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Freak accident pushes race deep into night;

First came the rain. Then came the fire.

Everything that could go wrong with this Daytona 500 did go wrong, and the first NASCAR race in primetime television could be remembered for everything but the winner.

Matt Kenseth took the checkered flag shortly before 1 a.m., finishing a race that took almost six hours to complete.

The longest in-race delay came almost three hours before the finish.

Journeyman driver Dave Blaney was leading when a problem with Juan Pablo Montoya's car sent him spinning under caution into a safety truck.

The truck, which holds 200 gallons of jet kerosene, burst into flames. Montoya's car slid into the grass, and he gingerly climbed from it as fire trucks rushed to the scene. The inferno raged on, and NASCAR red-flagged the race with 40 laps remaining.

NASCAR officials examined the track surface to determine whether the race could continue.

"About the time you think you've seen about everything, you see something like this," NASCAR president Mike Helton said.

"I think we, like everybody else, would like to see this race finished. This is within reason, and we think we can do that within reason. We've waited this long. Another 30 minutes is worth trying to finish the 40 laps."

Jet fuel poured down the surface of Turn 3 at Daytona International Speedway after the accident, creating a fiery lasting image of NASCAR's biggest race of the year. The clean-up crews were using boxes of Tide laundry detergent to clean up the fuel.

It was par for the course for this Daytona 500, which was postponed for the first time in NASCAR's 54-year history because of steady rain all day Sunday at the track. NASCAR initially planned to restart the race at noon Monday, but persistent rain forced series officials to make an early decision to hold off until 7 p.m.

Fox stayed with its plans to broadcast the race, making it the first ever Daytona 500 shown in primetime and an opportunity to feature the elite Sprint Cup Series. Carl Edwards, who fell just short of winning the title last season, started from the pole with champion Tony Stewart, seeking to snap an 0-for-13 losing streak in the Daytona 500, right behind him.

Danica Patrick, making the full-time move to NASCAR from IndyCar, was making her Daytona 500 debut.

Those storylines, however, were quickly forgotten in this bizarre 55th running of NASCAR's version of the Super Bowl.

It took several minutes for safety workers to put out the fire, and then came the task of removing the truck from the track and cleaning up all that spilled fuel. Towing the truck from the steep banking presented a challenge, as NASCAR was nervous any movement would dig into the track surface.

Montoya, who said his helmet was singed in the fire and his foot ached, said he felt a vibration in his car before the accident.

"I've hit a lot of things -- but a jet dryer?" he said. "It just felt really strange, and as I was talking on the radio, the car just turned right."

The drivers were allowed to exit their cars after about 10 minutes under the red flag. Dale Earnhardt Jr. had been complaining he had to go to the bathroom, and Brad Keselowski was posting to his Twitter account from inside his car.

Blaney did not initially get out of his car, and Jamie McMurray, who outlasted nearly two hours of delays to fix a pesky pothole during his 2010 victory, stopped at Blaney's window to speak to the driver leading the biggest race of his career. As the red flag continued, the drivers began to congregate around Blaney, and he got out of his car.

Blaney entered the race winless in 397 previous starts. The 48-year-old from Ohio won his only NASCAR race in 2006 in the second-tier Nationwide Series.

And he came into Daytona having to race his way into the field after team owner Tommy Baldwin made a deal with Stewart to give Patrick the points she needed to guarantee her a spot in the Daytona 500.

Lined up behind Blaney was Landon Cassill, who was running for BK Racing, a team formed earlier this month when it purchased the assets and points from defunct Red Bull Racing, and Tony Raines, who raced his way into the Daytona 500.

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