DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR's first race of the season was a wild affair. So much so that the pace car seemed to combust spontaneously.
No, seriously. The pace car really caught fire Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.
The incident occurred on lap 55 of the 75-lap race as the Chevrolet SS circled the track under the yellow flag. It was then that a fire erupted in the trunk, causing pace car driver Brett Bodine to stop in the infield as smoke billowed.
"Tower, we're on fire," Bodine said to race control.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was crashed out shortly after the race resumed, said an electrical short may have triggered the fire.
"I guess it was the batteries in the back for the lights, because cars just don't catch on fire like that," Earnhardt said. "It was pretty weird."
Slugger Labbe, crew chief for Paul Menard, tweeted that a battery pack in the trunk for the external safety lights was the catalyst. NASCAR deferred all questions to Chevrolet. In a statement released Sunday morning, Chevrolet confirmed the fire was in the trunk area where a "purpose-built auxiliary electrical kit to operate the numerous caution lights during the race" is contained.
At the time of the fire, Brad Keselowski was directly behind the pace car and was dumbfounded by what he saw.
"When you think you've seen it all, then you see that," said Keselowski, who was directly behind the pace car. "That was an interesting one; I just saw the whole back of the car on fire. I thought it was a race car, and then someone said it was the pace car and I just started laughing."
Denny Hamlin passed Keselowski with two laps to go to win the non-points exhibition.