DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove the Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet to a second-place finish behind Matt Kenseth in the 54th running of the Daytona 500 — a Monday night race Feb. 27 that finished Tuesday morning at Daytona International Speedway.
Ryan Newman finished 21st in the U.S. Army/Quicken Loans Chevrolet after getting collected in an eight-car collision on the front stretch while running among the top 10 on lap 198 of a scheduled 200.
The race, therefore, was extended two laps and ended with a green-white-checker finish to a marathon delayed a day and a half by rain and red-flagged two hours to clean the track after Juan Pablo Montoya’s car crashed into a jet-dryer truck in Turn 3, igniting the largest on-track fire in NASCAR history.
The drama made great theater for a national television audience that saw the first rain-delayed Daytona 500 in prime time on FOX.
The race lasted 3 hours, 36 minutes and 2 seconds. The margin of victory was 0.210 seconds.
“The car was good,” Earnhardt said. “We just didn’t have enough to get to the lead. We had a good car that was running in the top five, but the Roush cars were super strong. You’ve got to give those guys a lot of credit.”Earnhardt garnered his third runner-up finish in the Daytona 500 and his 14th top-10 finish in 19 races at Daytona International Speedway.
Kenseth also won the Gatorade Duel at Daytona this year. The last driver to win both a Duel and the Daytona 500 was Earnhardt in 2004. This time, Earnhardt was content to keep his car in one piece and running for the lead at the end.
“I’m happy for our team, too,” Earnhardt said. “We had a really good-looking race car, good craftsmanship, and I was real proud of that. You know, you bring such a nice car down here and the chances of you tearing it up are pretty high. But I was really happy to take the car home in one piece, and liked the way the motor ran, liked the way the car drove.
“It was a little bit of a bizarre week with the rain and all that. But you know, we stuck around and got it all done.”
Newman did not stick around long enough to discuss his frustrating finish. After spinning in Turn 2 to bring out the second caution of the race on lap 14, he pitted and fell two laps down in the early going.
Newman, however, managed to get back on the lead lap before Montoya’s car “broke” on the backstretch and plowed into a truck pulling a jet dryer, which spilled jet fuel onto the track and sparked the fire.
“Something fell in the rear of the car and the car just spun into the jet dryer,” Montoya said. “I wasn’t even going that fast and it was moving and traveling a lot. It just felt really strange. As I was talking on the radio, the car just turned right.”
It took more than two hours to clean the track and the clock struck midnight before racing resumed with 40 laps remaining. Newman charged into the top 10, putting him back in contention for a shot at a drive into Gatorade Victory Lane.
Three cautions later, however, Newman got collected in a melee just past the start-finish line.