DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 15, 2009) — Matt Kenseth powered his No. 17 DEWALT Ford to the front of the pack just in time to win the rain-shortened 51st annual Daytona 500—the first-ever Daytona 500 win for Roush Fenway Racing.
Kenseth, who pushed Kevin Harvick to his win in 2007, had the favor returned as Harvick nudged him past then-leader Elliott Sadler on Lap 146. Caution came out on the next lap for an accident on the backstretch and continued until the 200-lap race was halted for rain on Lap 152. Shortly thereafter, the race was called, and Kenseth was awarded the coveted Harley J. Earl trophy. Harvick took second place, followed by A.J. Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer and Sadler.
“It’s going to be really wet out here because I’m crying like a baby,” an emotional Kenseth said. “If anybody’s leading the Daytona 500 and tells you they want it to restart, they’re lying to you.
“Just to win a race after our [winless] year last year. I didn’t know if I was ever going to [win] again and then to pull off the Daytona 500—it’s just unbelievable. I’m just unbelievably thankful and humbled right now for all the opportunities I’ve had.”
For Harvick—driving the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet he took to Gatorade Victory Lane in last week’s Budweiser Shootout—the finish was bittersweet.
“Another lap and you never know what would have happened,” Harvick said. “You always want to win the race. Knowing what it’s like to win the Daytona 500—it’s a lot of fun to win and neat to be in Victory Lane. Matt is the one that pushed me to my Daytona 500 win. In the end, it’s kind of weird how that stuff works out.”
Sadler, who has finished in the Top 10 in six of the last eight Daytona 500s, was disappointed.
“If you’d have told me at the beginning of the day I would take a fifth-place finish and lead some laps for the Daytona 500, I probably would have [taken] it,” Sadler said. “But to be half a lap short from being the champion of the Daytona 500 is very emotional to me. We had a chance to win it—just made one mistake off of Turn 4.
“If I would have made a better and smarter move, I’d be in Victory Lane right now—I really wanted it. I put my heart and soul to come in here to Daytona and Speedweeks and try to compete at the top of my game….but it just wasn’t meant to be. Very hard to swallow; very emotional.”
Third-place finisher Allmendinger was one of four drivers who raced his way into the Daytona 500 during Thursday’s Gatorade Duel at Daytona. He was assisted during that race by his Richard Petty Motorsports teammates.
“I was hoping it was going to rain when Elliott was leading, and Reed [Sorenson] was second and I was fourth. I was trying to push Reed and Elliott as much as I could. They are the ones that got me into the race. It was my turn to return the favor and try to get them the win.”
A Lap 125 incident on the Superstretch led to many lead-pack drivers suffering damage to their cars, including: Brian Vickers, Jamie McMurray, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, who had kept his No. 18 M&M’s Toyota out front for 88 laps.
Kenseth’s 39th starting position is the lowest ever by a winner, and the win is only the third all-time for Roush Fenway Racing at “The World Center of Racing.” It marked the first time a Ford has been to Gatorade Victory Lane at Daytona since Dale Jarrett in 2000.
The Daytona 500 has been shortened by rain three other times—1965 (332.5 mi.), 1966 (495 mi.) and 2003 (272.5 mi). Nine leaders exchanged the lead nine times, and the race was slowed eight times for 35 laps.
NASCAR’s season-opening race also brought out the biggest stars: Grammy Award-winning country music star Keith Urban performed a pre-race concert and was accompanied by his wife, Academy Award-winning actress Nicole Kidman; actor/film producer Tom Cruise drove the Chevy Camaro pace car to lead the 43-car field around the tri-oval; platinum-recording artist Gavin DeGraw performed the national anthem in place of an ailing Julianne Hough; and Florida Governor Charlie Crist served as Grand Marshal.
In addition, three-time Daytona 500-champion Bobby Allison was in the flag-stand as Honorary Starter, on the 30th anniversary of the famous 1979 Daytona 500 finish. That race was the first live nationally televised and ended with a fight in the infield between Cale Yarborough and the Allison brothers—Donnie and Bobby.
Kenseth, the 2003 Sprint Cup Series champion, will be honored Monday in the ConAgra Foods Champion’s Breakfast and have his winning car inducted into the Daytona 500 Experience’s Gatorade Victory Lane, where it will remain until February 2010.
Tickets for the Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola are available online at http://www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.