Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Daytona 500 2012, one for the history books...

Jimmie Johnson was an early victim
The NASCAR Sprint Season got underway this week with the 54th running of the Daytona 500. The good weather from Speed Weeks wasn't to last, the trend of huge crashes however...was.

Roush Fenway Racing's 3 full time cars occupied 3 of the top for positions on the starting grid with Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle locking out the front row, with Matt Kenseth in fourth following his win in the second Gatorade Duel last Thursday. Defending chapion Tony Stewart was third in his Chevrolet after his win in the first Duel, The Sprint Cup's most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 5th whilst series debutant Danica Patrick, only the third woman to start 'The Great American Race' lined up in 29th in a back up car following a frightening wreck during her Duel race on Thursday.

Danica Patrick's first 500 ended in misery
The race was set to get underway on Sunday afternoon, the regular time albeit moved forward a week from it's traditional spot to avoid clashes with the Super Bowl. A 70% chance of showers in Daytona Beach threatened proceedings on Sunday but despite this, NASCAR went ahead with race preparations including a pre-race concert by Lenny Kravitz as well as the traditional invocation, National Anthem and fly over. After many rain delays from the original Sunday noon start time, NASCAR made the decision to pospone the race until Monday at noon, the first time such a thing has happened in the event's 54 year history. When Monday came, a worse forcast threatened to disrupt proceedings further. The race was moved to a 7PM start time, creating the first 'monday primetime Daytona 500'

Once the race got underway, it took just over one lap for the first wreck of the evening to happen. At the start of lap 2, the #33 of Elliot Sadler got into 5 time champion Jimmie Johnson causing a massive pile up that claimed many big name drivers. Johnson, Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick and last year's winner Trevor Bayne were all victims of the pile up. Johnson took a huge hit in the driver's side but was released from the infield care center uninjured. Danica Patrick and Trevor Bayne would later rejoin the race. a Further cation came on lap 88 thanks to a rare Hendrick engine failure for Jeff Gordon in the #24.

Denny Hamlin led most of the first half of the race. He led 57 laps, more than any other driver. Other early leaders included Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle but it was Martin Truex Jr. who led at the halfway point to take home a $200,000 cash prize. One of the favourites, Kyle Busch was never a threat whitsh the Hendrick organisation only had one car finish with star drivers Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and new signing Kasey Khane all getting eliminated.

Montoya caused this huge blaze at turn 3 with 40 to go
The race took a bizzare twist with 40 laps to go when, under caution, Juan Pablo Montoya appeared to loose control of his Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet due to mechanical failure in turn 3. He ploughed straight into the back of a jet dryer truck causing a massive explosion. The resulting inferno, thanks to 200 gallons of kerosene burning caused a red flag period of more than 2 hours whilst the track was cleaned. luckily, nobody was injured.

Becuase of the red flag, this Daytona 500 became not only the first to run on a Monday, but the first to run on a Tuesday with the race now heading for a 1 AM finish.

Kenseth leads Biffle and Earnhardt Jr. heading into the final lap

Late race wrecks meant that the race headed for a green-white-checker finnish with Kenseth leading teammate Greg Biffle with Dale Earnhardt Jr. pushing Biffle. Jr. and Biffle made a late race charge but it was not enough as Kenseth took the checkered frlag for the second time in 4 years. Earnhardt made a very late move on Biffle to take second as they crossed the line, extending his winless streak to 130 races. Early race dominator Denny Hamlin came home in fourth in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota with RCR taking positions 5 through 7 with Jeff Burton, Paul Menard and Kevin Harvick. Gibbs driver Joey Logano had a much needed positive start to the season with a ninth place finish.

Kenseth celebrates his second Daytona 500 win in Victory Lane

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