It would seem Gaia herself did not want the 54th running of the Daytona 500 to take place. After being delayed more than 24 hours by water falling from the sky in the form of rain, fire threatened to end the race early with just 40 laps to go when Juan Pablo Montoya slammed his car into a jet dryer truck under caution. Watch the video of the incident after the jump.
The jet dry truck, which is basically a heavy duty pickup with a helicopter jet engine attached, burst into flames on impact, spilling hundreds of gallons of burning jet fuel and diesel onto the raceway. Fortunately, both Montoya and the driver of the jet dryer truck were not seriously hurt, but the burning fuel threatened to end the Daytona 500 after 160 laps.
Twitter had a field day with the incident. The account @NASCARJetDryer tweeted "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated..., #imaight!" Brad Keselowski tweeted his view of the fire from behind the wheel of his No. 2 Miller Light Dodge Charger on an iPhone, which he actually had with him in the car. Fortunately the entire field was parked under a red flag at the time. Our favorite tweet came from @SpeedSportLife, which commented on the direction Montoya took to hit the jet dryer truck: "See what happens NASCAR drivers turn right???"
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If the race had been called at that point, driver Dave Blaney would have been crowned champion because the race leaders had just pitted. Incredibly, it would have been Blaney's first victory in 15 seasons of Sprint Cup racing.
But it was not to be for Blaney. After an hours-long delay under red flag while the track was repaired and cleaned, racing finally resumed about ten minutes after midnight on Tuesday morning. After the cars had driven over the repaired section of track a few times under caution and it was clear the green flag would drop, Blaney immediately made a scheduled pit for fuel and repairs and gave up the lead to Matt Kenseth. Despite two big wrecks that led to yellow cautions and a last-turn lunge by Dale Earnhardt Jr. that was defended by teammate Greg Biffle, Kenseth never relinquished the lead and crossed the finish line first to win his second Daytona 500.
A burning jet dry truck on Turn 3 wasn't the only turn of bad luck that befell the Daytona 500 after the green flag eventually dropped. The first big wreck happened after just one lap when Jimmie Johnson's car was bumped by Eliot Sadler and caused a chain reaction wreck. The early accident took out defending Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne, David Ragan and Kurt Busch. Danica Patrick was also involved, her car requiring a lengthy pit stop and extensive repairs before returning to the track well out of contention. Bayne also later returned.
The debut of electronic fuel injection in Sprint Cup racing appears to be one of the night's few successes. Only Jeff Gordon suffered a blown engine, and the new-for-NASCAR fuel delivery system seemed to otherwise operate under the radar with just a few cars reporting problems with fuel pressure.
New for this year's Daytona 500 was a much larger bonus for leading the race at the 100-lap halfway point. Terry Lebonte looked like he was going to hold on to the lead heading into 100, but he spun out at the worst time, which set up Martin Truex Jr. to pass Greg Biffle on the last turn. Truex Jr. will be paid a hefty $200,000 for being at the right at the right time during the race.