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Matt Kenseth wins a bizarre Daytona 500, in a rain-shortened event marred by controversy and filled with suprises


Surprise, surprise, surprise! Matt Kenseth takes Ford's Jack Roush to champagne in victory lane (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


   Matt Kenseth? Wow, talk about stunners.
  NASCAR officials made a stunning, seemingly bizarre call Sunday, during early evening rain, to end the Daytona 500 100 miles short of the official distance, and Kenseth wound up the surprise winner of stock car racing's biggest race.
   Kenseth, known for dry wit and a rather cool, less-than-hyper, demeanor was, when it all started to finally sink in, cracked "Hey, now I'm going to paint the town plaid."
   Get it?
   Well, it was one of those NASCAR afternoon/evenings for shaking the head and trying to sort things out.
   And there was a clear sense of "Huh?" when the NASCAR call was made
   What the heck?
   Even winning car owner Jack Roush conceded he wasn't really thinking victory in those final moments of the event. "I was surprised....I knew NASCAR would be willing to keep this thing going till midnight," Roush said.
  "I didn't know at that time that it would take three hours to dry the track, or that three more hours of rain was expected.
  "I tend to get all torn up from the bad things that happen -- Jamie McMurray got caught in one of the earlier wrecks...and Carl Edwards got caught in a wreck...
  "So I was really agonizing over those missed opportunities -- and not starting to count my chickens for Matt being in the catbird's seat.
  "I hadn't done the math (on rain and drying this track, under such cool conditions).
  "But it was seven o'clock, and you do the math and you can see you're finished.
  "But I wasn't thinking about that right then. I was rather trying to get myself emotionally ready for them to get it back going and what that would mean."
  Kyle Busch had dominated the event, but a flukey series of cautions, coupled with persistent but light rain, turned the tables on everyone.
   Busch was caught up in a crash when Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brian Vickers – both a lap down at that point – crashed into each other and triggered a 10-car crash that took Busch out of contention at the 300-mile mark of what wound up being a 400-mile race.


Matt Kenseth kicks off the NASCAR season with the biggest win of his career...and a big leg up in his bid for another championship (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   Kenseth was never really a factor until the series of late yellows, and out-of-sequence pit stops, put him and several others who likewise had not been major players up front.
   Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, AJ Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer and Elliott Sadler took the top five spots.
   Harvick took NASCAR's call in stride: "I've learned a long time ago that I just do my own thing and the rest of it is up to them. I'm happy with where we are.
   "It's easy to second guess something until you have to sit up there and make those decisions."
   Indeed it was a rather screwy finish to SpeedWeeks.
   Not Kenseth's sudden victory, when NASCAR executives abruptly called it a night, in the face of light but persistent rain.
   No, that NASCAR – which just one year ago at California's Auto Club Speedway had kept drivers and crews up till nearly 2 a.m. East Coast time awaiting in vain for a restart, amid rain – needed to watch only 20 minutes of rain here Sunday before ordering crews to pack up their tents, load their haulers and head home…and giving the trophy to Kenseth.
   After several days of outstanding action on the track, Sunday's climactic 500 was decidedly less so.
   And the way this Daytona 500 played out, there probably won't be a long line here Monday morning to renew tickets for next year's running.
   Busch dominated the afternoon's season-opener, toying with the competition, until an angry Earnhardt took out his frustrations on the field and triggered a huge crash that knocked out Busch and half a dozen others.
   Then, with teams gambling on pit stops, no stops, out-of-sequence stops, the race suddenly turned chaotic, with men who had been backmarkers much of the day suddenly up front. One key was Jeff Gordon's need late to make an unexpectedly early pit stop for fresh tires when one of his wore to the cords. He had one of the best cars here, but he didn't have time after that to charge back into contention. Gordon finished 13th; teammate Jimmie Johnson was never in the game and finished 31st.
   Tire problems kept most drivers playing it cautiously.
   Then more rain made things fitful for NASCAR execs, who finally threw in the towel at 6:48 p.m. EST.
   Maybe if NASCAR and Fox TV officials had started the 500 earlier than 3:30 p.m., they might have had a bigger weather window to work with.
   The finish was an anticlimax for the announced sellout crowd of some 180,000....though not for Kenseth, though he was perhaps as surprised as any at the way it all turned out. Kenseth sat in his car for some 17 minutes in the rain waiting to see if NASCAR would restart the event or let it stand.
   Kenseth's first win in the sport's biggest race was emotional all the way around, for him, for surprising late-race challenger Elliott Sadler, and for hard-luck but persistent AJ Allmendinger.
   But it is what it is, as NASCAR people like to say, and Kenseth and Roush will be taking home the Harley Earl Trophy, winning a race that was really a Toyota-Chevy battle until the very end.
   And, like Mark Martin likes to say, it's better to be lucky than good.
   "It's going to be really wet out here, because I'm crying like a baby," Kenseth said in victory.
     "I've had a lot of great opportunities in my life, from my family getting me in racing, and all the sponsors that have stuck by us and made this happen in an up-and-down economy.  
   "Man, I don't know…. Winning the Daytona 500 is definitely a dream moment.  It's just an unbelievable feeling."
   Kenseth's scrambling pass for the lead, Sadler said, was partly his own fault, for letting Kenseth get a run on him.  
   "I was one lap from winning the Daytona 500," an equally emotional Sadler said.
   Just a few weeks ago Sadler had actually been fired by his team, and had to threaten legal action to stay in his ride.
   The final sequence of events, all with rain threatening:
   -- On lap 125 of the scheduled 200, Earnhardt triggered the key crash of the race, taking out Busch and several others.
  -- Less than 20 miles later there was another crash, in a jam-up involving Jeff Burton and Paul Menard.
  -- Two laps after the restart Kenseth passed Sadler for the lead.
  -- The next lap there was another crash, and Kenseth was thus in the lead when NASCAR finally called the race and made it official.

   The race was Drew Blickensderfer's first as Kenseth's crew chief, and the win came after a decidedly down 2008 for Kenseth, the 2003 tour champion.
   "After last year, winning a race means a lot to me," Kenseth said. "I'm really proud of these guys."
    With Chevrolet teams and Toyota teams dominating play throughout SpeedWeeks, Ford was not figured to be much of a player in this 500. And a Ford-Dodge showdown at the end was quite unexpected.
   And Roush's prowess has traditionally been more at places like California and Las Vegas, the next two Sprint Cup tour stops, over the next two weeks.
   But, as Kenseth said "You just never know what's going to happen."
   And he figured a win like this might simply be payback for some of those that got away. "We've had some really fast cars on the speedways in the past, and I've just never been able to figure out how to do the right thing," Kenseth said. "This time we were able to make the right moves.  
   "We got some weather, but yet we did race 400-and-some miles, and we were able to pull it off.  
    "I was pretty miserable some nights (during the past two weeks here) because we just couldn't make our car handle. But this backup car is actually way better than the 500 car."
    A crash earlier in SpeedWeeks put Kenseth in this backup, along with six others for the 500 start. "I put them in a hole wrecking on Thursday," Kenseth said.
   "I felt pretty good going into this morning, but I didn't dream we were going to win.
    "Just to win a race after our year last year….I didn't know if I was ever going to do that again. And then to pull off the Daytona 500, it's just unbelievable."




Bobby Allison, a three-time 500 winner, and big player in the classic 1979 race, throws the green for Sunday's NASCAR season opener (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

This was an awful end to a so

This was an awful end to a so so race. For all the build up it wasn't that great. And NASCAR kept us up late with Calif. last year & only 20 mins for the 500? Could they try for middle ground here?

The finish to the Daytona 500

The finish to the Daytona 500 was poorly handled. plans should be made with each track for better drainage, so the track can be dried more quickly. get more jet dryers out there.
Now we can wait to see what happens to the race at Fontana if it rains again out there....

I am still STUNNED about that

I am still STUNNED about that horrific piece of crap Digger idiocy! David Hill is a complete moron! Mind numbing is all I can say. Ever since John Daly exposed Fox Sports for what it is: A self-congratulating hype machine,David Hill felt it necessary to shove that digger crap down the viewers' throats.A comic book??? A once a week episode before the race???? They must have shown that camera angle with that trash at least 60 times during the race. Plus the pre-race was nothing but a bunch of sit down interviews with the Fox Favorites. Hendrick, Hendrick, and more Hendrick. Not one picture of a race car, or interview with the feel good stories of A.J Allmendinger, or The King on his recent merger. Then at the end of the race, Chris Myers says, "We have a bunch of interviews with plenty more drivers coming up." To which Fox promptly cut off the telecast. I guess "Animation Domination" takes precedence over the BIGGEST RACE OF THE YEAR! That's the reason NASCAR cut the race short. They could have raced until midnight. Remember Charlotte in 1997? They were still running at 3:00 a.m. Colorado time. That's 5:00 a.m. Charlotte time! Fox wanted to make sure that The Simpsons was broadcast, I guess.

I agree -- I was less than

I agree -- I was less than pleased with Fox' general broadcast of the 500. I want Jimmy Spencer and Wally Dallenbach in the booth for these races -- two guys who won't dish out the company line. I want some hard-hitting announcing. and i wanted that richard petty story line played up more; that was great.
the rain -- i realize it's hard to make a call when faced with iffy weather, but i expect nascar to do its best to make a go of it, and this time the call was simply too fast. the track has lights, traffic control at Daytona has become a model for the sport, and people expect a big deal. (hey, is there a way to do a poll of fans on how long to wait for a restart?

Wow, Digger wasn't just a

Digger wasn't just a little annoying, he was shoved down our throats.

How many laps does it take to clean up a one car scrape on the fence (Travis Kvapel)?

Earnhardt doesn't get penalized for taking out ten cars, but Leffler gets a 5 lap penalty Saturday? This is twice that Leffler got, uh, shafted by NASCAR at Daytona (remember when he pushed Earnhardt up the track and got penalized for that)

Mike, this may be the time to really set up a viewing board. We had a lot to discuss yesterday.

I aggree that digger is too

I aggree that digger is too cutesy for his own good....but it was harmless, and i aggree with fox' david hill that it's an interesting marketing move (hey, i'm going to get some mikemulhern.net souvenir tee-shirts out there in somebody's souvenir rig, and i'm looking for a cutesy logo...like maybe a snarling pit bull )
NASCAR did obviously drop the ball on Earnhardt after that deal with Vickers. Bring him in for a two-lap penalty for rough driving....and then make sure he gets the 'lucky dog' so he has to drive back up into contention.
You're right, we've got to get a forum up and running --- thanks...


I'm pretty sure that 180,000

I'm pretty sure that 180,000 fans did not want to sit there until at least 9:00 to see if the race would be re-started, and maybe have to sit until midnight for a re-start - and then have to get out of south Florida.

I thought it was a reasonably good race.

i disagree. these people are

i disagree. these people are spending good money, hard-earned money, and a lot of time (much of it down time here, since SpeedWeeks could be easily compressed from 12 days or so down to five), and they should get their money's worth. I don't think they did in Sunday's 500. Now the rest of the races were great, brilliant even....loved every one of them. The 500 -- NASCAR owes these fans a make-up call.

Just the perfect example of

Just the perfect example of why Fox is run by a bunch of idiots! Spend 2 hours before the race pushing fluff and rodents that should be road kill. Schedule the race to start late enough that any rain (which had been pridicted for days) is guaranteed to stop the race in time for Fox to air it's prime time shows. And they wonder why ratings have dropped 21% over the past 5 years?

Well, Fox execs should take a

Well, Fox execs should take a step back and reassess what they're doing to this sport with some of this stuff.
And that 3:40 pm start, if they want to start that late, then they have to be prepared to deal with weather -- and not by simply pulling the plug, or switching to some other network. that entire game game sunday just stunk.
i have been hammered personally everywhere i've been the last two days by people upset about that fox-nascar call. it's like those guys are just saying 'Hey, we'll take your money and run.'
Not acceptable, soldier.

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