Kenseth takes first Daytona 500 win

Rain brought the Daytona 500 to an early finish and Matt Kenseth was declared the winner after leading only the last green-flag lap of an eventful Sprint Cup series season-opener

Kenseth takes first Daytona 500 win

Kenseth overtook Elliott Sadler entering turn one to lead the race for the first time all night on lap 146, right before Aric Almirola made contact with Kasey Kahne on the backstretch, bringing out the caution flag for the eighth time during the day.

While running behind the pacecar, a slight drizzle that had kept teams with an eye on strategy and the weather radar, transformed into a heavy downpour that ended up washing out any chance for Kenseth's rivals.

Following 20 minutes of waiting under the red flag, the 2003 Sprint Cup champion was declared the winner. Given that the race was past its halfway-mark and with the radar not showing any hope of the rain stopping, NASCAR decided to make the result official after 380 of the scheduled 500 miles.

Kesenth received the news as he waited inside his car and even broke into tears when told he had just taken his and Jack Roush's maiden victory in the Great American Race after starting from the back of the field, following a crash that forced him to his back up car during the first Gatorade Duel.

"It's going to be really wet here because I'm crying like a baby," said Kenseth. "But I've just got to thank my team and thank the Lord for giving me this opportunity first of all.

"I've had a lot of great opportunities in my life - from my family getting me in racing. Man I don't know, winning the Daytona 500 is definitely a dream moment."

The 36-year-old broke a 36-race win drought that dated back to the season finale at Homestead in 2007. He didn't win a single race last season despite making the Chase, but will now lead the championship heading into Fontana next week, having made a pass that he never thought was going to win him the race.

"I was a little nervous," Kenseth said about passing Elliott Sadler for the lead. "Because it was Elliott (Sadler) and Reed (Sorenson) and (AJ) Allmendinger and all the (Richard Petty Motorsport) teammates lined up there and I was able to get on the outside of Elliott a little bit, and our car was honestly a fair amount quicker than his and I was able to get the run and get by him."

A few laps before Kenseth's lucky break came, he survived the 'Big One' of the day, ignited by a controversial incident between Dale Earnhardt Jr and Brian Vickers on the backstretch. Kenseth was able to go through the carnage without any damage, while ten other cars were part of the wreck.

Among those involved were most of the fastest cars of the day and some of the big names, including Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, and Kyle Busch. The Joe Gibbs driver had been particularly strong up until then leading 88 laps, but had dropped down in the order in the last round of pitstops as teams opted for different tyre strategies.

"I think we were the best car out there," said Busch. "Us, the 24 (Jeff Gordon) was strong, the 11 (Denny Hamlin) was strong, a couple other guys that we were battling with, but felt like our car was the best to beat.

"We were awfully good and just running out front and biding our time. I don't think we fell worse than sixth or fifth the whole time out there. Just a really sad feeling."

While Busch at least looked competitive as well as Edwards at some point, defending champion Johnson had a troubled day, never getting the right balance on his car and running for most of the distance in the middle of the pack.

But while some of the big names faded, the underdogs were able to have a shot at NASCAR's biggest race. Kevin Harvick, who drove his Budweiser Shootout car from the back of the field, was able to finish second, while AJ Allmendinger was an impressive third on his maiden Daytona 500.

Clint Bowyer was fourth in his first race with Richard Childress Racing's fourth team, while Sadler rounded up the top five, lamenting that the final caution flag of the race came probably one lap too late for him.

The Richard Petty Motorsports driver led 24 laps after coming out of the pits in the lead when most of the field pitted under the fifth caution of the day.

"On one hand, I'm very happy and on the other, I'm really disappointed," Sadler said. "We got a top-five finish for Dodge and Richard Petty Motorsports and that's a great (Daytona) 500 finish for us.

"On the other hand, I was one lap from winning the Daytona 500 and that's hard to swallow. With the off-season that I've had, I feel like I deserved that win more than anyone. I really wanted to go to Victory Lane. I just needed to hang on for one more lap to win the 500."

Three of Petty's cars actually finished in the top ten, as Reed Sorenson was ninth right behind Tony Stewart, who was able to come back from the adversity of his practice crash with teammate Ryan Newman, actually leading the race for 15 laps.

Gatorade Duel winner Jeff Gordon had been strong in the first part of the race but his chances of victory faded as he struggled with excessive tyre wear and got shuffled down in the order by being out of sequence by the time the race was halted.

For the rookies it was a tough day as both made contact on lap 82 at the exit of turn four when Scott Speed got loose, getting hit by Joey Logano, who also made contact with Greg Biffle.

Logano spun and crashed against the inside SAFER barrier at high speed, finishing his race on the spot, while Speed was able to carry on to finish a 35th place.

This year's Daytona 500 was only the third ever shortened season-opener, the most recent dating back to 2003 when Michael Waltrip was declared the winner after 109 of the 200 scheduled laps.

Pos Driver Car Laps 1. Matt Kenseth Ford 152 2. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 152 3. AJ Allmendinger Dodge 152 4. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 152 5. Elliott Sadler Dodge 152 6. David Ragan Ford 152 7. Michael Waltrip Toyota 152 8. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 152 9. Reed Sorenson Dodge 152 10. Kurt Busch Dodge 152 11. Martin Truex Jr Chevrolet 152 12. David Reutimann Toyota 152 13. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 152 14. Juan Montoya Chevrolet 152 15. Casey Mears Chevrolet 152 16. Mark Martin Chevrolet 152 17. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 152 18. Carl Edwards Ford 152 19. John Andretti Chevrolet 152 20. Greg Biffle Ford 152 21. Regan Smith Chevrolet 152 22. Bobby Labonte Ford 152 23. Bill Elliott Ford 152 24. Kasey Kahne Dodge 152 25. Terry Labonte Toyota 152 26. Scott Riggs Toyota 152 27. Denny Hamlin Toyota 152 28. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 152 29. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 152 30. Aric Almirola Chevrolet 152 31. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 152 32. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 152 33. David Stremme Dodge 152 34. Robby Gordon Toyota 152 35. Scott Speed Toyota 152 36. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 150 37. Paul Menard Ford 139 38. Jamie McMurray Ford 139 39. Brian Vickers Toyota 134 40. Jeremy Mayfield Toyota 126 41. Kyle Busch Toyota 124 42. Travis Kvapil Ford 90 43. Joey Logano Toyota 81 

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