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What happened was a show like no other, beginning from the second lap of the race, when five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson was caught in an accident that also collected Danica Patrick, ruining her Daytona 500 debut.
From there it was 25 lead changes among 13 drivers, 10 cautions, and that really big fire.
"The thing that comes into my mind is NASCAR just can't catch a break," Earnhardt said. "We're trying to deliver, and we just have some unfortunate things happen such as the rain delay, potholes in the track a couple of years ago. We're a good sport, and we're trying to give a good product."
Kenseth and Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle took over the lead following the fire stoppage with 40 laps to go.
Montoya was driving alone under caution when something broke on his car. He spun hard into a safety truck, and the collision caused an instant explosion.
Montoya, who said his helmet was singed in the fire and his foot ached, said he felt a vibration in his car before the accident.
"I've hit a lot of things -- but a jet dryer?" he said. "It just felt really strange, and as I was talking on the radio, the car just turned right."
Jet fuel -- the safety truck held 200 gallons of kerosene -- poured down the surface of Turn 3 at Daytona International Speedway after the accident, creating a fiery lasting image of NASCAR's biggest race of the year.
Journeyman driver Dave Blaney was leading at that time because he had not pitted, and all the drivers surrounded him and Keselowski as they lingered outside their parked cars during the cleanup.
Blaney's lead was short-lived, however, as he pitted for gas as soon as racing resumed. Kenseth took over the lead, with Biffle behind him, and the race went green with 34 laps remaining.
It became clear immediately that nobody could catch the Fords. Earnhardt tried several different strategies, same for Hamlin, but neither could get between Kenseth and Biffle.
Until the final lap, Biffle dutifully stayed in line behind his teammate, and when Earnhardt finally tried to make his move around him, neither driver could catch Kenseth.
Earnhardt held off Biffle at the line, while Kenseth grabbed his second Daytona 500 win in four years. He won the 2009 race by passing Elliott Sadler on the backstretch moments before the caution came out for rain, and he was declared the winner while waiting on pit road.
"We had a really fast car and have fast cars in the past, and I figured out a way to mess it up," Kenseth said. "I am glad it all worked out."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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