dave Blaney of Tommy Baldwin Racing. Second was Landon Cassill while Tony Raines was third.

After the red flag was put away, the race went back to yellow. During that yellow, Blaney, Cassill and Raines had to pit for fuel.

When the race restarted with 34 laps to go and at 12:10 a.m. Tuesday, Kenseth was in the lead and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was second.

With 23 laps to go, the eighth caution of the race came out when Ambrose, Aric Almirola and Casey Mears spun into the infield.

Kenseth restarted with 18 laps to go from P1. Next to him was Biffle. In row 2 were Earnhardt and Kevin Harvick. Kenseth jumped to the high side and was pushed to a nice lead by Biffle.

With 13 laps to go, another big wreck brought out yellow No. 9. Jamie McMurray got loose, lost control and Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne, Stewart, Smith, pole-sitter Edwards, Almirola were among those  caught up.

When the race restarted with seven laps to go, Kenseth still had the lead, Biffle was second, Earnhardt was third and Hamlin was fourth. Biffle quickly moved to Kenseth’s rear bumper, hooking up the two Roush Fenway teammates.

But with four laps to go, a 10th caution flag waved when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun Stewart. Also caught up were Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, David Reutimann, Blaney and David Gilliland.

That set up the green/white/checkered restart. Again, it was with Kenseth and Biffle up front and Hamlin and Earnhardt in row two. This time, Kenseth jumped high and in front of Biffle. Earnhardt fell into third behind Biffle.

Earnhardt went outside on the front stretch but could not get to Kenseth.

“We had a lot of problems and almost ended up a lap down,” Kenseth said. “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. 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. I have to thank this whole Best Buy team. It was pretty cool to with the 150’s and I never dreamed we would be standing here tonight.”

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, February 28 2012
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