Fire, rain and wrecks – just another run-of-the-mill Daytona 500


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Aside from Juan Pablo Montoya hitting a truck that was blowing the track clean during a caution in the middle of the Daytona 500 (“I have hit a lot of things, but a jet dryer?” Montoya said), and the ensuing jet fuel fire (“About the time you think you have seen about everything,” said Mike Helton, NASCAR president) …

Aside from the mass cleanup that included using no less than Tide laundry detergent, and that NASCAR actually had a contingency plan for all of this (“There’s not a true training manual to light a track on fire and respond to it,” Joie Chitwood, track president said)
Aside from having Brad Keselowski tweeting from the backstretch during the fire-created red flag, having Dale Earnhardt Jr. seize Keselowski’s cell phone to check the weather, which then actually held off …

Aside from Matt Kenseth winning the actual race, beating Earnhardt by 0.21 seconds, even though he and Greg Biffle had teamed up to chase Kenseth down yet somehow couldn’t, then having Kenseth’s engine spew water (for the second time) en route to Victory Lane …

Aside from the first-ever Monday primetime start to the Daytona 500 and, (six hours later) the first ever Tuesday-morning finish (“I think they should start cooking eggs in 30 minutes,” Kenseth said after) …

Aside from Kenseth’s victory coming under a green-white checker flag, after 21 of the 43 cars were wrecked off the lead lap in calamities from Laps 2 to 198 …

Aside from Danica Patrick getting caught in a crash after completing just one lap only to return and finish, something 11 other cars couldn’t manage …

Aside from all of that, not much happened in this year’s Daytona 500.

NASCAR: Just when you think it can’t get any crazier, here comes the 54th “Great American Race” to redefine everything.

[ Related: Matt Kenseth claims second Daytona 500 victory, holds off Dale Earnhardt Jr. ]

And, might we repeat just for emphasis: The track was on fire for a stretch there.

“We had approximately 200 gallons of burning fuel on the race track,” noted Chitwood.

It turned out to be a heck of a scene. After all, there’s nothing like 20-foot flames to spice things up.

“[After that] you do think about, ‘Oh my gosh, if that can happen, what else can happen?’ ” Helton said.

And to think, the day began with everyone worrying about rain. Then Juan Pablo went straight Adele on that problem and nearly burned the whole thing down.

[ Related: Dan Wetzel: Danica Patrick’s Daytona 500 dream turns into nightmare ]

Helton was sitting in a room in the press box with other officials observing the caution-flagged laps when he saw Montoya pull out of pit road. Montoya said he had previously felt a “weird vibration” in the rear of his car. When the race went into a caution on Lap 158, he went to the pits to have his crew look at it. Someone made the fateful mistake of saying they saw no problem.

Montoya went back on the track under yellow. But as he approached and prepared to pass one of the jet dryers that was cleaning the track, something snapped and Montoya’s No. 42 began skidding directly at the truck, which he knew carried a jet dryer powered by jet fuel.

“I was thinking, ‘This is going to be on fire pretty bad,’ ” Montoya said. “And it was. My helmet got a little burned and everything.”

Everything actually included the jet dryer, which a man named Duane Barnes had to evacuate, and then a swath of Turn 3 of the famed speedway when jet fuel poured out and lit up.

“It got your attention,” Helton said.

The race immediately went to red flag – a full stop – as flames blasted into the air and the pungent smell of burning fuel wafted over the massive infield.

[ Related: Juan Pablo Montoya sets Daytona track ablaze after hitting jet dryer ]

Stopped drivers, getting word of this one-of-a-kind fire, got out of their cars and started walking toward Turn 3 for a closer inspection. They eventually got turned back – “I can’t believe they didn’t let us go take a look at it,” Earnhardt complained later.

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