Matt Kenseth and Jack Roush’s Roush Fenway Ford team may have been the only happy people in Daytona on Sunday night. Kenseth scored both his and Roush’s first Daytona 500 victory as well as his first win in more than a year after taking the lead from Elliott Sadler immediately before rain brought out the yellow flag with fifty-four laps to go. As Kenseth surged to the front to lead his only laps of the race Sadler’s Petty Dodge fell to fifth behind Kevin Harvick’s Childress Chevrolet, A.J. Allmendinger’s Petty Dodge and Clint Bowyer’s Childress Chevy.
A few minutes later the red flag waved and with the field parked in the pitlane NASCAR soon announced the race was over with 152 laps completed. So ended a very unsatisfactory afternoon and early evening for the fans after a yellow flag-filled race which saw most of the top contenders eliminated or delayed. Kyle Busch and Jeff Gordon led most of the race but Busch was taken out in a multi-car accident after 125 of the scheduled 200 laps while Gordon lost a lap a little earlier when he was forced to stop under the green to replace badly worn tyres.
But it was the mêlée that took-out Busch and team-mate Denny Hamlin which changed the race’s complexion and turned it into a struggle among a brace of mid-fielders who had not featured until that point. The multi-car shunt was triggered by a barging match between Brian Vickers and Dale Earnhardt Jr., both of whom were a lap down. Earnhardt was able to continue without damage but Busch was eliminated on the spot while other top contenders like Hamlin, Jamie McMurray and Carl Edwards were seriously delayed by crash damage.
Earnhardt endured a particularly messy race, missing his pit on one occasion and then failing to get correctly into his pitbox during a later stop. These transgressions cost him a lap and he was trying hard to get to the front of the pack and unlap himself when the accident happened. Neither Busch, who led 88 laps, nor Vickers had any good words to say about Earnhardt.
“It’s unfortunate that a guy that’s messed up his whole day on pit road has to make our day worse,” Busch remarked. “It wasn’t our problem that he was a lap down and fighting with another lapped car. I don’t even know what they were fighting for because the outside lane was coming. Those cars just should have sat there and waited and got back in line when they could.
Busch added that he was “100 percent confident” that he was going to win the race.
Commented Vickers: “My goal was to keep Junior behind me and I went to block him. I beat him to the yellow line and then he just turned us. He hit me the first time on the way down, which is fine. We all do that. Then when he came back up the track he just hooked me in the left rear. It’s kind of sad. To wreck somebody intentionally like that in front of the entire field is really kind of dangerous.”
Earnhardt insisted the accident wasn’t intentional. “I was trying to get my lap back and I had a really, really good run on Brian,” Dale Jr. said. “He was side-by-side with somebody for the lead and I went on the inside and he drove me down almost into the grass below the line and I didn’t have much control over the car at that point. I was just trying to get back on the racetrack and I hit him in the quarter panel and spun him out. It was accidental. I didn’t want to wreck the field. I was trying to get back up on the racetrack.”
Meanwhile, 2003 NASCAR champion Kenseth was delighted to score his first win in any race at Daytona. “I’m just unbelievably grateful for the opportunity,” Kenseth said. “I was a little nervous because Elliott and Reed (Sorenson) and Allmendinger were all (Richard Petty Enterprises) team-mates lined-up there. But I was able to get up beside Elliott and then make the pass. Our car was a fair amount quicker than his and I was able to get a run on him.
“We raced hard all day,” Kenseth added. “I want to thank the fans who came out to watch. It’s a great pleasure racing in front of the greatest race fans in the world. It’s really unbelievable to be the winner of the Daytona 500. I don’t feel like I’m the best at (restrictor) plate racing. I tend to make too many mistakes, so to put it all together today and win the Daytona 500 is very satisfying.”