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Posted: Sunday February 14, 2010 1:17PM; Updated: Sunday February 14, 2010 8:19PM
Bruce Martin
Bruce Martin>INSIDE NASCAR

Blog: McMurray win caps hellacious Daytona 500 journey

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Jamie McMurray was the last of 21 different leaders in the caution-addled Daytona 500.
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

SI.com's Bruce Martin is at Daytona International Speedway delivering live insight and analysis from the the 52nd running of the Daytona 500.

7:48 p.m. -- In a Daytona 500 that defied description, there were few, if any, that thought Jamie McMurray would be the eventual winner.

But that is exactly what happened in a race that went into two overtime green-, white-, checkered flag finishes with the lead changing hands three times on the final two laps. First, it was Greg Biffle in the lead before McMurray went in front only to change again. When they got to the third turn, McMurray pulled ahead for good and Biffle got passed for second by fan favorite Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who came from 10th to second in the final two laps.

There was a Daytona 500-record 21 different leaders in the race. McMurray led the final two laps, the fewest-ever for a Daytona 500 winner. There were 52 lead changes, the third most in Daytona 500 history.

McMurray's Chevrolet defeated Earnhardt's Chevrolet. Biffle's Ford was third followed by Clint Bowyer's Chevrolet. David Reutimann's Toyota was fifth in a marathon race that started at 1:20 p.m. Six hours and 10 minutes later, McMurray took the checkered flag for the biggest win of his life.

"I told my wife today that if I won tonight, I was going to cry," McMurray said as he broke down in tears. 'It's unreal. It's unbelievable, really. I can't explain it. It's a dream. It really is. To be where I was last year and for Johnny Morris and Chip Ganassi to take a chance on me to come back means a lot.

"What a way to have to pay them back. To my wife, Happy Valentine's Day and my dad is here and I'm very emotional. It's very special. After I won at Talladega we went to McDonald's. Tonight, I'm going to have a Big Mac."

McMurray credited Biffle with the push that was needed to win the race that was stopped twice for over two hours because of a hole in the asphalt in turns 1 and 2.

McMurray becomes the 34th different driver to win the Daytona 500. It was his fourth career victory.

While the lengthy red flags sent thousands of fans home early in disgust, those that stayed until the end saw a dramatic finish.

7:34 p.m. -- This was nuts.

7:14 p.m. -- In one of the weirdest races in recent Daytona 500 history -- a race that was stopped twice for a total of 2 hours because of a pothole in the track -- it just got a little longer after Ryan Newman, Travis Kvapil and Elliott Sadler all crashed on the backstretch with six laps to go.

The yellow flag was out for three laps as NASCAR attempt to avoid going into overtime. NASCAR has a maximum of three green-, white-, checkered-flag restarts being used if the race does not end under green.

Clint Bowyer is the leader ahead of Greg Biffle's Ford. Kurt Busch's Dodge is third followed by Martin Truex, Jr.'s Toyota and 2007 Daytona 500 winner Kevin Harvick's Chevrolet.

When the pits opened, cars from 12th on back decided to pit for new tires along with Kurt Busch. But the other cars at the front of the field have decided to stay out setting up a mad scramble for the checkered flag in NASCAR's biggest race of the year.

In what was supposed to be a race that finished in daylight, the Daytona 500 has become a marathon and won't be over until close to 7:30 p.m.

6:51 p.m. -- The race has resumed with Scott Speed at the front of the field following a second red-flag delay because of a hole in the track.

The green flag has waved with 32 laps to go. Speed was in the lead because he did not pit when the pits were opened on lap 164. Roush Fenway drivers Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and David Ragan have blown past Speed who apparently doesn't have enough speed.

6:31 p.m. -- There is a long, steady stream of tail lights heading west on International Speedway Boulevard as disgruntled race fans are leaving Daytona International Speedway after a second red flag has stopped the race because of a hole in the track.

This certainly is not a good scenario for NASCAR as the Daytona 500 attracts the largest television crowd of the year. And while the hole is being blamed on cool weather and heavy rain on Friday, there were two races held on the track Saturday with no asphalt issues.

The track surface at Daytona was last repaved in 1978.

But it became apparent during Sunday's race when all most of the incidents on the track came in the same area -- outside of Turn 2. At first, it was suspected that tires were the issue but the real problem was a six-inch hole developing in between Turns 1 and 2.

When John Andretti drove straight into the wall in the second turn on lap 118 that is when it became obvious that something was amiss. And it turned out that a pot-hole had developed and needed to be repaired before the race continued.

So the red flag was displayed and the cars were parked on pit road for 1 hour, 40 minutes and 45 seconds. Several different formulas of asphalt were used to patch the hole but water kept seeping through the track.

The field was turned loose for 19 laps before the track broke up again and the red flag was displayed and the race stopped with 39 laps left.

Kevin Harvick is currently the leader followed by Juan Pablo Montoya, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle and Martin Truex, Jr.

As nightfall descends on Daytona International Speedway, the lights are on and this race will end at night, but the big question is, will it go the full 500 miles?

The drivers are being called back to their cars as NASCAR attempts to save face and complete the Daytona 500.

But the damage to this year's race has already tarnished what has been a highly competitive Daytona 500 with 44 lead changes among a record 19 drivers.

5:46 p.m. -- The asphalt in the second turn at Daytona International Speedway is starting to break up again, according to radio chatter between drivers and crews. Robby Gordon radioed to his crew that rocks are breaking loose from the asphalt patch that was used to seal the six-inch hole.

The yellow flag has been displayed at Lap 160 -- which is the 400-mile mark of the race. Kevin Harvick is the leader ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle and Martin Truex, Jr.

NASCAR now has its worst case scenario. The race is past the halfway point so it is an official race. That means it can be called an official race if the problem cannot be corrected.

The red flag has been displayed and the race has been stopped.

5:33 p.m. -- So far, three of my picks for the Five Drivers Likely to Cause a Crash have done just that. The latest to do it is A.J. Allmendinger, who crashed on the backstretch on Lap 142 after Allmendinger's Ford ran into the side of Jeff Gordon's Chevrolet.

Gordon was able to continue but Allmendinger's car slid directly in front of Kyle Busch's Toyota. Busch was able to miss Allmendinger, whose car was stuck in the mud.

On Lap 7, Penske Racing drivers Sam Hornish Jr. and Brad Keselowski were the first two of my five to crash but both have returned to the race after lengthy repairs to the cars were made in the garage area. Scott Speed and Elliott Sadler were the other two of the five drivers I picked but so far, Sadler has placed himself as a contender for the victory. He is currently the leader ahead of Martin Truex, Jr.

There is still plenty of time for Speed and Sadler to fullfill my predictions.

As for the front of the field, Sadler and Truex were not exactly the drivers expected to be battling for the victory in NASCAR's biggest race. Perhaps they will use the green-, white-, checkered-flag rule enough times until a driver with more star power ends up winning the race.

Sorry, that's the cynic in me coming out.

5:16 p.m. -- While the racing has resumed, two cars from Richard Petty Motorsports are at the front of the field with Kasey Kahne leading and Elliott Sadler third. Stuck in the middle is Clint Bowyer's Chevrolet.

Remember how in the Five-Minute Guide I predicted a darkhorse would emerge? Well, that darkhorse appears to be Bowyer, a driver who struggled at Richard Childress Racing last season.

5:03 p.m. -- It was called "The Perfect Storm" -- the 1979 Daytona 500 which was the first to be televised live, flag-to-flag, on CBS TV as most of the North and Midwest was snowed in because of a huge blizzard.

Sunday's Daytona 500 has turned into the "Imperfect Storm" as a hole in the track between the second and third turns has brought NASCAR's biggest race to a screeching halt. It's been 93 minutes since the race was red-flagged and the quick-sealing patch that was used to fill the hole proved to be problematic as water began to seep through the asphalt.

Track safety works had to resort to blow-torching the area to put heat into the asphalt sealer, but some of the estimated crowd of 180,000 fans have left the track, trying to get an early start home even though there are 78 laps left in the Daytona 500.

NASCAR CEO Brian France blamed the problem on a combination of moisture and colder temperatures.

"The normal solutions you normally use to patch the track are not working," France said. "But we're actually turning the corner. We're on the third different solution. Normally, we would have had it resolved a lot quicker. That is the problem.

"The good news is we will get it solved. In the midst of probably our best Daytona 500 in a long time, obviously we want to get it started."

Finally, at 5 p.m. EST, the engines have refired, the drivers are strapped in and the race is about to resume.

May the second half of the Daytona 500 begin.

4:33 p.m. -- I got up at 6 a.m. for this?

4:23 p.m. -- With the largest audience of the season watching the 52nd Daytona 500 on FOX, the critics of NASCAR are probably howling about the lengthy red flag delay while a hole in the race track is being repaired.

With the clock nearing 4:30 p.m. ET, the race should be nearing its conclusion after starting at 1p.m. Instead, a crowd of 180,000 fans and millions more on television are watching asphalt dry.

Maybe it's the "calm before the storm" -- that the finish of this year's 500 will end in a shootout.

But for now, it's naptime at the biggest NASCAR race of the year as spectators are growing restless. Instead of watching their heroes battle it out on the track, the drivers are out of the cars sitting on the pit wall.

And the clock keeps ticking ...

3:35 p.m. -- It's "halftime at the Daytona 500" as a hole in the asphalt is the reason why the race has been red-flagged. Track safety workers are attempting to fill a chuck-hole that has developed in between the first and second turns of the 2½-mile superspeedway.

The last time the track was paved was in 1978. Since that time, new grandstands, towers, a Daytona Club and other amenities have been added for the spectators, as well as a new media center and press box. Perhaps some attention should have been given to the actual racing surface.

Track officials have indicated the surface will be replaced next year but that was too late to avoid this problem. This is a similar situation that happened at Martinsville Speedway a few years ago.

A special compound of asphalt is being used to repair the damage and racing should be underway soon.

Meantime, the cars left in the race are parked on pit road, giving the drivers a chance to rest and determine their next move once racing continues and that strategy may ultimately pay off with a victory in the Daytona 500 -- a race which so far has yet to develop a personality this year.

Of course, that will all change before the checkered flag waves.

3:23 p.m. -- John Andretti's "Daytona 500 Experience" was not the type of ride that the NASCAR veteran expected or one that is found at an amusement park.

Andretti's day included a hard crash into the second turn wall on Lap 116. Apparently, a tired deflated on his Ford, sending it pile-driving into the wall. That meant another yellow flag caution which gave the crews yet another chance for a pit stop.

And that put -- of all people -- Boris Said in the lead of the Daytona 500 at the 300-mile mark.

Said has experienced success at Daytona before, but that is in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. Said is an experienced road racing driver and had his car in front before he eventually came down pit road.

The caution period was also a huge benefit for four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion and 2006 race winner Jimmie Johnson, who pitted about the same time as Andretti's crash. Although the pits were officially closed and Johnson had to go to the end of the longest line, he remained on the lead lap and that could be a huge benefit because it allows him a chance to pedal back to the front before the end of the 200-lap race.

It just proves that often times, the winner of the Daytona 500 has to be lucky in addition to being good.

3:01 p.m. -- Clint Bowyer of Richard Childress Racing is the leader at the halfway point after he passed three-time race winner Jeff Gordon on Lap 100 of the 200-lap race.

Gordon had taken the lead two laps earlier when he passed Kyle Busch's Toyota for the top spot.

Busch didn't stay there long as the younger brother of Kurt Busch led a charge to pass Gordon's Chevrolet for second place.

The top-five cars include Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Gordon and Greg Biffle.

Except for a few minor crashes, this has been a relatively clean race. But that will certainly not be the case in the final half of NASCAR's biggest race.

2:44 p.m. -- It's back to racing in the after a three-lap caution period and Kurt Busch's Dodge is back in front. Greg Biffle's Ford is second followed by Kyle Busch's Toyota, Clint Bowyer's Chevrolet and three-time winner Jeff Gordon's Chevy.

Biffle took the lead on the 82nd lap to become the 12th different leader in Sunday's race.

Mike Bliss spun out of the second turn on Lap 77 and the yellow flag waved again. Two laps later, nearly every car on the track came rumbling down pit road for another stop. Kurt Busch was first off pit road ahead of A.J. Allmendinger.

The 200-mile mark was completed under caution with Denny Hamlin listed as the race leader. Hamlin did not pit with the rest of the field but pitted one lap later, giving the lead back to Busch.

2:31 p.m. -- Kurt Busch regained the lead of as the race was restarted on Lap 70 following a caution period. But he couldn't hold off A.J. Allmendinger, who drove back to the front on the next lap.

The second yellow flag waved on Lap 66 after Joe Nemechek lost control of his Toyota and crashed in the fourth turn. While the driver from nearby Lakeland, Florida wanted to blame Sam Hornish Jr. for the crash, that wasn't the case as Nemechek simply lost control of his car.

Hornish, who was involved in a crash on the eighth lap that also involved his rookie Penske teammate Brad Keselowski, had returned to the track after lengthy repairs were made to his damaged Dodge.

The caution period allowed the drivers to make another pit stop and that put Busch back in front of Allmendinger followed by Kasey Kahne's Ford, Kevin Harvick's Chevrolet and Jimmie Johnson's Chevy.

Johnson is among the many drivers complaining about front-end grip, but with so much sun on the track Sunday, it has changed the conditions on the 2 ½-mile strip of asphalt.

2:13 p.m. -- A series of green-flag pit stops has jumbled the running order of the 52nd Daytona 500 and has broken the pack of race cars up at the massive 2-½ mile Daytona International Speedway.

After the series of pit stops were completed, Kurt Busch's Dodge was back in front of the field ahead of former Champ Car driver A.J. Allmendinger's Ford.

Allmendinger was the race leader when he passed Kurt Busch on Lap 45. Pit stops on lap 49 including two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip. Busch and Allmendinger pit on Lap 51 leading a group of contenders that also included former winner Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson.

Busch was the leader of the Daytona 500 after 100 miles on Lap 40.

NASCAR's new rules which include a 63/64ths-inch restrictor-plate -- the largest at Daytona since 1989 -- and some aerodynamic modifications have broken up the normally large pack of race cars that are the usual byproduct of restrictor-plate racing. The lead pack of cars is just three with Busch leading Allmendinger and 2006 Daytona 500 winner Johnson.

While the race fans may prefer a 43-car pack running in one large pack, this is actually a safer form of racing and rewards the driver, car and team with the best package.

2:02 p.m., -- Kurt Busch is the leader of the Daytona 500 after 100 miles but is trying to hold off a challenge from former Champ Car driver A.J. Allmendinger. Busch was in front of the field after 40 laps of the 200-lap race which left 400 miles left in the biggest NASCAR race of the season.

One lap before the 100-mile mark, however, contenders Dale Earnhardt Jr., Juan Pablo Montoya and pole winner Mark Martin made scheduled green-flag pit stops.

Busch and Allmendinger are in front of 2007 winner Kevin Harvick's Chevrolet. Elliott Sadler is third followed by four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

Ten laps earlier, Harvick was the leader ahead of Busch in what has so far been a fairly clean race, with the exception of a crash on Lap 8 that knocked out Sam Hornish Jr., Regan Smith and Brad Keselowski.

1:38 p.m. -- The 52nd Daytona 500 was under caution for the first time after a multi-car crash in the second turn on Lap 8 and two of team owner Roger Penske's Dodges were involved.

Rookie Penske driver Brad Keselowski spun in the second turn and ran into teammate Sam Hornish Jr. that triggered a chain reaction crash that also involved Regan Smith, Max Papis, Boris Said and Mike Bliss.

Hornish's Dodge was taken to the garage to attempt to repair the damage. Also in the garage were Smith's Chevrolet and Keselowski's Dodge.

The race remained under caution on Lap 10 with pole winner Mark Martin leading Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. Juan Pablo Montoya was third followed by Elliott Sadler and Clint Bowyer.

The green flag waved on Lap 13 with Martin trying to drag race Earnhardt into the first turn. Martin pulled ahead out of Turn 2 before Montoya was credited with leading that lap. He wasn't there long as Earnhardt took the lead going into Turn 1 on Lap 14.

Prerace

Now that the Danica Patrick Parade has left the state of Florida, it's time to get down to the big event of the weekend, the 52nd Daytona 500.

The premier NASCAR Sprint Cup race is underway under bright sunshine but cool and crisp conditions. But while the near-capacity crowd at Daytona International Speedway needs to bundle up to stay warm, the action on the race track will be hot in the earliest starting Daytona 500 since 2003.

The return to a traditional 1 p.m. starts means the race will begin and end in daylight which means track conditions will stay consistent but may be slick under the bright sun.

There are many storylines heading into the race.

Can Mark Martin finally get his first Daytona 500 win? The 51-year-old starts on the pole.

Can Dale Earnhardt Jr. break a long slump that has seen him win just one time since May 2006? The fan favorite starts second.

And was Saturday's victory in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race Tony Stewart's "Prelude to a Dream?" The driver has dominated at Daytona but has never won the Daytona 500.

"Man, considering the fact that I'm probably not going to run the Indy 500 ever again, this is now the top priority and agenda," Stewart said. "You know, like I said, it's cool when you win 15 times here in so many different things, but you come down here for one main goal, and that's to win on Sunday here. That's what everybody's shooting for.

"I don't want it to take away from what we did today. Like I said, winning at Daytona, period, is special. But, you know, every time we win here, it just makes me that much hungrier to win on Sunday now."

All of those questions -- and more -- will be answered in a little over three hours and 500 miles of action. And SI.com is the place to be to get the latest from the 52nd Daytona 500.

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