Impressive run for Kenseth

February, 29, 2012

How will the 2012 Daytona 500 be remembered?

Is it the race that saw Juan Pablo Montoya hit the jet dryer, causing a massive fire and a two-hour red flag (message: jet fuel burns well)? Is it the race that saw Brad Keselowski gain about 130,000 Twitter followers (come on, support me @MattWillisESPN)?

Or, is it the race that Matt Kenseth won, holding off Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle?

While the lasting images from this 500 might have been forged with 40 laps to go, it's important not to overlook Matt Kenseth. Kenseth, who also won in 2009 in a rain-shortened event, is the ninth driver to win multiple Daytona 500s, and among that group, seven have also won series titles.

Last year, Kenseth's numbers were impressive in the Chase, but a couple bad breaks left him out of the title hunt at Homestead. But with another title added to the one he has, he'd join Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and Jeff Gordon as drivers with multiple titles and multiple Daytona 500 wins.

But Even More Impressive

Let's face it, the race ended early Tuesday morning, and arriving back to work at 8:30 a.m. ET, I still had some mulling to do. And I noticed that Kenseth led the final 38 laps of the race.

If you think that seems like a lot, you are correct. Nobody's led that many laps to finish a Daytona 500 since Dale Earnhardt led the final 61 in 1998.

The last time it was done before that, you have to go all the way back to A.J. Foyt in 1972, who led the final 120 laps.

Trivia break: Who holds the record for most laps led to end a Daytona 500?

The Lowe's

NASCAR Now host Allen Bestwick said it best. A 90-day offseason for about 60 seconds of racing. That's what 2006 Daytona 500 champion Jimmie Johnson faced.

He and David Ragan ran just one lap before wrecking. The last driver to run one or fewer laps in a Daytona 500 was Harry Gant in 1978; before that it was Cale Yarborough in 1976.

Trivia break: Before Johnson/Ragan, who was the last driver to run two or fewer laps in a Daytona 500? (Hint: He won a title that year.)

Actually A Wreck-fest?

One lesson to take away from Daytona is that you can't make everyone happy. People missed the tandem racing, a year after everyone missed pack racing. Some said it was too boring in the middle, or too wild at the beginning and end.

The truth is, thanks to the accident database put together by the ESPN Stats & Information team, it was actually a down year for crashes at the 500 (not including Montoya versus Jet Dryer).

From 2007 to '11, there was an average of 6.7 accidents per race at Daytona. This year, just five.

Of course, that average is still well up from past stretches. From 1990 to '99, it was just 3.0 a race. From 2000 to '06, 3.1 a race.

Trivia break: It was Kenseth's crew chief Jimmy Fennig's second Daytona 500 win atop the box. Whom did he lead to victory in the first?

Trivia Break Answers

1. Richard Petty led the final 149 laps of the 1964 Daytona 500.
2. Tony Stewart ran just two laps in the 2002 Daytona 500.
3. Fennig led Bobby Allison to victory in 1988.

Matt Willis | email

ESPN Staff Writer
Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.


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