DAYTONA BEACH — Seven-time Daytona 500 winner Richard Petty nearly got to Victory Lane again Sunday.
Elliott Sadler, who nearly lost his ride in the offseason, nearly won NASCAR's biggest race for the newly created Richard Petty Motorsports team, losing the lead to winner Matt Kenseth in the final laps as the rain came.
Although the 51st Daytona 500 was missing a Petty for the first time since 1965, three of the four drivers racing for RPM, formed in December when Petty Enterprises and Gillett Evernham Motorsports merged, finished among the top nine.
A.J. Allmendinger finished a career-high third after Sadler faded to fifth. Reed Sorenson, driving Petty's No. 43, was ninth.
"I'm very proud of the boys," said Petty, 71. "They ran hard — and smart — all day long. … Hopefully, this isn't the last time that you see those boys at the front of the pack working together like that."
It was a remarkable performance from a group of unlikely teammates. During the offseason, GEM planned to replace Sadler with Allmendinger, but Sadler filed an injunction to stop the move. When GEM and Petty Enterprises merged, Sadler and Allmendinger, who only has funding to race the first eight events, ended up teammates.
Although disappointed by how he lost, Sadler was proud of the team effort; at one point they were all in the top five.
"It was cool running up front," Sadler said. "It was great having Reed and A.J. behind me pushing. It would have been cool to finish like that."
Only Kasey Kahne had a bad day, finishing 29th after a crash.
Allmendinger said the team's fast start was "a big deal."
"I wish it would have rained a little bit earlier so we could have had a Cinderella story, had Elliott and all of us in the top five," he said. "… This team is going to surprise a lot of people before we're done."