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NASCAR decides no punishment is necessary as Brad Keselowski's Tweet did not endanger himself or other drivers.
The Daytona 500 typically starts on a Sunday, but thanks to the Florida rain it was delayed twice until Monday evening, leaving the Daytona 500 to be run in prime time for the first time in the race's history. Despite the multiple delays, the race still pulled in a very good overnight rating, albeit lower than last year's race but higher than the 2010 race.
Fox says the Daytona 500 overnight is an impressive 7.7. Last year, on a Sunday afternoon, it was an 8.2. In 2010, it was a 7.0.— John Ourand (@Ourand_SBJ) February 28, 2012
While the 7.7 overnight is respectable considering everything that happened, the most impressive part of the evening is the fact that during the red flag delay of the race while the track was on fire, it pulled in a 7.3 rating according to John Ourand. That's likely because everyone likes car crashes and fires.
Danica Patrick's Daytona Speedweeks featured a historic pole position in the Nationwide Series, but the Go Daddy Girl's overall Daytona results were a disappointment.
The most-hyped new driver in years crashed in all three races she entered during Speedweeks, deflating the anticipation that had ballooned for her NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut.
Patrick had a hard crash on the last lap of Thursday's Gatorade Duel, wrecked early in the Nationwide Series raceafter winning the pole and then got caught in an accident on lap 2 of Monday night's Daytona 500.
All the buildup and talk and front-page stories about Patrick's presence in the 500, and she was only in the running for less than two laps.
The team eventually fixed her car and she finished the race in 38th place, but she was 62 laps down.
"I just wish that the beginning of the race could have been a nice single-file line like it was when I got back out there – but it wasn't," she said. "And honestly, that's my lesson to learn maybe, is that just write off that first little bit if you're not up front."
If she had to do it all over again, Patrick would be more conservative at the start of the 500.
"I think the power of laying back at the very beginning there; there's inevitably going to be a crash," she said. "Especially when you get all the cars out there at one time and everybody kind of shaking out the jitters of the Daytona 500, maybe."
Patrick also noted that restrictor-plate accidents are "obviously out of your control at times," but said she learned a lot and gained experience.
"It's disappointing," she said. "I would have loved to have gotten a great finish. I would have loved to have been able to run on the lead lap there at the end. I feel bad for disappointing my fans who were cheering for me; especially going out so early. But I'll come back stronger."
When a driver has a chance to taste victory in the Daytona 500, you expect they will stop at nothing in an effort to find a way to win.
However, that didn't appear to be the case in the 54th edition of the Daytona 500.
Instead, for much of the last two laps, Greg Biffle gave the appearance of a driver who was very much content finishing second and running interference for his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Matt Kenseth.
Even when he had momentum and Dale Earnhardt Jr. behind him to propel him into the lead, Biffle seemingly chose not to make an attempt to pass the race leader.
But when asked about his indecision and hesitation after the race, Biffle was adamant that wasn't the case.
"Once (Earnhardt Jr.) got against my bumper, I made sure he stayed against it around the corner," Biffle said. "I was about three‑quarter throttle or something and once we got straight, I pushed the gas down, I thought that we'd drive up on the back of the 17 without a problem.
"It must have just pushed enough air out in front of my car that it pushed the 17 car out about five, six feet in front of me, and I couldn't get any closer. I thought, 'Well, I need to get out from behind him because then we'll be able to go by him.' So on the backstretch I moved up a little bit, and Matt is not stupid; we had no run at him. We were all going the same speed.
"So when I moved over, Matt just moved over real easy, and Junior is against my back bumper, so I'm trying not to wreck because he's shoving on me and I'm doing this down the back, and I'm like, 'I'm not going to be able to get a run at him.'"
This is the Daytona 500 after all – a race every driver dreams of winning and a race Biffle has yet to win. And if he had everything to do over again, there is no doubt he would do things differently.
"Probably the only thing I could have done is got real straight down the backstretch and pushed the brake pedal down pretty hard," he said, "and kept going straight and slowed both of our cars down a fair amount and then let (Earnhardt Jr.) make a run at Matt around 3 and 4.
"Then, we could have moved up beside him coming off the corner, and then Junior and I would have had to dice it out to the line."
Earnhardt Jr. himself, who passed Biffle for second just before the start/finish line, had no issue with how Biffle raced him and believed each driver was worried about his own team.
"I don't think that he was worried about me," Earnhardt Jr. said. "This is the Daytona 500, and I don't know what it pays, but it's a lot of money.
"I'm pretty sure that if I know Greg, if he had an opportunity to get around Matt and had a chance to win the Daytona 500, he would have took it immediately. He's trying to do what he could do. If I were him, I can't imagine what his game plan was in his head. But if I were him, I would have tried to let me push him by and then pull down in front of Matt, and force Matt to be my pusher and then leave the 88 for the dogs.
"But that didn't work out."
It certainly wasn't a win, and his winless streak may have been extended to 130-races and counting, but a second-place finish in the Daytona 500 had Dale Earnhardt Jr. feeling pretty upbeat early Tuesday morning.
Starting in the fifth position, Earnhardt Jr. was a fixture at the front of the field throughout the 500-mile affair. Even as various accidents and mechanical failures continued to weed out the field – including Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne – Earnhardt Jr. kept showing he had one of the strongest cars of the night.
As the field came to the start/finish line for a green-white-checkered finish, there was Earnhardt Jr., sitting fourth behind Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Denny Hamlin – in excellent shape to not only score his second win in "The Great American Race," but to snap a winless drought which has spanned three-plus years.
The only thing between Earnhardt Jr. and Victory Lane was the Roush Fenway duo of Kenseth and Biffle, who consistently were shown to be among the fastest cars on the track all throughout Speedweeks. But as is the norm in restrictor-plate racing, the two teammates quickly paired up and used the draft to their advantage. They vigorously protecting the inside line, which had proved many times over to be the fast way around the 2.5-mile track.
All through the final two laps, Earnhardt Jr. desperately tried to work his way around the 16 car of Biffle and to make a run at his good buddy Kenseth. But it wasn't until they came off of Turn 4 that Earnhardt Jr. was able to successfully get around Biffle and make a feeble charge towards the lead.
By then, however, it was too late and instead it was Kenseth who celebrated his second victory in the Daytona 500 and not Earnhardt Jr.
"Yeah, it was a good finish for us," Earnhardt Jr. said afterward. "I'm really pleased to be able to get good points tonight. The Roush cars are just really strong; they've shown that all week. I really didn't know just how good they were until I got up there those last 60 laps, and I could get in between them, but I couldn't get in front of them. Just didn't have enough car to get around them and get the lead."
Even the two-hour delay for the jet fuel fire in Turn 3 didn't seem to bother Earnhardt Jr. In fact, it made him harken back to some of his early memories in the sport he grew up around.
"We were talking about it on the back straightaway," he said. "That was kind of fun actually, standing around on the back straightaway. It reminded me of Hickory when we'd race over there and they'd have a funeral and you'd have to stop and talk about the race or whatever, whatever you'd want to talk about.
"It was an unfortunate incident, but NASCAR did a great job to finish the show, and they took their time, and they did it right. So I was kind of happy how that all turned out."
What isn't fun is not winning, and unfortunately, that's something Earnhardt Jr. has had a lot of experience in lately. Monday's second-place finish represented his sixth runner-up finish since his last victory, 130 races ago at Michigan (June 2008).
"I'm very happy," Earnhardt Jr. responded when asked if he was angry. "I'm really in a good place. I'm not frustrated at all, I promise. I'm in a great mood; I run second here a lot. Though, I don't feel it right now, but I know later tonight and tomorrow and the rest of the week it's going to eat at me what I could have done to win the race. So that is kind of frustrating.
"But no, I'm fine. I think that we did everything we could at the end."
For a driver and team who has expectations of returning to the Chase for a second-straight year, a strong start is the ideal way to jumpstart their 2012 season.
"You do want to come in here (media center) and make sure the press knows that you wanted to win the race," Earnhardt Jr. said, "because the press is going to tell the fans what you thought, and you don't want to give anyone the impression that you are fine running second, because I'm not. But I am happy with the points I got tonight, because it is a tough hole to climb out of, and this new system really makes it a little different and makes you uneasy.
"I am happy to be able to come out of here and not look back throughout the season, and look at this race as one of the ones where we give some points away, like we did last year."
The first Sprint Cup race of the year is in the books and Matt Kenseth walked away as the winner of the 2012 Daytona 500. It didn't come easy, though, thanks to an unprecedented Monday night start and a two-hour delay caused by a yellow-flag wreck that sparked a huge fire. But when it was all said and done, Kenseth took home a seven-figure purse and the very early points lead in the series.
Kenseth is followed in the points standings by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle and Denny Hamlin -- a three-way tie for second-place in the points. The rest of the Sprint Cup drivers are bunched close together, which is to be expected after just one race.
In addition to the points, Kenseth also took home $1,589,387. Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose run off turn four came up just short, earned $1,102,175 for his second-place finish. Martin Truex Jr. picked up $200,000 for leading the race at the halfway point. The full list of prize money can be found in this StoryStream.
Here are the latest NASCAR points standings, updated after the Daytona 500. Kenseth leads with 47 points and the table is sorted by the number of points each driver is behind him.
* -- Driver was ineligible for points in this series
Winning the Daytona 500 results in a very lucrative payday, as you probably can guess. But just starting the Daytona 500 has plenty of benefits, too.
The record $19.1 million purse for Monday night's NASCAR season opener paid $1.59 million to race winner Matt Kenseth, but it also paid a healthy $267,637 to last-place finisher David Ragan.
Most drivers made somewhere between $300,000-$400,000, though there was a lot of prize money for the top three finishers in particular.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned $1.1 million for finishing second – an extra $298,000 than if he had not edged Greg Biffle at the line.
Biffle, though, won't go home empty handed. He gets $804,163 for finishing third.
Here is the purse money for each driver in the Daytona 500 (some amounts are higher than others due to participation in NASCAR's contingency sponsor programs):
Matt Kenseth won
Monday night early Tuesday morning's Daytona 500.
But in 10 years from now – heck, maybe even three or five – Kenseth's victory itself may be nothing more than an afterthought when discussing the 54th running of the Great American Race.
Sorry, Matt. When a car collides with a jet dryer and ignites an explosion and raging inferno on the track surface, the winner gets overshadowed.
All of the water cooler talk around the country this morning will be about Juan Pablo Montoya's bizarre, unlikely and unthinkable crash under caution with a vehicle that was trying to dry Turn 3 at Daytona International Speedway.
Just two years after the infamous pothole marred the 2010 Daytona 500, the inferno incident stood to be even worse.
Montoya knew something was wrong with his car, but he wasn't prepared for it to snap on him and break sharply to the right. It went up the track and nailed the jet dryer with 40 laps to go, causing both vehicles to burst into flames.
Fortunately, both Montoya and the driver of the jet dryer escaped unhurt – but the track did not. More than 200 gallons of burning jet fuel poured down Turn 3 and lit the night sky with flames.
There was concern that the track would be so damaged from the incident that the race would not be restarted. And of all people, underdog Dave Blaney was sitting in the lead at the time – the result of staying out on a pit stop.
Would NASCAR really give the Daytona 500 win to Blaney?
Drivers got out of their cars and anxiously walked around, even trying to walk down and see the damage before NASCAR turned them away. Brad Keselowski even tweeted pictures during the delay, which earned him more than 130,000 new Twitter followers as of early Tuesday morning.
After a two-hour delay to clean and repair the track – safety workers even used boxes of Tide laundry detergent! – the cars were finally ready to finish the race.
But yet another odd sight popped up: Since drivers can't buckle their own window nets, NASCAR put one crew member from each team on a shuttle bus and drove it from pit road to the backstretch – a mini field trip, of sorts.
The 30-hour delayed start time due to rain, the two-hour fire delay and the funny bus scene all made for memorable moments from this year's Daytona 500.
Kenseth's victory, though, won't top the list.
Here are the full results from the 2012 Daytona 500:
In a bizarrely epic Daytona 500 that had both fire and rain, Matt Kenseth's calming influence prevailed in the early morning hours at Daytona International Speedway.
Kenseth survived a 30-hour rain delay and a two-hour fire damage delay to win his second career Daytona 500.
He pulled it off by edging Dale Earnhardt Jr. to the finish line and having Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle finish behind him.
Biffle attempted to hook up with Kenseth on the final lap, but Earnhardt Jr. stuck to the No. 16 car's back bumper – and the pair couldn't catch Kenseth.
"They just couldn't get attached, and I could get away from them," Kenseth said. "It just came down to whoever was in the front, and he had a really fast car as well."
At the finish, Earnhardt Jr. pulled off on the outside lane past Biffle and came home second.
"We couldn't ever get to Matt," Earnhardt Jr. said. "So I just tried to pull out to get the second spot if I could."
Said Biffle: "I wanted to be locked on to the 17, but I couldn't get to him."
The race will likely be remembered for the unusual circumstances more than Kenseth's victory, and the most surreal moment occurred 40 laps from the finish. It was then when, under caution, Juan Pablo Montoya abruptly spun out on the backstretch and slid up into a jet dryer located in the upper groove of Turn 3.
The contact resulted in an explosion with flames shooting high into the air and jet fuel pouring down the track – burning it all along the way. The incident required NASCAR to put the race under a red flag for just over two hours.
Both Montoya and the driver of the jet dryer miraculously escaped without injury.
"I told them when I left the pits something wasn't right and I felt a weird vibration when we were with the pack," Montoya said after being released from the infield care center. "Every time I got on the gas, it vibrated. So, I came back in and they checked the rear-end and they said it was OK.
"I was going down the back straightaway. ... I got on the brakes to travel up and while I was telling the spotter to have a look on how the rear was moving, the car just turned right."
There were plenty of other wrecks, too.
The action started fast and furious on lap 2 when a six-car crash was triggered as Elliott Sadler tapped the rear bumper of Jimmie Johnson and sent the five-time Sprint Cup champion spinning through the tri-oval.
Among those involved included defending Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, Danica Patrick, Kurt Busch and David Ragan, who hit Johnson savagely in his driver's side door. No injuries were reported
"I'm just really, really bummed to start the season this way," Johnson said. "For all the hard work that has gone into getting this Lowe's Chevrolet ready for tonight; we didn't get to complete two-and-a-half miles of green flag racing. So, I'm pretty bummed."
The wreck quickly ended the hype of Patrick's Sprint Cup Series debut. She finished in 38th place, 62 laps behind the leaders.
The bad night for former champions of the Great American Race continued when 2008 winner Ryan Newman cut a tire off of Turn 2 and spun down the backstretch. During the subsequent yellow flag, Newman lost a left-front tire on pit road and was hit from behind by AJ Allmendinger. And later, three-time Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon lost an engine 88 laps into the 200-lap race.
After a caution for an accident between Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears set up a double-file restart with 19 laps to go, yet another wreck caught seven more cars.
In the latter accident, Joey Logano got into Jamie McMurray and triggered a multi-car crash that also collected Kasey Kahne, Aric Almirola, Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards and Regan Smith.
The race then restarted with seven laps to go, and Kenseth led Biffle and Earnhardt Jr. But contact between Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Joey Logano and Tony Stewart caused a big, eight-car crash at the exit of the tri-oval heading into Turn 1. That set up a green-white-checkered situation to decide the race.
Here are the results for the Daytona 500:
The 2012 Daytona 500 will come down to a green-white-checkered finish, thanks to a crash on Lap 196 that sent Tony Stewart sideways and collected Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., among others.
The crash almost certainly means that Stewart, excellent through the Daytona fortnight, won't break through to win his first Daytona 500 in the early hours of Tuesday morning, but did nothing to reshuffle the lead pack. Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. all remain out in front.
And now, with fewer than three laps left, the green-white-checkered finish is invoked. Drivers will have three attempts to run a clean green flag lap and bring out the white flag for a final lap, and after the white flag is waved, any flag will end the race.
It's hard to call the wreck that collected seven drivers on Lap 187 of the 2012 Daytona 500 a true "Big One." Sure, Jamie McMurray's car does a few rotations, and there's a lot of smoke and debris going on, but none of the major players up front was involved, and the most important driver involved may have been Brad Keselowski, tweeting machine.
But, well, it's still a crash, and it still looks like a major incident on camera. McMurray losing control and falling to the apron before heading back up to the wall was a recipe for disaster, and the yellow flag that came out after the crash sets up a finish of fewer than 10 consecutive green flag laps, so this was more unavoidable than unforgettable, and might just create some drama heading to the checkered flag.
Tonight, it would feel weird if it didn't. After all, Keselowski has already tweeted about this crash — and that seems perfectly normal.
The cars are back on the track in the Daytona 500 and it didn't take long for another caution to come out. Just a few laps after the restart, Casey Mears and Marcos Ambrose each spun out, though no real damage was done. Neither car appeared to sustain any damage, but the caution was out for quite a bit of time as the debris was cleared from the track.
After watching Juan Pablo Montoya slam into a jet dryer, causing an explosion, this was incredibly mild.
Pretty sure the bar has been raised so high that cars flying sideways down the track doesn't even raise an eyebrow. On the other hand, look at the coordinated drifting between the two. If this weren't technically a wreck, it would've probably been worth quite a few drifting points.
The most bizarre two hours in NASCAR history are about to come to an end.
After a lengthy red-flag period to clean up the remains of an exploded jet dryer, the Daytona 500 is finally set to get back underway at the World Center of Racing – at least we think.
Drivers were ordered back to their cars after climbing out and milling about for the last hour or so, and Brad Keselowski even tweeted to fans while passing time.
But when it was time to get back in the cars, they couldn't do it by themselves. The drivers need help to buckle their window nets, so NASCAR brought a shuttle bus onto pit road and loaded up one crew member from each team to take a field trip.
Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch both pulled tear-offs from their windshields under the red flag, which is a no-no (remember Sterling Marlin?), so they'll have to start in the rear of the field.
When the drivers take the green flag, there will be 40 laps left (that's 100 miles) in the Great American Race.
We've probably seen it all at this point, as the Daytona 500 has gone from weird to completely off the rails. At present, the race remains under a red flag following a fiery crash on the back stretch. The crash occurred under a yellow flag and involved Juan Pablo Montoya slamming into a jet dryer, igniting a crazy fire.
Amazingly, NASCAR is ready to go racing once again. Drivers have been out of their cars for almost the entire duration of the delay, and now need help climbing back in. Bring on the shuttle!
So now we have a shuttle bus with one member from each crew heading down the track in a NASCAR version of Noah's Ark. Is anyone expecting this to turn into the latest installment of Speed? I mean, we've now seen rain, the first-ever Daytona 500 run at night and a jet dryer explosion following an odd crash. Oh, and a shuttle bus driving the wrong way on the track.
There has to be something to top this all. Good news! Still 40 laps of insanity to go!
The video of Juan Pablo Montoya's crash was scary enough. Montoya lost control of his car during a caution and slammed into a jet dryer -- filled with lots of jet fuel -- creating a fiery mess. There was an explosion, a ball of fire and, eventually, a wall of flames. It was nuts.
But crank up the audio of this crash for a full picture of what happened. It was like something out of an action film.
Also notice Montoya's car, which burst into flames immediately. Surprisingly, and thankfully, everyone walked away.
This was almost certainly a first at Daytona and, perhaps, racing in general. Not sure we've ever seen a crash of this magnitude, creating a huge fire in the aftermath. And yet, NASCAR is fixing the track and plans to complete the race on Monday night.
This is kind of like the ring of fire at a daredevil show. Or, perhaps, it's like a small wall of flames some crazy person would jump through. Except the fire Juan Pablo Montoya's crash ignited created a ridiculous row of fire on the track at the Daytona 500 that would dwarf a regular inferno.
This was the scene after Montoya slammed into a jet dryer.
So what comes next? Well, despite Darrell Waltrip's insistence that everything is just fine, this was some of the mess left by the crash:
If you're wondering how this mess gets cleaned up, the answer is a layer of speedy-dry, followed by a nice coating of Tide laundry detergent. No, seriously. They're scrubbing the track down with Tide and water.
This is the best race ever, you guys.
As NASCAR's biggest race remains under the red flag with 40 laps remaining, Dave Blaney is in position to pull off one of the most bizarre upsets of all time.
If you're a non-NASCAR fan and have never heard of Blaney, don't worry. Heck, even some race fans haven't heard of him.
Blaney is a journeyman driver for Tommy Baldwin Racing – a small, underfunded team – and has never won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in 397 career starts.
That the 49-year-old "Buckeye Bullet" would find himself in position to win the Daytona 500 is pure circumstance. His team ordered him to stay out on the most recent pit stop, and Juan Pablo Montoya suddenly had something break on his car and collided with a jet dryer, blowing it up.
An inferno erupted at the scene in Turn 3 as jet fuel leaked all over the track, and there's a real concern the race may not be restarted.
Last year, SB Nation asked Blaney how he'd like to be remembered when his career is over someday.
"That doesn't matter to me, really," he said then. "I don't know; it's not up to me to decide what (the retirement story) says, I guess. It'll be whatever it should be; what I've earned and what I've deserved."
In this case, though, a Daytona 500 win would be viewed as unearned. The way the race has turned out is simply too bizarre for words.
Nothing like this has ever happened in the history of NASCAR. And the night isn't over yet.
There are no words to accurately describe what happened with 40 laps to go in the Daytona 500. During a run-of-the-mill caution, Juan Pablo Montoya was cruising around the track, trying to catch up to the pack. He was having car issues, though, and his car broke near the end of the back-stretch.
That alone might be bad enough, but his car happened to give way, causing him to lose control, right around the spot NASCAR officials were blowing off the track with jet dryers. These are filled with jet fuel. This is what happened next:
Oh, and it certainly got worse.
After a few moments of "WHOA," crews converged on the now-raging fire.
You can see what kind of damage this has caused. At present, just about every fire and emergency crew vehicle is gathered around the spot of the collision. Officials are examining the track in an effort to see if it can be repaired -- a jet fuel fire burns very hot, and melts anything around it.
We don't yet know if the race will be resumed. The track is still being inspected and, well, it doesn't look good. Back with more as we know it.
Related: Video of the crash.
The Daytona 500 is under a red flag, with cars stopped, as track officials attempt to fix the massive mess near the back stretch. During a caution, a normally quiet time, the track exploded into flames as jet fuel leaked from one of the massive track dryers working to clear up debris. It all happened when Juan Pablo Montoya spun into the back of the dryer in one of the crazier scenes you'll see.
This is what the fire looked like. It was an incredible sight.
Side note: huge props to the safety crews for running straight towards the fire. Y'all are insane, but in a good way.
Something inside Montoya's car broke, leading to the crazy chain of events. His car ended up spinning into the jet fuel-filled truck, destroying his own car, the truck and, perhaps, the track.
At this point, the SAFER barrier is melted, and the track may be too. The fire burned for at least a few minutes as jet fuel coated the track, causing who knows how much damage.
And hey, if you want one more view of the carnage, here you go. It's amazing everyone walked away (click the gif if it doesn't animate).
The theme of the Daytona 500 this year seems to be expect the unexpected. After a weekend of delays, the race finally got underway on Monday night, under the lights for the first time. A crash on lap two set the tone for the day, but everything did finally settle down. But Juan Pablo Montoya's crash with just 40 laps to go may have ended the race.
This was absolutely unreal. During a caution, Montoya somehow spun into a jet dryer on the back stretch. His car slid up the track, past one jet dryer and into the back of a second. And everything exploded into flames.
The track exploded into flames and this could very well end the race. There is significant damage to the asphalt as a result of the crash and the fire is just now out. It was an absolutely odd scene -- one I'm not sure we'll ever see again.
Back with more as we get it, but everyone appeared to be all right. The race, however, could be done for.
It has been a very interesting afternoon and evening weather-wise at the Daytona 500.
Showers have danced around Daytona International Speedway, making my job just a little more interesting tonight. As forecasted, the race started on time and we have an official race by making it past halfway.
Mother Nature provided some drama this evening with a cluster of showers that appeared to be headed right for the track. Mother Nature then showed us she's not all bad, though, as the showers weakened when they got closer.
With the exception of maybe a sprinkle or two, we will see a complete Daytona 500 tonight.
Just as green-flag pit stops were beginning with 70 laps left in the Daytona 500, a yellow flag was displayed for Clint Bowyer, who ran out of gas on the backstretch.
Prior to pit stops, Denny Hamlin had been leading, followed by fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. in second and Ford driver Greg Biffle running third. This is Hamlin's seventh start in "The Great American Race," and in his six prior starts the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has never finished better than 13th.
Tony Stewart, who had completed his pit stop just before the caution came out, inherited the lead from Hamlin. Stewart is looking for his first Daytona 500 win in 14 starts.
Pre-race favorite and 2009 500 winner Matt Kenseth has been battling overheating issues all night, but is on the lead lap and is currently running in the ninth position.
With 60 laps to go, Hamlin continues to lead Biffle.
Martin Truex Jr. was well aware of Daytona International Speedway's halfway leader bonus and made sure he put himself in position to win the $200,000 prize during Monday night's Daytona 500.
Greg Biffle was leading the race heading to the final lap before halfway, but Truex backed up to Denny Hamlin from his second-place position and let the Toyota teammate push him past Biffle.
"Heck yeah!" Truex said when told he had led lap 100 and gotten the $200,000 prize.
"Now go get the other half," the team replied.
The halfway bonus was looked at as a gimmick by some when Daytona announced it, but that was when NASCAR officials feared the race would be dominated by two-car drafts.
With the pack racing back, the racing has still been exciting – even without the halfway bonus tempting the field.
What else does lap 100 mean? The Daytona 500 is now an "official" race, so it will be completed tonight even if rain comes.
Approaching the halfway point of the Daytona 500, Jeff Gordon lost the engine in his No. 24 Chevrolet in a fiery explosion heading into Turn 3.
"I have a feeling that water-pressure gauge was not working properly," Gordon immediately radioed to his crew. "I have no idea where that came from.
"I'm sorry, guys. We had a good piece, and we were just taking our time to be there at the end."
After the caution for Gordon's car, there was another caution at lap 88 when Terry Labonte was punted coming out of Turn 4.
Drivers are scrambling as the halfway point of the Daytona 500 approaches, because weather is approaching and they're also racing for the $200,000 bonus money awarded to the driver who is leading at the halfway point.
Outside polesitter Greg Biffle is your current leader, followed by Martin Truex Jr.
Danica Patrick returned to the track multiple laps down after being collected in a lap 2 incident which also involved Jimmie Johnson, Trevor Bayne, Kurt Busch and others. Patrick is currently scored in the 40th position.
After a long run which required green-flag pit stops for all the lead-lap cars, NASCAR officials spotted debris in Turn 2 and momentarily slowed the 2012 Daytona 500.
Since the two early cautions, things had settled down a bit as drivers ticked off some laps with two-by-two racing in a big pack. Clearly, the tandem drafting during the meat of the race is a thing of the past – just as NASCAR hoped.
Denny Hamlin, Jeff Burton and Greg Biffle have led the most laps in tonight's race so far, with Hamlin leading a 24-lap stretch before green-flag stops began.
Danica Patrick is back on the track after being involved in a lap 2 collision. She is 62 laps down and in 40th place – not the debut she and NASCAR were looking for after months of hype leading into her first Sprint Cup Series race.
There are three cars officially listed as "out" of the race: David Ragan, Jimmie Johnson and Robby Gordon. Kurt Busch is still in the garage after the lap 2 wreck but is trying to get back out.
Jimmie Johnson was knocked out of the Daytona 500 on the second lap of Monday night's race when Elliott Sadler spun him on the frontstretch, triggering a six-car collision.
Here's what Johnson had to say after the crash:
ON THE WRECK: That side hit was hard. We were all just trying to make our lane work. A lot of energy in the lane. I was kind of pushing the No. 78 (Regan Smith) a little bit. I could feel some help from behind. Just turned me around. Sent me down to the inside lane and back up to the outside lane.
When I was sitting in the middle of the racetrack, I knew at some point someone was going to come along unfortunately. David Ragan had nowhere to go. I unfortunately got drilled by him pretty hard.
I'm just really, really bummed to start the season this way. For all the hard work that has gone into getting this Lowe's Chevrolet ready for tonight; we didn't get to complete two-and-a-half miles of green flag racing. So, I'm pretty bummed.
ARE YOU OK? I'm ok. I'm just really bummed out for this whole Lowe's team. To work as hard as everyone did at Hendrick Motorsports to get this Lowe's Chevrolet and to have it barely complete two-and-a-half miles of green flag racing is pretty sad. Disappointed, but nothing I can do about it now. We'll just go on and go to Phoenix and set our marks on winning that race.
DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT HAPPENED? 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.
This is kind of the beginning of the 2012 Daytona 500 in a nutshell. On the second lap of the race, Jimmie Johnson hit the wall hard, setting off a chain reaction behind him. Danica Patrick was caught up in the mess and the Daytona 500 got started on the wrong foot after a day and a half delay.
Just 10 laps later, Ryan Newman spun out on the back-stretch, bringing out the second caution of the night.
And then this happened on pit road.
That's Newman losing a tire in front as he tries to maneuver on pit road. A.J. Allmendinger didn't anticipate Newman coming to an abrupt halt and slams into the back of his car. It looks innocent enough -- like a minor fender bender -- but it was not.
Instead, Allmendinger had to head back to the garage for repairs. The collision, as small as it seemed, knocked his radiator loose.
But hey, we're back to green flag racing again after a wild start to the Daytona 500!
A Lap 12 spin off Turn 2 by 2008 Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman brought out the second caution of the night in the Daytona 500.
Newman apparently had a flat tire and spun out on his own, but was able to drive his car back to pit road and appeared to have escaped with minimal damage. But that wasn't the end of the story for him.
Once on pit road, Newman lost a left-front tire and was hit from behind by A.J. Allmendinger. The damage smashed Newman's rear end and messed up Allmendinger's radiator, requiring the No. 22 Penske Racing car to go to the garage.
The race is back to green after the lead-lap cars made their first pit stops of the night.
So far, eight cars have already been involved in accidents of some kind – and we're only on lap 25. Denny Hamlin leads at this point.
David Ragan and Jimmie Johnson have officially been declared "out" of the race.
So much for Danica Patrick's much-hyped NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in the Daytona 500.
Patrick didn't even make it through the second lap before she was collected in a six-car crash that was triggered when Jimmie Johnson got spun by Elliott Sadler at the end of the trioval.
It appeared Johnson may have tried to peek outside Regan Smith, who was running in front of him, and Sadler closed up too quickly.
Johnson was turned head-on into the wall, then was T-boned by David Ragan in the door. The huge hit appeared to knock the wind out of Johnson and he cringed after the collision.
The same part of the wreck also collected Patrick. She spun into the melee and somehow made contact with Johnson's No. 48 car.
Also collected? Kurt Busch, Sadler and 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne.
The Daytona 500 has seen its first crash after just two laps of racing. The wreck was a nasty one, claiming Jimmie Johnson's car for the day. Johnson took a nasty shot to the driver's side from Trevor Bayne, but he got out of his car under his own power. In any event, his day is done.
Besides Johnson and Bayne, the wreck also involved Danica Patrick, Kurt Busch and David Ragan. Here's the video of the wreck.
We knew that this race was going to involve plenty of crashes, but no one could have predicted that a wreck was going to end the day of someone like Johnson just two laps in. Those who were hoping to see Patrick do well are probably out of luck, though she did have a bit of luck at the end with the way she incredibly slid through the cars of Busch and Bayne. Only Johnson's day is done, but the other cars all sustained some serious damage.
The 54th running of the Daytona 500 is finally underway.
For the first time in NASCAR history, the Sprint Cup Series is running a Monday night primetime race thanks to a postponement of the race on Sunday – which was also unprecedented.
Leonard Wood of the Wood Brothers Racing team fame gave the command to fire engines – "Lady and gentlemen, start your engines!" he said – at 7:01 p.m. EST. That was nearly 32 hours after the originally scheduled start time.
And then finally, after the two-month offseason, pole-sitter Carl Edwards took the green flag at 7:14 p.m.
The Daytona 500 was supposed to begin shortly after 1 p.m. Sunday, but rain ruined those plans. NASCAR postponed the race to noon Monday, but the persistent bad weather forced officials to try again at 7 p.m.
The radar looks mostly clear now, and forecasters expect NASCAR will get all 500 miles in tonight.
Many people in the NASCAR industry will tell you there's nothing worse than rain at a racetrack, and there's plenty of truth in that statement.
Rain means no racing, which means boredom and frustration and disappointment for fans and drivers alike.
But when NASCAR again rescheduled the start time of the 2012 Daytona 500 on Monday – giving everyone in Daytona more than eight hours to kill before the 7 p.m. green flag – one driver found a unique way to pass the time.
Landon Cassill, who will make his Daytona 500 debut in tonight's race, hung out with fans at a nearby Burger King for nearly two hours, then invited the group to play miniature golf with him on Daytona Beach.
For the nine fans who took Cassill up on his offer, race day at Daytona was an entirely new and memorable experience.
"This has been the craziest day of my life," said a fan known as @markvphotos on Twitter.
"I can't believe we're playing mini-golf with a Daytona 500 driver on the day of the Daytona 500," said @shannonmariep, who was celebrating her 25th birthday.
Cassill met the fans in Burger King (he had tweeted an invitation) and handed out free Whopper certificates on behalf of his BK Racing team. The group sat casually in the middle of the restaurant and chatted about all things racing while autograph seekers and the store's management occasionally interrupted to ask Cassill for a photo or a signature.
For the most part, though, Cassill isn't well known. He's run 48 career races but has never finished higher than 12th.
One of the Burger King employees even mistook him for Tony Stewart; another saw the Burger King logo on his red sweater and asked what store he worked at.
When it was time for mini-golf, the group piled into four cars and made the drive to the beach. Cassill, a putt-putt aficionado, had selected the course and ultimately won the round.
The fans alternated between enjoying the game and snapping photos of Cassill playing, as if occasionally needing to pinch themselves that, yes, this was really happening.
One of the fans – @felipegana on Twitter – had made the trip to Daytona all the way from Chile to see NASCAR's biggest race. Gana had never before played mini-golf – apparently there aren't many courses in Chile – and said he found the entire experience surreal.
Cassill, a 22-year old Iowa native who prides himself on being unconventional, has been known to take such outside-the-box excursions before.
In 2008, he was in Mexico City for the Nationwide Series race and ventured out to a street market against the advice of NASCAR security. Once there, he saw a little boy with a soccer ball and ended up kicking the ball around with the kid; they became fast friends despite the language barrier.
Now with a full-time Sprint Cup Series ride in the No. 83 car, Cassill hasn't changed a bit.
The nine fans who joined him for burgers and mini-golf just hours the biggest race of his life hope he never does.
Here were my thoughts as I concluded my Daytona 500 Sunday morning weather update:
If it does get postponed until Monday, showers are expected through Monday morning and early afternoon. The best chance would be later Monday evening. I don’t know what NASCAR will do if they are faced with a long rain delay later this afternoon. If they decide to wait as late as they can Sunday night, I have a feeling they will be waiting a long time.
Well, the radar cleared out earlier this, but scattered showers and a few thunderstorms have formed this afternoon and could linger into the early evening. Despite the developing rain showers this afternoon, we should be good to go at 7 p.m. with only a small chance of a delay.
4 p.m. ET
Daytona 500 – Mostly cloudy, sct'd showers & storms – temp: 73
5 p.m. ET
Daytona 500 – Mostly cloudy, sct'd showers & storms – temp: 73
6 p.m. ET
Daytona 500 – Mostly cloudy, isolated showers & storms – temp: 72
7 p.m. ET
Daytona 500 – Mostly cloudy, Slight chance of showers – temp: 70
8 p.m. ET
Daytona 500 – Mostly cloudy, Slight chance of showers – temp: 68
NASCAR has moved the start time of the 2012 Daytona 500 again, this time postponing the Great American Race until 7 p.m. Monday due to continued rain in the Daytona Beach area.
After two weeks of mostly clear weather, NASCAR was plagued by a storm system Sunday that washed out the 500 for the first time in its 54-year history.
Officials initially rescheduled the race for noon today, but more rain made that an impossibility – and there was more on the radar for this afternoon. But meteorologists are calling for a possible window in the ugly weather, and NASCAR felt confident enough in the forecasts to move the start time again.
The command to start engines will be given at 7:02 p.m., followed by warmup laps and the race. WWE wrestler John Cena was scheduled to do the honors (and wave the green flag), but he has to leave town to appear on WWE Raw. The new grand marshal and honorary starter are unclear.
FOX will preempt its primetime programming, which includes House and Alcatraz. It should be a fascinating experiment for NASCAR to run on a weeknight in primetime (against such shows as The Voice and The Bachelor); that hasn't happened in recent memory.
Will the power of social media give NASCAR some new viewers? If so – and if the ratings are high – it might prompt a new wave of NASCAR races on weeknights.
And what if the race cannot be run as scheduled? NASCAR president Mike Helton told reporters at Daytona International Speedway that Tuesday was "a possibility" for the Daytona 500.
Previously, it had been speculated that a Tuesday race might not allow NASCAR's traveling circus to get to Phoenix in time for Friday's practice sessions. Easter Weekend has been rumored as a backup plan in case Tuesday won't work, but forecasters say the weather should be fine that day.
Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III took a seat in the track's media center and braced himself for questions about the unprecedented postponement of the Daytona 500.
"A long day," he said. "We attempted our best to try to get the track dry. Seemed like every time we got close, another pocket of rain showed up."
That about summed up what happened to NASCAR's biggest race on Sunday. Though the weather forecasts were dire leading into the day, there was still hope the meteorologists would somehow miss the mark.
But they didn't. There were a few periods of dryness, though none lasted long enough to get close to starting the race. And NASCAR had no choice but to ultimately postpone the event.
"We waited as long as we could in terms of the process, how long it might take to dry the track, and what was reasonable in terms of our fans staying and enjoying the event," Chitwood said.
Here are a few more of Chitwood's answers to some questions you may have:
• How late tonight would NASCAR and the track try to run the race?
"If you started the race at 10 p.m., that would put you at about a 1:45 a.m. finish," Chitwood said. "Then you have to think about the couple hours it would take to send all our customers home. I'm not really sure that's the environment we want to do that.
"I can't tell you the exact latest start time that we would do it. I have a feeling 10 p.m. is probably a little bit too late based on the logistical needs of our customers."
• If rain is in the forecast, why didn't NASCAR schedule the race to be a primetime event like Monday Night Football?
"I think we have to be careful if we were to try and set a later start time (today)," Chitwood said. "(If) we had great weather in the afternoon, then inclement weather by the time we started, I think that would be a disservice to our fans."
• What happens if the race is rained out today?
"It's tough to even talk Tuesday until we get into tomorrow," Chitwood said. "I think the plan with a noon start, I think there is inclement weather in the a.m., but by noon, it looks like the weather is better. We'll play it out best we can. ... I don't even want to talk about Tuesday right now."
• Does Chitwood regret moving the Daytona 500 date one week later?
"I'm sure I'm going to have some customers tell me about the date change and the challenges that we have with it," he said. "But I think weather is unpredictable. So we'll deal with it. I don't anticipate this would force us to change the date in the future.
"I think based on the NASCAR schedule, the TV schedule on whole, this was the right move for the industry. We'll continue to work with the last weekend of February."
Update Monday AM: Daytona start time has been changed to Monday night.
It's 2012 Daytona 500 race day at Daytona International Speedway – again. We've got the scheduled race start time, the TV/radio schedule and some other facts about the postponed NASCAR Sprint Cup Series opener for you below.
What time is the Daytona 500 scheduled to start? After rain postponed the Great American Race for the first time in its 54-year history on Sunday, NASCAR announced a 12:01 p.m. EST start for today. But here's the problem: It's supposed to be raining at that time. SB Nation meteorologist Brian Neudorff believes the race is more likely to take place tonight than around midday – or perhaps even Tuesday.
Race name/distance: The Daytona 500 is NASCAR's greatest spectacle, most prestigious race and also its Sprint Cup Series season opener. NASCAR's Daytona races used to take place on the hard-packed sand of Daytona Beach itself, but this will be the 54th year of running 500 miles on the 2.5-mile high banks of Daytona International Speedway.
TV and radio: Today's race can be seen on FOX, with coverage beginning at noon EST. Every Sprint Cup race will be on FOX for the first part of the season. If you aren't near a TV, the radio broadcast can be found on your local Motor Racing Network (MRN) affiliate. Click here to see a list of stations where you can listen (or you can also listen online for free here). If you're looking for something more mobile, make sure to follow me (@jeff_gluck) on Twitter.
National anthem/celebrities: A local woman will sing the nation anthem today after Train's Pat Monahan did the honors on Sunday. Monahan left Daytona before the race was called, along with most of the other celebrities – including the co-grand marshals, Kate Upton and Jane Lynch. The only celebrity who is left is WWE wrestler John Cena, who was already the honorary starter but will add grand marshal duty to his activity list.
Tickets: There are plenty of tickets available, and you should be able to get your pick of seats today at Daytona International Speedway. If you're planning a last-minute trip, buy a frontstretch ticket and then just move to whatever seat you want (the grandstands will probably only be half full).
Weather: Neudorff, the unofficial NASCAR weatherman, is predicting rain throughout the day that will taper off in the evening. The track takes three hours to dry and the race usually lasts three hours and 45 minutes, so Daytona will need a seven-hour dry window sometime today; that might not happen.
Last time: In one of the greatest upsets ever, 20-year-old rookie Trevor Bayne stunned the racing world to win the 2011 Daytona 500. The Tennessee native was a virtual unknown entering last year's Speedweeks but beat Carl Edwards to the finish line to put himself into the history books as the youngest Daytona 500 winner ever.
Starting lineup: Here's the starting grid for today's Daytona 500.
Assuming the Daytona 500 takes place today – and that might be a big assumption, considering the iffy weather forecast for NASCAR's biggest race – whoever wins the event will spend the next four days traveling the country on a national media tour.
After the Daytona 500 winner goes to Victory Lane and does dozens of media interviews tonight, he (or she) can either celebrate all night or opt for a few hours of sleep.
On Monday, the champion will join fans and media for a breakfast, where the winning car will be inducted into the building formerly known as the Daytona 500 Experience (it's now just part of the track tour).
As soon as the ceremony ends, the Daytona winner will fly to Connecticut to spend the day making various stops around ESPN's Bristol studios. Expect to see the champ on SportsCenter, chatting on ESPN.com, being interviewed on ESPN Radio and doing a variety of other shows.
When the ESPN duties are over, the 500 winner will then fly to Chicago, check into a hotel and get a few more hours of sleep.
On Tuesday morning, NASCAR will bring its winner to a Chicago Bulls shootaround. Whoever wins the race will be shooting hoops with Scottie Pippen and also take part in a fan event somewhere in the city.
Then it's off to Dallas, where the Daytona winner will get another taste of basketball. The driver will attend the Dallas Mavericks' game against the New Jersey Nets and be honored during the first quarter. He or she will also visit the locker room and meet players prior to the game.
The winner won't have much time to watch the game itself, though; by halftime, the NASCAR plane will be in the air and headed to Los Angeles.
That brings us to Wednesday. After sleeping in a little bit, the Daytona champ will spend the day visiting various shows around Hollywood (Trevor Bayne went on Ellen last year, for example) and attend a fan event at the famous Pink's hot dog stand (11 a.m. Pacific time, for those interested).
After the L.A. visit wraps up, it's back on the plane and off to San Francisco.
On Thursday morning, when the rest of the Sprint Cup Series drivers will be flying to Phoenix after a few restful days at home, the 500 winner will have another long day in store.
In San Francisco, the driver will participate in a fan event at Ghiradelli Square and design his or her own ice cream sundae. They'll also hop on a trolley and take a scenic tour to various San Francisco sites like Fisherman's Wharf – stopping for photo ops all along the way.
Then it's off to Phoenix – next weekend's race is there, after all – where the winner will attend a charity function at the Biltmore hotel that evening.
The kicker to all this is that by the time the Daytona 500 winner is done with a week of media obligations, it'll be just hours before they're back in a race car at Phoenix.
It's a brutal schedule. Surely, though, it's all worth it if it means becoming a Daytona 500 champion.
There's a lot of benefits to being a NASCAR fan, but one of the biggest drawbacks is the sport's lack of consumer tech offerings.
For example: There is no iPhone app, and there is no place to legally view a live stream of today's Daytona 500. Yep, that's right – NASCAR and its partners haven't been able to come to an agreement on how live streaming would work for the Sprint Cup Series when FOX is broadcasting the races (NASCAR.com/Turner owns the digital rights, so there's a conflict).
Live streaming will likely arrive in 2013 when NASCAR itself takes over the rights to NASCAR.com, but those fans who can't get in front of a TV to watch FOX today are pretty much out of luck – at least in terms of legal feeds. We can't recommend any illegal live streams to you here, so you'll have to ask a friend for that information.
But there is one option for those who may be stuck at work today – the Motor Racing Network is offering a free radio feed of its broadcast today.
You can find the live MRN feed here.
And if listening to the race is not an option for you, make sure to follow me on Twitter (I'm @jeff_gluck). I'll be up in the Daytona International Speedway press box today tweeting about all things Daytona 500.
Finally – finally! – all the hype and buildup for the 2012 Daytona 500 is over and race day itself has actually arrived at Daytona International Speedway. Let's take a look at the lineup and starting grid for NASCAR's biggest race.
Carl Edwards will lead the field to the green flag today (1:29 p.m. Eastern, FOX) thanks to the pole position he earned in last Sunday's time trials. His Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Greg Biffle, will start alongside him, also because of the time trials.
The second row consists of the drivers who won Thursday's Gatorade Duel races: Tony Stewart on the inside and Matt Kenseth on the outside.
From there, Dale Earnhardt Jr. starts fifth and Regan Smith, Marcos Ambrose, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Burton and Elliott Sadler round out the top 10 for the "Great American Race."
Several drivers had to earn their way into the Daytona 500 after showing up for Speedweeks without a guaranteed spot in the race. That group included last year's Daytona 500 champ, Trevor Bayne, whose Wood Brothers Racing team did not obtain the top 35 owner points to lock the youngster into the event.
Bayne made it, though, using a fast time in qualifying to secure a spot along with David Stremme and Tony Raines.
Michael McDowell, Robby Gordon, Dave Blaney and Joe Nemechek also raced their way into the Daytona 500 by virtue of their performance in the Gatorade Duel.
In addition, Terry Labonte made the field by virtue of his past champion's provisional, which is a reserved spot that goes to NASCAR's most recent past champion who needs it.
Those who failed to make the race included fan favorites Michael Waltrip, Kenny Wallace and Bill Elliott, along with Robert Richardson Jr., Mike Wallace and JJ Yeley.
For more Daytona coverage, make sure to follow our Daytona 500 StoryStream. We've posted a ton of updates from Speedweeks there so far, with many more to come from the track today.
Here is the starting lineup for the 2012 Daytona 500:
New to NASCAR? Maybe just want to refresh yourself on some of the storylines leading into Sunday's Daytona 500? Here are a few notes of interest to give you an idea of what to watch for in the Great American Race.
How unpredictable is the Daytona 500? In the last 10 years, there have been 10 different winners.
While you would think we might see someone end that streak, the wide-open nature of restrictor-plate racing means an out-of-nowhere winner is very much a possibility.
A year ago, there was no one who foresaw Trevor Bayne – in just his second series start – taking the Wood Brothers to Victory Lane. But, lo and behold, that is exactly what happened.
So don't be shocked if someone like David Ragan or even Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is celebrating a win on Sunday night.
Whether it was after the 187.5-mile Budweiser Shootout or the 150-mile Gatorade Duel races, all week long the talk in the garage has been about the difficulty of keeping the engines cool and running to their full capacity – and that was in far shorter races than today's 500-mile affair.
So you can imagine the concern up and down pit road regarding a possible rash of engine failures. As such, look for teams today to put an even greater emphasis on managing their engine temperatures as best as possible.
The winless streak on which Dale Earnhardt Jr. finds himself heading into the year is currently 129 races and counting. But today, with the return of the pack-style racing that plays to his strengths, Earnhardt Jr. has an excellent chance to return to Victory Lane for the first time since Father's Day 2008.
If he can do so, it would be his second 500 victory and the seventh for car owner Rick Hendrick, which would also mark Hendrick Motorsports' 200th win.
The only woman to ever have won an IndyCar race will officially make her Sprint Cup Series debut today in the sport's marquee event. With Danica Patrick's fulltime arrival, Danica Mania has officially taken over NASCAR.
While expectations on the Sprint Cup side of things have been tempered, she has shown in limited Nationwide Series starts that she does have a good understanding of how to run in the draft. Whether that carries over to today remains to be seen.
There are quite a few prominent names still looking for their first victory in the Daytona 500. Chief among them is Tony Stewart, who has 17 wins in various events on the 2.5-mile track – yet none in the biggest race of them all. Other big names also looking for their first 500 win include Carl Edwards – who will lead the field to the green – Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin and the outside polesitter, Greg Biffle.
Anytime the series races at Daytona or Talladega, the primary goal among drivers is not to get caught up in one of the frequent multi-car accidents which are a common occurrence anytime the series runs on a restrictor-plate track. These accidents referred to as "The Big One," can happen at time and certainly will play a large role in determining who is around at the end, challenging for the win.
Look for drivers to try a variety of strategies in an effort to avoid getting swept-up in "The Big One," including some drivers lagging behind the large pack and waiting until the closing laps to make their move forward.
• Seven drivers – Tiny Lund, Mario Andretti, Pete Hamilton, Derrike Cope, Sterling Marlin, Michael Waltrip and Trevor Bayne – all scored their first Sprint Cup Series win in the Daytona 500.
• Dale Jarrett was not only the last driver to win the 500 from the pole; he was also the last driver to win the Budweiser Shootout and the 500 in the same year. Both feats occurred in 2000.
• Danica Patrick, Paul Menard, Juan Pablo Montoya and David Gilliland all will be starting at the back of the field after being forced to backup cars following accidents in their respective qualifying races.
• Today's field will consist of seven former Daytona 500 winners. They are: Jamie McMurray (2010), Matt Kenseth (2009), Bayne (2011), Jeff Gordon (1997, '99, '05), Kevin Harvick (2007), Ryan Newman (2008), Jimmie Johnson (2006) and Earnhardt Jr. (2004).
• If Trevor Bayne can repeat his win of a year ago, he will join Richard Petty (1973-74), Cale Yarborough (1983-84) and Sterling Marlin (1994-95) as the only drivers to win consecutive Daytona 500s.
• Three drivers – Patrick, Stenhouse and Landon Cassill – all will be making their first start in "The Great American Race."
1. Tony Stewart
As noted above, this is a hard race to peg one driver as the definitive favorite. But if you had to pick one person to win, it would have to be Tony Stewart. With a runner-up finish in the Shootout and a win in his Thursday qualifying race, it's obvious the offseason hasn't cooled off the guy who steamrolled to his third Sprint Cup championship just three months ago
2. Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth's name isn't one that's usually mentioned when looking for a potential winner at either Daytona race. But let's not forget, the '03 series champion has won this race before (2009), won his Gatorade Duel race Thursday, has the patience needed to weave his way through the numerous accidents which will surely occur and is driving for the team who has had fast cars throughout Speedweeks.
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Ignore the fact NASCAR's most popular driver hasn't won a race in three-and-a-half years. Instead, focus on the fact Earnhardt Jr. has found his confidence, excels at restrictor-plate racing and has been fast all week.
In a race where realistically anything can and will likely happen, it's not easy tabbing one driver to pull out a surprisingly good finish – and maybe a win. That said, although he might not technically qualify as a "sleeper," my pick is Regan Smith.
The driver for the single-car Furniture Row Racing team will have the same powerful engine in his car as Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurray will have in theirs. As he demonstrated in last year's Daytona 500, when he ran with the leaders all afternoon and left with a seventh-place finish, Smith knows the fast way to get around Daytona.
In a wide-open race where it seems like just about anyone can win, finding a favorite can be a tough thing to do.
But if there is one constant in restrictor-plate racing, it's that the cars owned by Richard Childress will almost certainly be toward the front of the field and contending for the win.
Longtime RCR driver Dale Earnhardt won a record 34 races in a variety of cars at Daytona, but mostly for Childress. His legacy stands today as perhaps the greatest restrictor-plate racer ever.
So when you drive for the man who owned Earnhardt's car – and who has won six championships and 100 races – being competitive in the Daytona 500 isn't just the expectation, it's the standard.
On Sunday, that attitude will be on full display as all four of the RCR cars are expected to be challenging for Childress' third victory in the Daytona 500 (Earnhardt and Kevin Harivick have one each).
Carrying the RCR flag Sunday will be Harvick, who took Childress to Victory Lane in this race in 2007 and is coming off consecutive seasons where he finished third in points.
Thus far, Harvick and two of his RCR brethren – Jeff Burton and Elliott Sadler – have had relatively quiet Speedweeks. At times, though, the trio has taken its turn up front, be it in last Saturday's non-points Budweiser Shootout or Thursday's twin qualifying races.
"I think it has been pretty calm," Harvick said Friday. "Obviously the results, we wish could be a little bit better. Our cars have been fast. Got caught up in an accident in the Shootout, and just made a bad decision yesterday (in the Gatorade Duel race).
"All in all, everything has gone well. We'll just keep the wheels, the engines, the fenders and everything on it for awhile on Sunday, and see where we wind up at the end. It should be a fun race."
Having an uneventful Daytona can't be said for the fourth RCR car driven by Paul Menard, who has crashed out of both races he's run and, as a result, will be starting the 500 in a backup car.
If there is a concern for RCR entering into the weekend, it would have to center on reliability – an issue which hampered the team a year ago. It was then that Burton and Harvick came into the 500 as heavy favorites, but neither made it to the halfway point as both were sidelined by engine failures.
It's an issue which might again rear its ugly head on Sunday, unless RCR can find a way to keep its engines cool.
"The temperatures are just way too hot; you can't really race," Harvick said after his Duel race, where he finished in the seventh position. "Everybody is just trying to position themselves for the last lap. The grilles are so tight that, at 240 degrees in the pack, you are just sitting there and you can't really make a move."
Harvick's teammate, Jeff Burton, agreed with that assessment.
"It's hard," he said. "They (engines) are borderline too hot. If you run too long, you get the engines too hot. It's just a real challenge. I think what you saw today is what you are going to see on Sunday. It's just hard to make any ground up. You make a move trying to be aggressive and you lose a spot. It's very much going to be a 'protect your position race' until you get yourself in the last little bit. Then, you are just going to have to go like hell and hope for the best."
In a race where the only thing you can expect is the unexpected, going like hell and hoping for the best sounds like a sound strategy.
It's a strategy which has served RCR well in the past – as it did Earnhardt himself – and should serve the team well again tomorrow.
In the previous 53 editions of the Daytona 500, the 35 gentlemen who have been victorious have come from a variety of locations.
We've seen winners from as far west as Washington (Derrike Cope) and California (Ernie Irvan, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick) to as far north as Wisconsin (Marvin Panch, Matt Kenseth) and Massachusetts (Pete Hamilton).
Overall, 17 different states can assert they have had a Daytona 500 champion born within their respective borders.
But only once has a driver born outside the United States tasted success in NASCAR's ultimate race.
This, of course, was Mario Andretti, who was born in Italy and became a naturalized United States citizen in 1964 – three years before his win in the 500.
On Sunday, another foreign driver has a very good chance to add his name alongside the legendary Andretti name –Marcos Ambrose.
While Ambrose may not have open-wheel and Formula One World Championship on his resumé like Andretti, his credentials are more than satisfactory. In fact, when beginning his career, Ambrose wished to follow in the same path as Andretti and one day compete in Formula One.
But racing is an expensive proposition. Despite having the necessary talent to compete in the world's most popular form of motorsports, what Ambrose didn't have was the money.
After failing to secure a ride in Europe, Ambrose returned to his native Australia and begin racing touring cars – essentially modified sedans – and quickly asserted himself as one of his country's premier racers. Ambrose won back-to-back V8 Supercar championships and became the only driver to win at least one race every season in which they participated.
But wanting more, Ambrose left Australia to pursue a career in NASCAR.
It was then Ambrose began honing his craft and learning the nuances of racing on ovals – something he had never done before – in the Truck and Nationwide Series.
In short order, the Aussie found his way into NASCAR's top series and set out to do the one thing he had yet to cross off on his racing bucket list – win a Sprint Cup race.
After several near-misses, he finally accomplished his goal when last August at Watkins Glen, he took the checkered flag in the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen.
Although it may have taken awhile for the magnitude of what he accomplished to set in, Ambrose is now fully aware of what his triumph truly means.
"It's had a huge impact on my life," Ambrose said last week during NASCAR's Media Day. "I can't describe how just one day, one lap can make such a difference in your life. I got paid more. I got more respect out there on the racetrack. The sponsors love it. The teams love it. The fans love it. I got more fans out of it, so it's been great.
"I can't for one second believe it could make such a difference, but it does. To win on the main stage is important, but I didn't realize how important it really was."
Now, the task for affable Aussie is to win on an oval. And this takes us to this weekend and tomorrow's Daytona 500.
Throughout Speedweeks, Ambrose's No. 9 Ford Fusion has consistently been one of the fastest cars on the 2.5-mile track.
In last Saturday's Budweiser Shootout, Ambrose was able to avoid the carnage which collected such names as Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and finished a very respectable third.
That speed was again evident in Thursday's first Gatorade Duel, when he ran with the leaders all afternoon and was good shape for the win, running third on the last lap when the caution fell for Danica Patrick's violent crash on the backstretch.
With his third-place finish came the seventh starting spot in Sunday's season-opener. And when you also factor in how fast the Ford teams collectively have been since unloading in Daytona, and that Ambrose will have three cars with a blue oval on their hood starting in front of him, a win is certainly within the realm of possibility.
"We learned a lot for Sunday, we got a good result," Ambrose said following his Duel race. "We are smiling right now, but it was very close to being the other way around. I am proud of my Stanley Ford team. We have great power and a good handling car. Our team is rolling. We've had a great Speedweeks and we are going to keep it that way for the 500 and have a good Sunday."
And if it doesn't happen, that's fine too. Because at the end of the day, Ambrose is living the dream and doing something he loves.
"Racing is my passion and I've lived my passion," Ambrose said last week. "I've lived my dream and I'm still living it. Not many people can say they wake up and they're living out their dream. I wanted to be a professional race car driver. I wanted to race for a living and I'm doing it, so it's a good thing."
What would be an even better thing is becoming just the second international driver to put his name on the Harley J. Earl Trophy.
Then, he and Mario Andretti really would have something in common.
The Budweiser Shootout was wild and crazy and wreck-filled. The Gatorade Duels were tame and mild and mostly uneventful (unless your name is Danica Patrick).
So what does that tell us about how the Daytona 500 will look on Sunday? With the starting grid now set following Thursday's Duels, here is how the drivers predict the 500 will go:
NASCAR is trying to dictate physics. Physics says two cars are going to push and they're trying to make rule changes to keep us from doing it, so it is kind of a hybrid of pack racing and tandem racing. It is causing a pretty unsafe situation.
We tore up two really good race cars not of our doing, and they're going to tear up a hell of a lot more. ... I'm concerned we're not going to finish. It is going to make for us riding around in the back and trying to be there at the end. Wait for everybody else to wreck.
I think what you saw (Thursday) is what you are going to see on Sunday. It's just hard to make any ground up. You make a move trying to be aggressive and you lose a spot. It's very much going to be a ‘protect your position' race until you get yourself in the last little bit. Then you are just going to have to go like hell and hope for the best.
The second (Duel) was kind of calm. I think everybody is starting to figure out where we can push, where we can't push. At the end of the day, you can't push in the corners if you are not already on them in the corners. I think everybody is figuring that out.
Just overheating all day and couldn't really go or even race. Just had to keep air on the nose and so that kind of limits you from doing anything. You can't suck up to anybody and get a run and try to get to the front.
The temperatures are just way too hot; you can't really race. The grilles are so tight that at 240 degrees in the pack, you are just sitting there and you can't really make a move. That is why everybody was so content to stay single-file.
I think the (500) will be similar to what you (saw Thursday). You got to get these cars to 500 miles; it doesn't matter what you do at 150. It's a long day.
I think the guys that get impatient are the guys that will get in trouble, and the guys that are smart will race smart. I think that's typically what it comes down to here anyway.
Five hundred miles at a superspeedway is a long, long, long race. You just got to race the race, be careful of who you're around, know when to push, know when to ride and take care of it.
The seconds and minutes dragged by painfully as Michael Waltrip sat on a golf cart, the picture of failure.
He pulled his hat down over his eyes and buried his head in his hands, unwilling to face the reality of what had just occurred.
Can you blame him?
By no fault of anyone but his own, Michael Waltrip missed the Daytona 500 on Thursday afternoon. The veteran driver made a rookie mistake during the Gatorade Duel qualifying race, and it cost him a spot in his favorite event.
For the first time since 1972, a Waltrip will not race in the 500.
"I just went the wrong way and lost the car," Waltrip said afterward. "I feel like I let everybody down. I raced my way to the front and then I let them down. It's just really hard. I don't know what to say – it's just sad."
Later, Waltrip added: "I just screwed up. I gotta live with it."
And he does – at least until next year's Daytona 500 qualifications offer some redemption.
Midway through the 150-mile race, Waltrip had gained a coveted transfer position into the 500 but gave up his spot on the track to make a pit stop and refuel under green-flag conditions.
As he left pit road, the two-time Daytona 500 champion tried to get up to speed on the apron in Turn 2, then turned up the track. But when he hit the banking, his car bobbled and took a sickening swing toward the wall.
With no one else around, Waltrip lost control and hit the barrier, destroying both his car and his Daytona 500 dreams.
The mistake was twofold. Not only did Waltrip wreck, but NASCAR had told the drivers during their pre-race meeting that it was not necessary to use the apron before blending back onto the track from pit road.
For a man whose quest for admiration and respect has never quite been fulfilled, this was nothing less than a crushing disappointment.
Growing up in the shadow of his Hall of Fame brother Darrell, the younger Michael wrote in In The Blink Of An Eye that he never got the attention he craved from his father. No one took his racing aspirations seriously, and when he eventually succeeded in becoming a NASCAR driver like the brother he idolized, he began his career on an 0-for-462 streak.
After years of struggles, his close friend Dale Earnhardt took a bold chance on Waltrip and hired him to race for Dale Earnhardt Inc. The two formulated a plan to win the 2001 Daytona 500, which would be Waltrip's first race with the team.
And it worked. But as Waltrip streaked toward the finish line, Earnhardt crashed behind him and was killed.
So instead of the ultimate moment of glory and triumph – a celebration of the crowning achievement of Waltrip's career –there was only sadness.
Though he won another Daytona 500 and a pair of Talladega races, Waltrip concluded his full-time racing career without ever really getting the appreciation he sought.
Now semi-retired, Waltrip still shows up at Daytona and Talladega – his two best tracks – in order to perhaps remind people he really isn't that bad at the whole racing thing.
And then Thursday happened. It was a mistake that was entirely avoidable – which Waltrip knew as soon as it happened.
But the heartbreak of embarrassing himself and letting down loyal sponsor Aaron's and the new Hillman Racing team had to be nearly unbearable.
To not feel some measure of sympathy for the man would be to ignore the fact we all make dumb mistakes at times. In this case, it was a particularly public error.
Sure, Waltrip makes goofy commercials and has a TV persona that may be a bit overenthusiastic for some tastes.
But the guy cares deeply about NASCAR. He has a big heart and has poured much of it into racing, only to endure numerous setbacks in his career.
You can certainly add Thursday's crash to that list – and perhaps put it near the top.
After the crash, Waltrip made a mandatory visit to the infield care center and emerged to a gaggle of cameras and microphones and recorders ready to document his response.
He needed a minute to collect himself.
So he took a seat on his golf cart in full view of the media and pulled his blue hat down to shield his eyes from the world.
When he lifted his cap, he winced. Yes, it had really happened. And no, there was no one to blame but himself.
The moment was raw, and it was painful. Reality bites.
Michael Waltrip had missed the Daytona 500.
The following post is a complete guess and has no bearing on the Daytona 500 whatsoever, so don't blame me if A) Any of this comes true or B) None of this come true. Thank you.
Three-time Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon will drive to Victory Lane again on Sunday, giving him four victories in the "Great American Race" and matching his number of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships.
Gordon (who won the 500 in 1997, 1999 and 2005) will set himself up for another Daytona win by drafting with new Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne late in the race.
After surviving three "Big Ones" that will eliminate nearly half the field on Sunday, Gordon will find himself in fifth place on a green-white-checkered restart.
Since drivers won't have done as much two-car drafting as last year, many of the traditional pairs will be split up. But Kahne, who has already wrecked two cars this week, will have avoided trouble this time and will restart in seventh place – right behind Gordon.
Because Kahne is in his first race for Hendrick Motorsports, he'll be overwhelmed with a desire to be a good teammate to Gordon do whatever it takes to make team owner Rick Hendrick proud (Hendrick is apparently able to cast the "Make me proud" spell over every employee he's ever had, except for Kyle Busch).
The Kahne-Gordon tandem will pick its way through the disorganized top five and zoom out ahead of the field, 50 yards clear of any other tandem coming to the white flag. Then, coming off Turn 4, Kahne will realize he can actually make a safe move to win the Daytona 500 himself.
But instead, just as he's ready to make a Busch-like pass at the finish, Kahne's engine will blow from having lost all its water pushing Gordon for two laps.
Gordon will then sail to the finish line by himself, Kahne will coast home in second place and the tandem of Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick will finish third and fourth, respectively.
After the race, I will find a winning Powerball ticket on the sidewalk and discover I've won $350 million, then give $1,000 to every person who is reading this post.
So congratulations to me, you and Jeff Gordon.
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