DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Though some might not realize it, Sunday’s 62nd annual Daytona 500 was not the first one to be interrupted midway through and pushed to a second day to conclude.
The 2012 Daytona 500 — the 54th edition of The Great American Race — holds that distinct honor, though its mid-race delay wasn’t caused by a Florida deluge.
No, inclement weather prior to the race was just the beginning.
Daytona Int’l Speedway’s original “Longest Day” was a 36-hour marathon that was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET on Feb. 26, 2012, but a torrential band of rain in the Daytona Beach area made racing impossible and forced NASCAR officials to push the Daytona 500 to Monday for the first time.
Further rain Monday morning led NASCAR to bump an originally scheduled noon ET start back to 7 p.m. ET, making for the first primetime Daytona 500 in history.
Roush Fenway Racing teammates Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle comprised the front row. Biffle led 44 laps during the event, while Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin led the most laps (57) overall.
However, few people remember any of those little details, in large part due to the events of lap 160.
In what now amounts to Daytona 500 urban legend, Juan Pablo Montoya was racing down the backstretch at near-full speed in an attempt to catch the field for an upcoming restart when a broken rear truck arm on his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet sent it careening out of control.
Montoya’s car skidded toward the wall in turn three, where a jet dryer was cleaning the race track so green-flag conditions could resume, and collided with the heavy machinery at the top of the banking.
As the burning wreckage of Montoya’s car slid down into the grass inside the apron of the third turn, jet fuel streamed out of the destroyed track-drying truck and down the banking.
One spark later and turn three was ablaze in a wall of flames as firefighters worked to quell the inferno.
The fire and subsequent efforts needed to clean and repair the racing surface led to a two-hour, five-minute and 29-second red-flag period, during which Brad Keselowski Tweeted from inside his race car and one of the wildest Daytona 500s on record became a worldwide phenomenon.
Underdog Dave Blaney, who had stayed out under caution just before Montoya’s crash with the jet dryer, looked like he was in position to steal the biggest win of his career for much of the stoppage before the track was finally cleaned off and deemed ready to return to racing.
From there, Blaney pitted with a lap to go before the restart, Matt Kenseth assumed command over the field and paced the final 38 laps of the race for his second Daytona 500 win.
Kenseth even survived NASCAR overtime en route to the score, holding off Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Biffle to the checkered flag to hoist the Harley J. Earl Trophy in victory lane after 202 laps.
The race ended at 1 a.m. ET on Feb. 28, a full day and a half after the planned start of the event.
It was a weekend and a sequence of events that now-NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton – then the president of the sanctioning body – couldn’t even believe despite witnessing it first-hand.
“You would think (that) after 65 years and running all the races that NASCAR has run … that you’ve seen about everything,” Helton said. “(But) you do think about, ‘Oh my gosh, if that can happen, what else can happen?’
“It was a very unusual night.”
Eight years after those bizarre events, the Daytona 500 was pushed to Monday for a second time.
The rain played a part, just as it did in 2012, but many of the players in this year’s edition of The Great American Race are different than those from the 54th running of the Daytona 500.
Names like Chase Elliott, William Byron, Erik Jones, Austin Dillon, Bubba Wallace and Kyle Larson all find themselves chasing Daytona 500 glory, while veterans that were in that 2012 field — Jimmie Johnson, Kurt and Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr. and Hamlin, among others — hope to deny them.
This year’s polesitter, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — who led the first 20 laps on Sunday before the rain came — finished 21st for Roush Fenway Racing on the night that his teammate Kenseth went to victory lane.
And eight years after participating in that marathon Daytona 500, Stenhouse is hoping to be the one celebrating a victory in the return of the “24 Hours of Daytona,” as some pundits are referring to it.
This time, however? The hope is to skip the fire and get to the checkered flag unhindered after 180 more laps.
The fireworks can wait until a winner is sitting in victory lane.
Monday’s broadcast of the conclusion to the 62nd annual Daytona 500 will air at 4 p.m. ET, live on FOX, the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.