DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Roush Fenway Racing’s Matt Kenseth held off a hard-charging Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle in a green-white-checkered finish to capture the coveted Harley J. Earl trophy for a second time in the 54th annual Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
For Roush Fenway Racing, which is celebrating 25 Years of Racing, it was the organization’s 300th NASCAR win and second triumph in the Daytona 500.
After rain postponed the start of the Daytona 500 for the first time in the history of the race, the field was able to take the green flag Monday night and the action did not disappoint.
“It feels great,” said Kenseth, who won a rain-shortened Daytona 500 in 2009. “We even went into overtime a bit since we didn’t quite go the whole distance the first time we won it.”
Kenseth had to overcome various mechanical issues with the No. 17 Best Buy Ford Fusion before making his way to Gatorade Victory Lane.
“We had a lot of problems and almost ended up a lap down,” Kenseth said. “I had my radio break, my (tachometer) break and we pushed all the water out (of the engine) and had to come in and put water in it. (The crew) did a great job. They never panicked and I think they enjoyed their day more because they couldn’t hear me on the radio with my radio problems. It was pretty cool to win the (Gatorade) 150 and I never dreamed we would be standing here tonight.”
The Fords were fast throughout Speedweeks and Kenseth had an incredibly strong car, leading 50 of the 202 laps around the 2.5-mile tri-oval. Kenseth stayed toward the front of the field throughout the night with the help of teammate Greg Biffle who finished third.
“The two of us together could make some unbelievable speed,” Kenseth said of working with Biffle. “I have to thank Greg. We worked together really good all day long.
“My car was one of the faster cars. It was harder for some of the cars to push me and stay locked on. We had enough speed once we took the white (flag) that I felt sort of okay about it. By the time I got to Turn 3, I could see they couldn’t get enough speed mustered up to try to make a move.”
RFR had arguably one of the best Speedweeks in the history of the organization. It started with Carl Edwards and Biffle sweeping the front row during NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying and Kenseth starting fourth. Kenseth also won the second Gatorade Duel, giving RFR their very first Gatorade Duel win.
“It’s very fitting that Matt won the 300th victory here,” co-owner Jack Roush said. “It’s been quite a run. (Crew Chief) Jimmy Fennig has been with us most of the time and Matt has been with us most of the time as well. It’s great to celebrate our 300th win with the 54th Daytona 500. Of course, being Matt’s (and RFR’s) second 500 win makes it special as well.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was the only member of Hendrick Motorsports running at the end of the race, finished second, .210 seconds behind Kenseth.
Martin Truex Jr. got a push to the lead from Denny Hamlin to win the $200,000 mid-race leader award and Danica Patrick made her first appearance in the Daytona 500, becoming only the third woman to do so (Janet Guthrie – 1977, 1980; Shawna Robinson – 2002). The No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet sustained severe damage in the first caution of the night and she finished 38th. Also caught up in that incident was defending Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne who finished 35th.
Thirteen drivers exchanged the lead 25 times with Denny Hamlin leading a race-high 57.
During the seventh caution of the race, Juan Pablo Montoya lost control of his No. 42 Target Chevrolet and struck a jet dryer in Turn 3 resulting in a fuel spill and fire. Emergency crews responded and the race was red flagged for 2 hours, 5 minutes and 29 seconds. No one was injured.
Despite the rain delays, a great crowd was on hand for the first primetime start of the Daytona 500 on Monday night.
“I was impressed with the crowd,” DIS President Joie Chitwood said. “That really beat my expectation in terms of the first time we’ve ever had a rain delay. I was extremely happy and really pleased that the crowd stuck it out. It was the first time in 54 years that the race has been delayed until Monday, and of course the first time that’s it’s been run in prime time under the lights and we believe it’s the first time that our fans in the grandstands performed the wave. It was a fun crowd, they were reacting great and they stayed until the very end.”
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will return to Daytona International Speedway for the Independence Day holiday weekend for the Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola on Saturday night July 7.
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