Event: Daytona 500
DEMONS OF DAYTONA ROB THE RED BULLS
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The Big One early and a broken rotor late. That misfortune crushed Red Bull Racing Team's hopes in the 53rd Daytona 500, as Brian Vickers' No. 83 got swept up in a 14-car accident and Kasey Kahne's No. 4 suffered a mechanical failure 19 laps from the finish. Vickers strapped in for a Sprint Cup Series points race for the first time since May 8, 2010. He has long since recovered from the blood clots that robbed him of last season, but Sunday's Daytona 500, he said, completed his return.
"It was a very special moment for me. To not finish with a car in one piece, not so much," said the 27-year-old Vickers. "I want to be mad. I want to be angry. I want to be disappointed. But I have to honest with you, I'm having a hard time being that. I probably should be. I'd give anything right now to be in victory lane and win the Daytona 500."
Vickers' seventh Daytona 500 essentially ended 29 laps in.
The field needed at least three laps to spread out and settle into the two-car formula, which never quite happened in time coming out of the race's third caution. Back in traffic, David Reutimann's No. 00 got the worst of contact with Michael Waltrip's No. 15 in the middle line, spun, slid down the banking and into Vickers' No. 83, which became a pinball in the race's biggest wreck.
"I just know the 15 and the 00 turned down in front of us," Vickers said. "That was it. Where do you go?"
Day done for Vickers? Not so fast. The No. 83 crew worked hard -- really hard -- to repair major damage. It paid off, too, because Vickers returned to the track in 41st, and despite two power-related mishaps that forced more work he completed 131 more laps to gain 10 spots. He finished 31st.
Kahne, in his eighth Daytona 500 start, drove one of the race's strongest cars. With Vickers out of contention, his early partner in the two-car pack was Carl Edwards. By lap 50 it was Dale Earnhardt Jr., and it remained a 4-88 pairing for the next 40 laps.
Each caution period -- a race-record 16 yellow flags waved that consumed 60 laps -- Kahne pitted for fuel. Often times he took no tires, sometimes two tires, rarely four tires on Daytona's sticky new surface. That was the strategy that kept Kahne at the front, as well as help from Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Juan Pablo Montoya and a handful of others who drafted with Kahne in the top five or six two-car packs. He sniffed the point several times, yet never led at the stripe.
With 18 laps to go and paired again with Edwards, a rotor broke on the No. 4, sending a piece of debris into Edwards' No. 99 and Kahne's car into the outside wall. He retreated to the pits for repairs and returned with 10 laps remaining. Well off the pace, Kahne finished 25th, riding out the remaining laps and two green-white-checkered finishes that extended the race distance 20 miles.
Because race winner Trevor Bayne and 20th-place finisher Steven Wallace declared themselves contenders for the Nationwide Series championship, they earned no points in the Daytona 500. Kahne and Vickers move up two spots in the standings and enter Sunday's race at Phoenix ranked 23rd and 29th, respectively..