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:
- Matt Kenseth
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Greg Biffle
- Denny Hamlin
- Jeff Burton
- Paul Menard
- Kevin Harvick
- Carl Edwards
- Joey Logano
- Mark Martin
- Clint Bowyer
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Marcos Ambrose
- Bobby Labonte
- Dave Blaney
- Tony Stewart
- Kyle Busch
- Terry Labonte
- Tony Raines
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
- Ryan Newman
- Landon Cassill
- David Gilliland
- Regan Smith
- Casey Mears
- David Reutimann
- Elliott Sadler
- Joe Nemechek
- Kasey Kahne
- Michael McDowell
- Jamie McMurray
- Brad Keselowski
- Aric Almirola
- AJ Allmendinger
- Trevor Bayne
- Juan Pablo Montoya
- David Stremme
- Danica Patrick
- Kurt Busch
- Jeff Gordon
- Robby Gordon
- Jimmie Johnson
- David Ragan