There was a sigh of relief all around when the 54th Daytona
500 finally got underway at just after 7pm ET, almost 36 hours later than originally intended because of storm systems that had swept through the area and forced the race to be postponed to Monday for the first time in its history.
Perhaps the extended delay explains the pent-up aggression that emerged almost the minute the green flag did finally come out: Elliott Sadler charged into the back of Jimmie Johnson and spun the five-time champion's car around, with the unfortunate David Ragan ending up being first on the scene and ramming into the driver side door of the stricken #48.
"We just got caught up in it," said Ragan. "They started wrecking in front of us and we just couldn't get out of the way quick enough."
Ragan couldn't believe that he'd been wrecked that early in the race. "I can't wait to see who was the bonehead that did that," he said, before he was able to watch the replays. "It is ridiculous to sit around this long for the Daytona
500 and on the very first lap for someone to be driving as reckless as whoever caused that."
Despite the hard hit, Jimmie Johnson insisted that he was unhurt after the collision.
"I'm okay, I'm just really bummed-out," he told reporters after being checked over in the in-field medical centre. "That side hit was hard ... When I was left sitting in the middle of the race track, I knew at some point someone was going to come along unfortunately. David Ragan had nowhere to go. I unfortunately got drilled by him pretty hard."
Ragan and Johnson were out of the race, and the accident also caught up last year's Daytona
500 winner Trevor Bayne and Phoenix Racing's Kurt Busch, as well as Cup débutante Danica Patrick.
"I have no idea what happened," reported Bayne. "I tried to get as low as I could. I couldn't see what was going on. I got low and got slowed down and at the last second I think it was the #34 car [Ragan] that hit us in the right side door and put us into the grass. The only thing we really touched was the grass, but I guess it's so wet that it tore up the front of the car."
All three cars were seriously damaged and limped back to the garage for extended repairs, with Patrick not back out on track until the leaders were on lap 66. She was unable to make any progress for the rest of the night and finished classified in 38th place, 64 laps down as a result of the accident.
"It's disappointing," she admitted. "I would have loved to have gotten a great finish. I would have loved to have been able to run on the lead lap there at the end. I feel bad for disappointing my fans who were cheering for me, especially going out so early."