NASCAR » 28 February 2012
Kenseth wins delayed, dramatic Daytona 500
The race restarted but hit a second yellow just six laps later when Ryan Newman spun on the backstretch. To make Newman's night worse, he then lost a tyre on pit road and ended up being rear-ended by AJ Allmendinger who hadn't exactly been expecting to find the #39 stationary in the middle of pit road like that.
After that, things finally started to settle down to a more orderly affair, with Denny Hamlin leading for 23 laps and then Jeff Burton taking over before and after a round of green flag pit stops. The next caution was for debris in turn 2 on lap 64 and at the green flag four laps later Jeff Burton was leading Greg Biffle, Marcos Ambrose, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch.
After last week's Shootout and Duel races, teams had been fearing problems with engines overheating because of the new technical regulations designed to reduce two-car tandem drafting capabilities, but with the race now a night-time affair in much cooler conditions this proved to be less of an issue than expected. That didn't stop a problem with a cooler unit sending water temperatures sky-rocketing in Matt Kenseth's #17 car, however, and the amount of steam spouting from the car wouldn't have looked out of place at Yellowstone.
But in fact it was Jeff Gordon's engine that blew up next, bringing out a fourth caution on lap 81. He was surprised to go out that way: "There has been so much reliability testing that if we had seen some high temps or some high water pressure, then I would have kind of expected some of this to happen," he said. "But, I was actually seeing some surprising low temps and low pressures. I don't know, maybe something was off there."
That was followed by a fifth on lap 88 when Terry Labonte spun at the restart off the nose of Marcos Ambrose's #9 car - something that didn't impress Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was heard to cry out over his radio: "Aww, man! Who would turn the Ice Man around?"
At the next green flag, Greg Biffle led Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne, but as the race passed the half-way mark the pairing of Hamlin and Truex pushed its way to the front and stayed through to the next caution on lap 129 which was caused by Clint Bowyer stalling on track in turn 2, apparently out of gas as routine pit stops had been imminent.
Mark Martin and David Stremme did not pit under the caution, and Tony Stewart had been in pit lane when the caution came out, so they led Regan Smith and the rest of the field to the next restart. This time the two dominant drivers of the night thus far - Hamlin and Biffle - teamed up to mug Martin for the lead off of turn 4.
Soon Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were joining the fun up front, as the race started to get serious as it entered its final quarter. The top five were nose-to-tail and the first 15 cars were covered by less than a second after 25 laps of green flag running.
Then David Stremme's engine called it a night, blowing up and sending the #30 spinning in front of a small pack of cars that fortunately managed to avoid a collision. That brought out caution number seven on lap 157, during which time the leaders came onto pit lane, many opting to take only two tyres at this stage in order to preserve track position. Dave Blaney, Landon Cassill, Tony Raines and David Gilliland stayed out of pit lane altogether for the time being and headed the field as it circulated under yellow.
Juan Montoya was among those to pit, but he was back in again next time around reporting a serious vibration with the #42. The team could find nothing and sent him back out again, but then something broke underneath the car and Montoya snapped right, the car careering up the high-banked track toward the wall. Unfortunately, there happened to be something currently between Montoya and the wall: one of the track maintenance vehicles merrily going about its routine clean-up activity well away from the race cars formed up behind the safety car.
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