Just when fans thought they'd seen it all this year at Daytona, the whole thing went up in flames at turn 3. [See video of Montoya's accident
The race was under caution after David Stremme blew an engine on lap 157, and Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing's Juan Montoya was among those to pit under the yellow flag and then back in a second time to have the car checked out for a serious vibration. He was back on track and catching up with the field when the car suddenly snapped right on him and he lost control.
Montoya had been running along the bottom of the track to give plenty of room to the safety vehicles that were carrying out routine caution period clean-up activities at the top of the high banked speedway, but the sudden snap sent the #42 straight up the track and into the back of a jet dryer.
The collision was bad enough, but it ruptured the dryer's 200-gallon tank filled with jet fuel to power the jet engine used to burn off any surface water from the track resulting from rainfall. The fuel caught fire and engulfed the jet dryer in a huge fireball.
The fuel seeped out of the ruptured tank and ran down the banked track, catching fire as it went and leaving a literal wall of flame right across the track that took several minutes to bring under control. The race was red flagged as fire crews tackled the blaze, with real fears that the intensity of the heat could cause race-ending damage to the track surface if not extinguished quickly.
Montoya was not seriously injured by either the impact or the ensuing fire, but he was a bit singed by the experience.
"I'm okay. My foot hurt, but I'm okay. For as big of a hit that way; I'm pretty good to be honest," he said after getting checked out at the medical centre. "I was full on the brakes and when I hit, I hit driver's side and my foot slipped onto the clutch and it scratched the top of my foot."
The fire burned Montoya's race helmet before the force of the collision pushed the #42 clear. "I saw the flames. My helmet got a little burned and everything," he said. "I didn't think about the truck, I thought 'I'm actually hitting the jet and it's not going to be fun.' Before I got there I was thinking 'this thing is going to be on fire pretty bad' and it was."
The driver of the dryer truck, Duane Barnes, also escaped serious injury, although he was taken to the local Halifax Health Medical Center for treatment before being released shortly afterwards.
"He came with me [in the ambulance]. He was pretty scared, but he looked okay," said Montoya. "I am sure he is pretty shaken and is going to be sore."
As for the cause of the accident, Montoya could only think that it was related to the vibration he'd been experiencing that had brought him back into the pits.
"I did the pit stop and when I came out of the pits I felt a vibration in second gear. I told them I think either a transmission broke or something," he said. "I went to third gear and when I accelerated the vibration came back. I came back into the pits, they looked at everything tight and okay.
"I went again and I was in fourth gear. I wasn't even going that fast and it was moving and travelling a lot. It just felt really strange, as I was talking on the radio the car just turned right," he said. "Something fell in the rear of the car and the car just spun into the jet dryer."
He summed it up succinctly by adding: "It's not the way you want to finish the Daytona 500."
The red flag lasted for more than two hours and racing didn't resume until nearly midnight. In the meantime, track officials needed to check out the fire damage in turn 3 and also deal with the huge quantities of fuel that had seeped into the track surface - which they did with repeated rinses using laundry detergent.
That left the drivers once again in limbo, parked out on the backstretch of the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway tri-oval and with little else to do except stand around and chat "about everything but racing back here," as Carl Edwards put it. "Nothing for the television," Dale Earnhardt Jr. was quick to add.
But at least Brad Keselowski had come prepared: he'd stashed his mobile phone in his pocket before the race and was soon on Twitter, posting updates and even photos that he's taken of the fire from his car.
"They keep making fun of me for it, but I'm having a good time," Keselowski said of the other drivers' reactions to his addiction to social media. "Nobody else has a phone ... They should get one to see what's going on!"
"We were asking why Brad had his phone in his car," said Jamie McMurray. "Nobody could figure that out." Dave Blaney - who was the race leader under the red flag after not having pitted earlier - was even more bemused by the whole thing and was left wondering what "Twitter" was in the first place.
Once restarted, the race was eventually won by Matt Kenseth, who managed to hold off Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle to the line in a green-white-chequered finish.
Jimmie Johnson exited the race on lap 2 after being hit by Elliott Sadler. The accident also caught up the 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, as well as David Ragan and Danica Patrick.A full race report
and race results, times and positions