Kenseth triumphs in rain-shortened Daytona 500

By Joe Jennings -
February 15, 2008

Matt Kenseth raced to victory in the rain-shortened Daytona 500 before a sellout crowd at the Daytona International Speedway on Sunday. Taking the lead for the first time on the 146th lap, the Wisconsin native motored into first place one lap before rain slowed the 51st anniversary event.

After five slow laps, the cars were stopped, and the race was called a short while later. Following Kenseth across the wet finish line were Kevin Harvick, AJ Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer and Elliott Sadler.

For Kenseth, the victory was his first in the Daytona 500 victory, and his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win since the 2007 season finale at the Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The winner drove the DeWalt Ford owned by Roush Fenway Racing, and the noted team scored its first Daytona 500 victory.

Ford has now won the Daytona 500 ten times and has totaled 593 all-time Sprint Cup wins. Dale Jarrett took Ford to its last victory nine years ago.

"I'm crying like a baby out here," Kenseth said in the wet victory lane ceremony. "Winning the Daytona 500 is definitely a dream moment and an unbelievable feeling. We've had some really fast race cars in the past, and I've just never been able to figure out how to do the right thing. Today, we made the right moves."

Discussing his winning pass, the quiet-spoken driver said, "I was a little nervous because it was teammates Elliott (Sadler), then Reed (Sorenson), and (AJ) Allmendinger all lined up, but I was able to get a run on Elliott and get by him." Asked if he ran hard due to the incoming weather, Kenseth added, "Man, we raced hard all day."

Kenseth started 39th but moved rapidly through the field and ran among the lead group for 130 of the 152 laps. The winner wrecked his primary car in the Gatorade Duel, forcing him into a back-up car

"This is surreal," crew chief Drew Blickensderfer said. This was his first race in the lead role.

Stated co-owner Jack Roush, "We have been trying to this thing for 20 years, and I almost don't believe it happened."

Starting 32nd in his Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet, Harvick didn't catch the lead draft until the final 30 laps. "We were off a little bit, and we made some huge adjustments during the second or third pit stops and got the car so it would drive really good." For his late-race pass for second place, Harvick said he went to the top of the track with his Richard Childress Racing teammate Bowyer pushing him by the others, to end up behind Kenseth.

Former open-wheel ace Allmendinger, driving the Valvoline Dodge, was thrilled with the outcome, as his arrangement with the Richard Petty Motorsports team is currently for a limited number of races.

"It's a great result for us," Allmendinger said. "I kind of wish we could have been able to finish (the race). I would have loved to have had a chance to win it."

Bowyer grabbed fourth place in the Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet, another RCR entry. "I would like to think I could have won the race, and that's the bummer about this whole thing," he commented.

Sadler had been the front-runner in his Stanley Dodge (from Richard Petty Motorsports) for 24 laps prior to Kenseth's pass, and he was dejected to end up fifth. "On one hand, I am very happy and on the other, I'm really disappointed," he said in a downcast voice. "With the off-season I've had, I feel like I deserved that win more than anyone. I just needed to hang on for one more lap to win the 500."

David Ragan (Ford), Michael Waltrip (Toyota), Tony Stewart (Chevrolet), Reed Sorenson (Dodge) and Kurt Busch (Dodge) rounded out the top-10 finishers.

Fast qualifier Martin Truex Jr. ended up 11th.

After being a front-runner early on, crowd favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended up 27th after losing a lap in the pits and being involved in a wreck with Brian Vickers and nine others on the 125th lap.

Vickers blamed Earnhardt, who was trying to regain his lost lap. Vickers said, "We were racing for the "lucky dog" and my goal was to keep Dale Jr. behind me. I went to block him, and he just turned us. To wreck someone intentionally in front of the entire field is kind of dangerous."

Said Earnhardt, "I was trying to get my lap back, and I had a good run and went inside of Brian (Vickers) and he drove me down into the grass, and I didn't have much control at that point. If he wasn't so reckless, we would never have had that problem."

He eventually did get his lap back.

Kyle Busch's stellar run was wiped out in the Vickers-Earnhardt melee. The young driver had led 88 of the initial 125 laps, and he seemed to have a strong shot at the victory. "Some guys having a bad day made their bad day our bad day," the frustrated driver said. "It is a shame as our Toyota was so strong today, leading all those laps and running up front."

Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin were also involved in accidents.

The Sprint Cup Series travels west to the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, for the second race of the season next weekend.