Dark and Damp Ending at Daytona 500

Tony DonohueContributor IFebruary 16, 2009

The 51st running of the Daytona 500 ended earlier than anticipated. Rain was the question all day, as storms hit the speedway in the morning hours, prior to the start of the 500.

The 500 started on time, but darkening clouds hovered over the speedway for much of the afternoon, throwing every racer's strategies out the window.

When the green flag flew, it was an all Martin front row, with Martin Truex Jr. on the pole and veteran Mark Martin along side. Truex led the field around, only to be passed by Mark Martin on lap two.

Kyle Busch, who won the second Gatorade Duel on Thursday, took the point on lap three and would dominate the first 120 laps of the 500, leading 88 of them. Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon would also trade the lead.

On lap 120, the whole complexion of the Daytona 500 was changed.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. went below the yellow line, clipped the Toyota of Brian Vickers, and sent him spinning into Kyle Busch's Toyota, causing a huge wreck that took out over six cars contending for the win.

This would ruin Busch's chances at the win. If any other driver on the NASCAR circuit would have done the same move and wrecked the field, they would have been penalized, just like Jason Leffler was for basically pulling the same move in Saturday's Nationwide race.

Leffler was penalized five laps.  Earnhardt, like his father, gets away with this reckless driving in Atlanta three to four times a year. NASCAR doesn't want to look like the bad guy by penalizing there most popular driver.

The race did go on, seeing Elliott Sadler lead the next 23 laps, until a big push by Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, A.J. Allmindinger, and Clint Bowyer knocked the #19 Dodge back to fifth. A spin by Aric Almirola would bring the yellow out on lap 150.  Then the rains came to end the Daytona 500, and Matt Kenseth was declared the winner.

In my opinion, NASCAR should have waited longer to call the end of the race. It is the Super Bowl of NASCAR, with 180,000 fans in the stands, lights at the track, and a few more hours to dry and complete the final 48 laps. This was the fourth time the 500 had been ended prematurely due to weather conditions.

Nothing against Matt Kenseth, he is a great driver and deserves to be champion of the race. He has won the NASCAR Championship, numerous races, and now the Daytona 500 trophy is his. He will be a great champion of the event over the next year, and I don't think it will be his last trip to victory lane at Daytona

At the time of the accident, Busch was leading, and Vickers and Earnhardt were battling for the Lucky Dog spot, one lap down to the leader. One very aggressive move, which Earnhardt later would not take responsibility for, ruined the chances of many good drivers to win the 500.