By Chris Greenbauer
Persistent rain in the Daytona Beach area forced NASCAR to postpone the 500 from its scheduled 1 p.m. starting time on Sunday. Shortly after 5 p.m., it was announced, that for the first time in its 54 years, the race was being cancelled and would be held Monday, starting at noon. Well Monday had come and NASCAR had to move the start to 7 p.m. Monday night because of rain. With Carl Edwards on pole and Greg Biffle his Teammate alongside the question was, would they dominate the 500? Eventually 7:00pm arrived on Monday and the start to the much anticipated race was moments away. Who would win? Will it be a crash fest? Can Danica finish in the top ten? Or will we have a first time winner like we did in the Truck and Nationwide series? All these questions were asked as the green flag fell. I know I was full of anticipation to find out the answers to all these questions.
The green flag fell at 7:14 p.m. and with much anticipated excitement. On lap two there was a big crash on the front straightaway. Involved in the first crash where Jimmie Johnson, Danica Patrick, Trevor Bayne, David Ragan and Kurt Bush. Danica received some damage but was able to continue, Kurt Bush and Trevor Bayne where also able to continue with repairs. Unfortunately this is the result of NASCAR’S new aero package for these cars. The cars have less down force in the rear end because of a spoiler that is 1 inch shorter in the middle and 2 inches shorter on the ends. So when a car gets on the left rear of a car in front of it, the front car will get real light in the rear, and spin. David Ragan and Jimmie Johnson are out of the race at this point. They restarted on lap 9 showed how good the racing was going to be, with a lot of two and three wide racing throughout the field. Ryan Newman blew a tire and spun down the backstretch, to bring out caution number 2 on lap 12. All the teams decided to pit during this caution. Some did fuel only, but most changed four tires and fuel. Carl Edwards won the race off pit road. There was a collision on pit road during this stop when Newman lost a tire and AJ Allmendinger ran into the back of him, sending AJ to the garage.
The race restarted on lap 16, which saw Paul Menard lead the field to green, and bunched the field up again. Here we went with more two and three wide racing. Denny Hamlin took the lead on the restart, but this would only be one of many lead changes through the night. On lap 50 we made the ¼ way mark and the racing had been pretty good, as the drivers have seemed to settle down a little at this point. Jeff Burton was the leader at lap 50. At this point it was anybody’s race. Greg Biffle had run the fastest lap to this point. Green flag pit stops started at lap 53 with some of the leaders starting to pit for tires and fuel. All pit stops were 4 tires and fuel, with some adjustments to help the cars handle better as the rubber builds up on the track. Lap 60 saw Tony Stewart, the last to pit under green, pit by himself after some miss communication. Pitting by yourself at Daytona can be suicide because you have to have another car to draft with you to maintain top speed. Lap 63 the third caution came out for debris in turn two. Lap 66 saw Danica Patrick return to the race several laps down, but repaired, this is important to her for experience. They restarted on lap 68 and bunched the field up again with Jeff Burton the leader. Remember NASCAR is paying $200,000 to the leader of the race at half way. As we approached lap 100 the intensity will pick up over such a big amount paid to the leader. Lap 70 Joe Nemechek retired from the race with handling issues, Robby Gordon has also retired from the race.
Jeff Gordon blew an engine that resulted in an incredible fire ball on lap 81. This caution saw the field come to pit road for pit stops. Most teams at this point took two tires and fuel, trying to be the first one off pit road. Greg Biffle won the race off pit road. With only 17 laps till halfway the drivers will start getting aggressive due to the large payout at halfway. Greg Biffle led them to the restart on lap 86. Lap 88 caution again for a spin by Terry Labonte. It was nice seeing him out front though. They restarted on lap 92, and it was eight laps until the $200,000 pay out. Biffle was leading at the restart, and tried to get the big payday at half way. After overheating problems early in the race Matt Kenseth began fighting for the lead at half way, and never gave up. They finally reached the half way point, and Martin Truex jr. became $200,000 richer after leading at half way. Once the halfway point is reached the race would become official if weather decided to return. The next ¼ of the race saw things calm down a bit, but things did heat up before the end. Lap 128 saw Clint Bower run out of gas and his stalled car brought out caution number 6. This happened as green flag pit stop begin, some teams were pitting as the caution came out, while other teams pitted after the caution came out. Martin Truex came out as the leader, and led them back to the green on lap 132. With 55 laps to go the drivers aggression was picking up, and at this point I didn’t think to many cars are going to make it. NASCAR was reporting rain on the way which would explain the intensity picking up. The last 40 laps have traditionally been the best of the race. With 45 to go they had ran the fastest lap of the race at a 198 MPH avg. Some of the drivers riding in the rear most of the night were starting to work their way to the front, which made the pack tighter.
With 44 to go David Stremme lost an engine and brought out a caution. All the teams hit pit road during this caution for tires and fuel. They would make it from here with no more pit stops. Then the craziest thing happens under this caution When Juan Pablo Montoya had something break on his car it slammed into a track jet dryer, and exploded! The ensuing fire was awesome and took track crews awhile to get it out. Montoya was o.k. and the safety truck driver was taken to a local hospital for observation. The red flag was out while the track crews cleaned up the mess and inspect the track for damage. I have never seen anything so crazy at the track. NASCAR has spent 20 million dollars repaving the track and one of the things they did was study how to fix the track in situations like this. The fire was definitely intense and for the track to survive it was awesome. Once they had the truck and car removed, they actually used Tide laundry detergent to remove the kerosene left in the track, and this actually works really well. NASCAR had to put down a track sealer to cover the rough surface left when the jet fuel caught fire. Dave Blaney was leading at the red flag and I think he wanted it to rain so he could steal a win. The white knuckle racing was going to be intense as soon the race resumed. After a 2 hour and 5 minute red flag the caution flag came back out with Dave Blaney leading, but unfortunately he had to pit, giving the lead to Matt Kenseth.
Restarting with 34 laps to go, the pack made it through the patch with no problem. 25 laps to go saw the intensity really picking up. 23 to go and the caution waved again, for a spin by Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears. Their was minimal damage to their cars and they were able to continue. Restart with 18 laps to go, Matt Kenseth was still leading. 13 to go saw a caution for a big crash involving several cars, including pole sitter Carl Edwards. Those involved where Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Kasey Kahne, Aric Almirola, Regan Smith, Jamie McMurray and Tony Stewart. Edwards and Stewart where able to continue. Restart with 7 to go, Matt Kenseth was still leading. 4 laps to go and it saw another big wreck involving Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Kyle Bush, Dave Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse jr., David Gilliland, David Reutimann and Landon cassill. Most of the cars were able to continue, setting up a green-white-checker finish. Matt Kenseth was leading at the white flag and was able to hold off a hard charging Dale jr. to win his second Daytona 500. After three days of coverage on TV the checkered flag finally dropped at 1 a.m. on Tuesday.
All in all it was a good race with lots of excitement and unusual stuff happening. The finish was exciting and the fans got their money’s worth. Next weekend they will be at Phoenix Raceway, a little slower than Daytona but just as exciting. It took three days, lots of rain, and a huge fire but the 2012 Daytona 500 will go down in history as one to remember.