DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The Daytona 500 is never without incident. But what happened 160 laps into the 54th edition of The Great American Race is completely unprecedented:
Juan Pablo Montoya was racing around the track under caution, trying to catch up to the field, when he lost control of his car and crashed into a jet dryer that was blowing debris off the track. What ensued was something completely bizarre.
Fuel poured out of the jet dryer, caught on fire and set a line of flames across the track rising some 20 to 30 feet into the air.
Montoya got out of his car unhurt, while the driver of the jet dryer, Duane Barnes, was taken to a local hospital, treated and released.
"I left the pits and I felt a weird vibration," Montoya explained. "We were on the backstretch and we really weren't going that fast. I could feel the car squeezing and when I told the spotter to take a look, the car just came right.
"He was OK," Montoya said of Barnes. "He just looked pretty scared."
The fire was so intense Montoya's car immediately disintegrated and the race was red flagged as officials tried to put out the fire, which persisted for some five to 10 minutes.
With the tires on the jet dryer completely burned off, officials needed a backhoe to remove it from the track.
Dave Blaney, who's never won a Sprint Cup Series race in 397 starts, was the leader at the time of the incident.
NASCAR looked at the track to determine if it was compromised. teve Letarte, crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr., openly questioned if the track would be operable enough to continue race.
With repair work approaching an hour, officials reverted to using two familiar household products – a grass seed spreader full of Tide – to dissipate the fuel.
NASCAR president Mike Helton said after inspecting the track they determined they would be able to resume the race.
"Bout the time you think you've seen everything …" Helton said. "It's a bizarre set of circumstances that nobody could have helped happen."
The race restarted after a 2 hour, 5 minute delay.
This is the second time in three years the Daytona 500 has been halted because of an issue with the track. In 2010, a pothole opened up between Turns 1 and 2, halting the race twice.
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