After letting the 2009 Daytona 500 settle in a bit, I think everyone can say they're satisfied with how the race went down.
Sure the best car didn't win, sure there was controversy, and sure the race was rain-shortened, but it was entertaining. And that's what NASCAR is all about.
The race was made interesting before it even began. The week of practice and qualifying left drivers with plenty to worry about, including tire issues, poor-handling cars, and, of course, the Big One.
Seven drivers were starting at the back due to using back-up cars. They included Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman, teammates who had seen the tire problem change their plans the day before the race.
Kevin Harvick, 2007 winner, and Matt Kenseth, 2003 Cup champion, were also starting at the rear of the field.
Martin Truex, Jr. and Mark Martin lead the field to the green, each leading a lap before the dominant driver of the day, Kyle Busch, took the lead on lap 3. He would lead all but one of the next 50 laps. In that time, there were two cautions and very little drama. Greg Biffle, who stays out for an extra lap under caution, is the only other driver to lead.
It was shaping up to be a boring race until lap 53, when fan favorite, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., takes the lead, only to give it up a lap later to Tony Stewart.
Then the caution flies as Travis Kvapil blows a tire and hits the wall. Under the caution, Dale Jr. is unable to locate his pit box and has to stop again the next lap. Jeff Gordon is showing severe tire wear and Sam Hornish, Jr. leads a lap. Stewart remains the leader.
After going back green, Jeff Gordon soon takes the lead and shows how strong he can be once he has clean air. Ryan Newman is struck by tire trouble for the third time in the week and has to pit early.
On lap 80, rookie Joey Logano is spun, and the caution flies once more. By this time, Matt Kenseth has shown himself to be strong, along with Roush Fenway teammates Carl Edwards and Jamie McMurray. However, it's Kyle Busch who gets off pit road first.
It's about this time that the race changes. Teams become aware that inclement weather is about an hour away. In quickly becomes apparent that the race will likely not reach the scheduled distance of 200 laps. The intensity picks up dramatically.
The next 33 laps are fast and furious, with plenty of three-wide racing. However, the lead is held by Busch the entire time. It's obvious he has the car to beat.
By lap 113, 28 laps into the run, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and others are facing tire wear and handling issues. Some pit, including the two Hendrick drivers.
Soon after, on lap 119, David Stremme has a tire explode and the caution comes out once more. Johnson and others are trapped a lap down. Gordon gets the free pass.
It is this pit stop that defines the race. All drivers have clean stops except Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who has a tire on the pit box line and must serve a one-lap penalty. Elliott Sadler and Reed Sorenson, who were pitting as the caution waved, assume the lead.
On the first lap of green flag racing, the Big One occurs. Brian Vickers blocks Dale Earnhardt, Jr. below the yellow line as both are fighting for the free pass position.
As Dale Jr. veers back onto the track, he clips the left-rear of Vickers, sending him spinning. The wreck collects 10 cars, including many strong cars. Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, and Jamie McMurray are among the wrecked.
Also during this caution, the first hint of rain is felt. However, the race continues on lap 133. Within five laps, another wreck with Jeff Burton and Paul Menard occurs, keeping the field slowed.
On lap 143, with rain imminent, the green flag is waved. Within three laps, Kenseth, who was third on the restart, passes both Richard Petty Motorsports cars and is the leader with Kevin Harvick right behind.
On the same lap, Aric Almirola spins with Kasey Kahne and the yellow flies for the final time.
Before the green flag can be waved, the rain starts. BY lap 152, the cars come down pit lane and the race is red-flagged.
Within 15 minutes, the race is called official. Matt Kenseth is the winner, with Harvick, A.J. Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer, and Sadler rounding out the top-five. None of these drivers started any higher than 20th.
In fact, no car finishing in the top-ten started there. And of the top-25 finishers, only four started in the top-ten.
It was a race full of excitement, drama, and a little controversy. NASCAR and we fans can only hope the rest of the season is as good.