- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2012

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (AP) - First came the rain. Then came the fire.

Everything that could go wrong with this Daytona 500 did go wrong, and the first NASCAR race in primetime television could be remembered for everything but the winner.

That’s because there still was no winner more than four hours after the green flag, which already had been delayed a day.

Journeyman driver Dave Blaney was leading when a problem with Juan Pablo Montoya’s car sent him spinning under caution into a safety truck.

The truck, which holds 200 gallons of jet kerosene, burst into flames. Montoya’s car slid into the grass, and he gingerly climbed from it as fire trucks rushed to the scene. The inferno raged on, and NASCAR red-flagged the race with 40 laps remaining.

The race was delayed 2 hours, 5 minutes and 29 seconds while track workers scrambled to fix the track.

“About the time you think you’ve seen about everything, you see something like this,” NASCAR president Mike Helton said.

NASCAR officials examined the track surface and determined the race could continue. Blaney’s lead was short-lived, however, as he had to pit for gas.

Jet fuel poured down the surface of Turn 3 at Daytona International Speedway after the accident, creating a fiery lasting image of NASCAR’s biggest race of the year. The clean-up crews were using boxes of Tide laundry detergent to clean up the fuel.

It was par for the course for this Daytona 500, which was postponed for the first time in NASCAR’s 54-year history because of steady rain all day Sunday at the track. NASCAR initially planned to restart the race at noon Monday, but persistent rain forced series officials to make an early decision to hold off until 7 p.m.

Fox stayed with its plans to broadcast the race, making it the first ever Daytona 500 shown in primetime and an opportunity to feature the elite Sprint Cup Series. Carl Edwards, who fell just short of winning the title last season, started from the pole with champion Tony Stewart, seeking to snap an 0-for-13 losing streak in the Daytona 500, right behind him.

Danica Patrick, making the full-time move to NASCAR from IndyCar, was making her Daytona 500 debut.

Those storylines, however, were quickly forgotten in this bizarre 55th running of NASCAR’s version of the Super Bowl.

It took several minutes for safety workers to put out the fire, and then came the task of removing the truck from the track and cleaning up all that spilled fuel. Towing the truck from the steep banking presented a challenge, as NASCAR was nervous any movement would dig into the track surface.

Montoya, who said his helmet was singed in the fire and his foot ached, said he felt a vibration in his car before the accident.

Story Continues →