Daytona Beach, Fla. The rain was coming, and Matt Kenseth knew it was time to get going.
It was the Daytona 500, a race where drivers wait until the very end to make their big move for NASCAR’s biggest prize.
Only this time, nobody knew when the end would be.
The rain that had threatened Sunday’s season-opening race all day finally rolled in moments after Kenseth slid past Elliott Sadler for the lead. Then the former NASCAR champion was forced to sit out a 20-minute delay before claiming victory after 152 of 200 laps. It was just the fourth rain-shortened 500 in the race’s 51-year history, and first since Michael Waltrip’s 2003 win.
Had rain not been forecast, he might still have been running at the back of the field with 54 laps to go, because that’s where veterans usually wait out the dicey Daytona racing before making a late charge.
But the weather radar showed the rain was coming, and crew chiefs up and down pit road urged their drivers to go for it.
Kenseth sliced his way through the field, then used a huge push from Kevin Harvick to take the lead from Sadler. A caution came out moments later for a spin by Aric Almirola, and the sky opened up about the same time.
After two laps under caution, NASCAR stopped the race and brought the drivers to pit road. Most climbed from their cars to await NASCAR’s decision.
Kenseth did not, choosing to sit inside his Ford away from the nervous supporters. He began to cry when NASCAR gave him the victory, his first in the Daytona 500 and first since the 2007 season finale.