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Fire, rain make for bizarre Daytona 500

By Ed Payne, CNN
updated 4:15 AM EST, Tue February 28, 2012
The Daytona 500 is the opening race of the NASCAR season and the sport's most prestigious race. For the first time in its history, rain meant the race started one day later than planned on Monday. The Daytona 500 is the opening race of the NASCAR season and the sport's most prestigious race. For the first time in its history, rain meant the race started one day later than planned on Monday.
HIDE CAPTION
Daytona 500
Fierce flames
Ring of fire
Clean-up crew
Leaving a mark
Out in front
Checkered flag
King Kenseth
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A massive fire delays the race for two hours
  • Matt Kenseth claims the checkered flag
  • The race was pushed back twice due to rain
  • Four of the previous 53 races have been shortened

Daytona Beach, Florida (CNN) -- For a sport where speed is king, NASCAR's Daytona 500 this year was one long waiting game.

First, rain led race officials to pull the plug Sunday -- the first time in Daytona 500's history. Then, continuing showers led them to re-reschedule the start from noon to Monday evening.

When the race finally got underway, a massive fire with 40 laps to go red-flagged it for a couple more hours, pushing the race into a third day.

In the end, Matt Kenseth crossed the finish line about 1 a.m. Tuesday, claiming the 54th running of "The Great American Race."

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The Daytona 500 victory was the second for the driver, who edged out Dale Earnhardt Jr. and teammate Greg Biffle to take the checkered flag.

Those who made it to the end survived multiple accidents, including one on the second lap, and 10 caution flags.

Officials shut down the race for nearly two hours after Juan Pablo Montoya careened into the back of a jet dryer that was being used to blow debris off the track during a caution flag. Montoya's car, the jet dryer and the truck pulling it all burst into flames and also set a section of the track on fire.

Montoya said he had returned to the race track from pit row before the accident, after having the crew check out a vibration he was feeling in his car.

"I was in fourth gear. I wasn't even going that fast," Montoya told reporters. "It just felt really strange and ... the car just turned right."

Some 24 hours of intermittent rain forced Monday's prime-time start -- the first since the inaugural race in 1959.

Before this year, rain had cut short four of 53 previous races -- in 1965, 1966, 2003 and 2009 -- but none had been canceled for the day.

The Daytona 500 opens the NASCAR season, but it also is the sport's most prestigious race. Daytona International Speedway announced this month that the race will boast a record purse of more than $19 million. In comparison, last year's Indianapolis 500 had a payout of $13.5 million.

CNN's Tom Watkins and Dan Moriarty contributed to this report.

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