NASCAR: Round 1 – Daytona 500 – 15 February

The Daytona 500 was truncated by rain after 152 of the scheduled 200 laps – and Matt Kenseth was the man in the right place in the nick of time, notching up just one lap in the lead before the red flag flew. But it was the one lap that mattered – the final one.

It was an unsatisfying premature ending to a race that had been coming to the boil nicely and which had seen several crashes and a very controversial ten-car wreck that wiped out many of the leading contenders and opened the way for a surprise winner.

After a relatively quiet first half, the race came alive at the halfway point with reports of rain showers heading in Daytona’s direction. With the race ‘official’ after 100 laps, all of a sudden the drivers had to forget about waiting until lap 190 to make their move since a red flag for rain could terminate the race any moment, so everyone got very serious very quickly. Added to that the change in conditions as the sun set, the temperatures dropped and the floodlights came on – causing the handling of many of the cars to go to hell in the space of a lap, resulting in conditions ripe for a race-defining wreck.

That key moment came on lap 124. After a restart following a blown tyre on David Stremme’s car, Dale Earnhardt Jr. – who was a lap down after failing to stop fully inside his pit box, resulting in a one lap penalty – was trying to get past similarly lapped Brian Vickers to gain the lucky dog position for any subsequent cautions. Vickers moved down to block him, forcing Earnhardt Jr below the double yellow line. When he moved up, Earnhardt Jr caught the tail end of Vickers’ car and sent him into a spin that collected others and resulted in a 10-car wreck.

The highest profile casualty of the wreck was Kyle Busch, who had been the dominant driver of the day till then. But following the most recent pit stops, Kyle had found himself boxed in against the wall on the outside behind other cars on different pit stop strategies, and when Vickers’ car came careering to the wall it collected Busch’s car in a big way. Busch’s team mate Denny Hamlin was also wiped out in the wreck: other cars caught up to lesser or greater degree were Scott Speed, Jamie McMurray, Jimmie Johnson (afflicted with a poor handling car all afternoon), Robby Gordon, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch. Earnhardt Jr himself was away ahead of the wreck, escaping unscathed.

Vickers was adamant that Earnhardt Jr had taken him out on purpose and bitterly asked why Earnhardt didn’t get a 5 lap penalty as had been handed down for a similar incident in the Nationwide race the previous night. Apparently that doesn’t happen if your name is Earnhardt, however, and come the next yellow (for a collision between Paul Menard and Jeff Burton) Earnhardt Jr won the very lucky dog he had been competing for so hard with Vickers and was back on the lead lap for the restart on lap 143.

But within three laps the yellow was out after Aric Almirola went spinning following contact with Kasey Kahne. Just after Matt Kenseth had been powered to the front with an assist from Kevin Harvick blasting them past former leader Elliot Sadler, with AJ Allmendinger also sneaking past for 3rd place. And while they were under caution, the rain arrived and the yellow became red and after a few minutes the race was called.

In other race moments: Aric Almirola was also responsible for the 1st yellow on lap 9 after a bump from David Ragan. There was a planned competition yellow on lap 25, and then the race ran green until lap 55 when Travis Kvapil blew a tyre and hit the wall. Joey Logano was responsible for the 4th yellow when he spun coming off turn 4 avoiding a slowing up Scott Speed; Logano hit the inside wall fully nose on and at speed, but was not injured.

Race result:

FIN ST  CAR DRIVER          MAKE        PTS/BNS LAPS
1   43  17  Matt Kenseth    Ford        190/5   152 
2   38  29  Kevin Harvick   Chevrolet   170/0   152 
3   20  44  AJ Allmendinger Dodge       165/0   152 
4   22  33  Clint Bowyer    Chevrolet   160/0   152 
5   30  19  Elliott Sadler  Dodge       160/5   152 
6   29  6   David Ragan     Ford        150/0   152 
7   25  55  Michael Waltrip Toyota      146/0   152 
8   37  14  Tony Stewart    Chevrolet   147/5   152 
9   32  43  Reed Sorenson   Dodge       138/0   152 
10  11  2   Kurt Busch      Dodge       134/0   152 
11  1   1   Martin Truex Jr Chevrolet   135/5   152 
12  28  00  David Reutimann Toyota      127/0   152 
13  3   24  Jeff Gordon     Chevrolet   129/5   152 
14  8   42  Juan Montoya    Chevrolet   121/0   152 
15  23  07  Casey Mears     Chevrolet   118/0   152 
16  2   5   Mark Martin     Chevrolet   120/5   152 
17  21  47  Marcos Ambrose  Toyota      112/0   152 
18  16  99  Carl Edwards    Ford        109/0   152 
19  41  34  John Andretti   Chevrolet   106/0   152 
20  31  16  Greg Biffle     Ford        103/0   152 
21  36  78  Regan Smith     Chevrolet   100/0   152 
22  12  96  Bobby Labonte   Ford        102/5   152 
23  34  21  Bill Elliott    Ford         94/0   152 
24  13  9   Kasey Kahne     Dodge        91/0   152 
25  35  66  Terry Labonte   Toyota       88/0   152 
26  15  36  Scott Riggs     Toyota       85/0   152 
27  10  11  Denny Hamlin    Toyota       82/0   152 
28  14  88  D Earnhardt Jr  Chevrolet    84/5   152 
29  26  31  Jeff Burton     Chevrolet    76/0   152 
30  9   8   Aric Almirola   Chevrolet    73/0   152 
31  5   48  Jimmie Johnson  Chevrolet    70/0   152 
32  39  77  Sam Hornish Jr  Dodge        72/5   152 
33  24  12  David Stremme   Dodge        64/0   152 
34  27  7   Robby Gordon    Toyota       61/0   152 
35  42  82  Scott Speed *   Toyota       58/0   152 
36  40  39  Ryan Newman     Chevrolet    55/0   150 
37  17  98  Paul Menard     Ford         52/0   139 
38  19  26  Jamie McMurray  Ford         49/0   139 
39  6   83  Brian Vickers   Toyota       46/0   134 
40  18  41  Jeremy Mayfield Toyota       43/0   126 
41  4   18  Kyle Busch      Toyota      50/10   124 
42  33  28  Travis Kvapil   Ford         37/0    90 
43  7   20  Joey Logano *   Toyota       34/0    81 

Sprint Cup points standings:

Pos +/- DRIVER              POINTS  BEHIND 
1   --  Matt Kenseth        190     Leader
2   --  Kevin Harvick       170     -20     
3   --  A.J. Allmendinger   165     -25     
4   --  Clint Bowyer        160     -30     
5   --  Elliott Sadler      160     -30     
6   --  David Ragan         150     -40     
7   --  Tony Stewart        147     -43     
8   --  Michael Waltrip     146     -44     
9   --  Reed Sorenson       138     -52     
10  --  Martin Truex Jr.    135     -55     
11  --  Kurt Busch          134     -56     
12  --  Jeff Gordon         129     -61     

CHASE FOR THE Sprint CUP - CURRENT CONTENDERS

13  --  David Reutimann     127     -63     
14  --  Juan Montoya        121     -69     
15  --  Mark Martin         120     -70     
16  --  Casey Mears         118     -72     
17  --  Marcos Ambrose      112     -78     
18  --  Carl Edwards        109     -81     
19  --  John Andretti       106     -84     
20  --  Greg Biffle         103     -87     
21  --  Bobby Labonte       102     -88     
22  --  Regan Smith         100     -90     
23  --  Bill Elliott        94      -96     
24  --  Kasey Kahne         91      -99     
25  --  Terry Labonte       88      -102    
26  --  Scott Riggs         85      -105    
27  --  Dale Earnhardt Jr.  84      -106    
28  --  Denny Hamlin        82      -108    
29  --  Jeff Burton         76      -114    
30  --  Aric Almirola       73      -117    
31  --  Sam Hornish Jr.     72      -118    
32  --  Jimmie Johnson      70      -120    
33  --  David Stremme       64      -126    
34  --  Robby Gordon        61      -129    
35  --  Scott Speed*        58      -132    
36  --  Ryan Newman         55      -135    
37  --  Paul Menard         52      -138    
38  --  Kyle Busch          50      -140    
39  --  Jamie McMurray      49      -141    
40  --  Brian Vickers       46      -144    
41  --  Jeremy Mayfield     43      -147    
42  --  Travis Kvapil       37      -153    
43  --  Joey Logano*        34      -156

* Denotes Rookie
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