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 prime-time 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Standing around waiting for the cleanup, Keselowski pulled out a smart phone, took pictures and tweeted. He wound up gaining around 135,000 followers in a matter of a couple hours. Eventually Earnhardt and others commandeered the phone to check on the weather. “So it did come in handy,” Earnhardt said.
Montoya and Barnes wound up in care centers – Montoya in the Daytona infield, Barnes at a nearby hospital – and were declared OK. “He looked pretty scared,” Montoya said, which might be expected when your truck blows up with you in it.
Meanwhile, Chitwood and Helton were employing a plan to deal with a track fire. Not that they knew it would work.
“There’s no way to do that,” Chitwood said of training for a track catching fire. “That’s something that you have to talk about in theory. The worst possible thing that can happen to a racetrack is fuel. We hardly ever talk about burning fuel. Fuel alone is bad enough.”
The theory included a quick dry solution, a phenomenal amount of Tide laundry detergent (“It’s amazing that NASCAR had enough Tide,” said car owner Jack Roush), some high-powered hoses, a bunch of brooms and a whole lot of hope.
“It was about a 10 or 11 step process,” Chitwood said.
After a two-hour, five-minute delay, the race was back on. The track “gouged,” according to the Helton, and the drivers said it was a bit soft, but it was still capable of racing.
So they raced the final 100 miles around it – there were three more cautions, including two huge wrecks, but none was because of the scorched asphalt. And nothing bothered Kenseth, who cruised in for this second victory here.
“I am glad it all worked out,” Kenseth said.
Fire, rain and just another ho-hum, run-of-the-mill Daytona 500.
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