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Remembering a 'wild' 2012 Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH — Sunday's 55th running of the Daytona 500 will have a hard time topping the craziness of 2012.

Last year's Great American Race featured its first washed-out day, a jet dryer explosion, the birth of NASCAR's Twitter revolution and, nearly, one of the most unlikely winners the sport has ever seen.

"It was a wild race," said Matt Kenseth, who held off Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle to claim his second Daytona 500. "There was a lot of crazy stuff that went on there."

Here's a look back at some of those crazy moments.

The rain

Steady showers soaked Daytona International Speedway throughout the weekend, postponing the race from Sunday afternoon to Sunday evening to Monday afternoon and, finally, into Monday in prime time.

"We raced Monday night, which I keep forgetting about," Biffle said.

Drivers passed the time by napping, doing interviews or, in the case of Carl Edwards, watching professional bowling on TV.

The fire

The rain became a footnote after one of the most unforgettable wrecks in series history.

Juan Pablo Montoya was complaining of vibrations in his No. 42 Chevrolet during a caution. As he raced to catch up with the field, a truck arm in his car broke, causing Montoya to lose control — and the car to slam into a jet dryer that was drying the track in Turn 3. The explosion left the truck beyond recognition.

About 30 safety vehicles were used to put out the flames, and a crew used laundry detergent and other chemicals to get the track ready for the final 40 laps. Montoya hobbled away after the clutch sliced his foot, but no one was seriously injured.

"That was a freak accident," Montoya said. "To walk away with nothing out of that, I think it was a miracle."

The tweet

With the race red-flagged and history unfolding ahead, Brad Keselowski did what many people might do.

He pulled a cell phone from his pocket, snapped a photo from his car and posted it to Twitter.

"I didn't think that much about it," said Keselowski, who went on to win the Sprint Cup series championship. "I just thought, 'Well, this is kind of something different; I'd like to take a picture of this' and just sent it out."

The photo was retweeted thousands of times and remains on his Twitter page. His number of followers exploded, from 65,000 to more than 200,000 that night to 367,000 today.

"If I tried to calculate that," Keselowski said, "I never could in a million years."

The unlikely leader

As the blaze raged on the track and Keselowski tweeted, a journeyman driver who barely qualified for the field sat in first place.

Moments earlier, Dave Bla­ney's crew opted not to have him pit. So when Montoya's car hit the jet dryer, Blaney held the lead.

"You talk about surprises," Fox analyst Darrell Waltrip said.

Blaney kept his helmet on as he waited in his No. 36 Chevy, wondering if NASCAR could repair the track or if he lucked into his first win in his 398th career start.

"I didn't know if it was going to be a long delay, a short delay," Blaney said. "And (car owner Tommy Baldwin's) on the radio yakkin' about, 'Oh my God, we might luck into one here.' So then you get out. You're sitting in here for two hours trying to explain how in the world — how am I going to explain winning this race?"

Soon after, the 500 resumed, and the 15-year NASCAR veteran gave up the lead by pitting. Blaney finished 15th, his only top-20 result of the season.

Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.

Remembering a 'wild' 2012 Daytona 500 02/20/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 7:56pm]
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