With rain ending and the Daytona 500 moved to a Monday night prime-time spot for the first time in its history, it seemed as if nothing else unusual could happen.
Until, that is, Juan Pablo Montoya added the only element that had been missing: the surreal. He crashed into a truck carrying about 200 gallons of jet fuel and set off an enormous fire that delayed the race for over two hours and made a Twitter star of Brad Keselowski.
NASCAR, for decades, has used a jet engine to dry tracks and Daytona International Speedway had been soaked by two days of rain. A truck carries the engine, a giant blow dryer that reaches temperatures of about 1,100 degrees and can dry the track in a couple of hours.
Montoya, with drivers under caution, was trying to catch up to the pack on the 42nd lap and saw the crash coming.
“I didn’t think about the truck. I thought, I’m going to be hitting the jet and it’s not going to be fun,” he said. “Before I got there, I thought, ‘This thing is going to be on fire pretty bad’ — and it was. When you’re in the car, every time you hit like that it’s a big bang and you hit and they [his pit crew] were trying to ask me if I was okay, but I was getting out. I saw the flames and my helmet got a little burned and everything, but ... move on.”
Neither Montoya nor the driver of the truck was injured and the race went on ... thanks to a good scrubbing with Tide laundry detergent.
Keselowski, who finished 32nd in the race won by Matt Kenseth, kept his thumbs busy on Twitter, giving followers his view of the fire, updates on when the race might start and the status of battery life in his phone. He also tweeted his view of the fire.
“Maybe the Mayans were right about 2012…, ” he tweeted about a Daytona weekend that will be remembered for crashes, and rain and fire. Perhaps NASCAR should make sure every driver has a phone for tweeting during races.
“Nobody else has a phone,” Keselowski said. “They should get one to see what is going on. They keep making fun for it, but I’m having a good time.”
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