DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (AP) - There was rain, fire, soap suds and fog in the most bizarre Daytona 500 in history.
When it was all over, Matt Kenseth was the only sure thing.
It wasn’t even close.
Kenseth capped a crazy 36 hours for NASCAR by winning the first postponed Daytona 500 in 54 editions of the marquee event. He held off Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle over a two-lap overtime finish in a race that was scheduled to begin Sunday afternoon but ended in the early morning hours Tuesday.
“We had a really fast car and have fast cars in the past, and I figured out a way to mess it up,” Kenseth said. “I am glad it all worked out.”
It did for Kenseth, who picked up a second Daytona 500 title to go with his 2009 victory at the end of a wild SpeedWeeks. All three of NASCAR’s national series races went to overtime, with unknown winners picking up the victories in the Nationwide and Truck Series.
In the end, the Daytona 500 will be remembered not for the actual racing, but all the fluke things that plagued it from start to finish.
Rain at Daytona International Speedway first forced NASCAR to push the race to Monday afternoon, then Monday night for the first-ever 500 in primetime television. Then a freak accident caused a massive fuel fire that stopped the race for two hours as safety workers used Tide laundry detergent to clean up the track.
“The thing that comes into my mind is NASCAR just can’t catch a break,” Earnhardt said. “We’re trying to deliver, and we just have some unfortunate things happen such as the rain delay, potholes in the track a couple of years ago. We’re a good sport, and we’re trying to give a good product.”
Kenseth and Biffle took over the lead following the stoppage with 40 laps to go, caused by the fire that began when something broke on Juan Pablo Montoya’s car. He was driving alone under caution, spun hard into a safety truck, and the collision caused an instant explosion.
“About the time you think you’ve seen about everything, you see something like this,” NASCAR president Mike Helton said.
Jet fuel _ the safety truck held 200 gallons of kerosene _ 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.
“I’ve hit a lot of things _ but a jet dryer?” said Montoya, who added he felt a vibration in his car before the accident. “It just felt really strange, and as I was talking on the radio, the car just turned right.”
Journeyman driver Dave Blaney was leading at that time because he had not pitted, and all the drivers surrounded him as they lingered outside their parked cars during the clean-up. It looked a little bit like a party _ and Brad Keselowski nearly tripled his number of Twitter followers by live tweeting during the break _ as everyone discussed just what had happened to derail the race.
And the bad luck continued after the race ended when teams were stranded in Daytona another night: bad weather in North Carolina closed the airports at home.