DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Matt Kenseth drove from the back of the field to take the Daytona 500 lead minutes before the sky opened up, handing the former series champion his first victory in NASCAR's version of the Super Bowl.
Coming off one of the worst seasons of his career, Kenseth's bad luck followed him into Daytona International Speedway. He wrecked his primary car, had to go to a backup and started Sunday's race in last place.
But as rain closed in on the season-opening event, the field turned it up a notch — anticipating the race would not go the distance. Kenseth used a huge push from Kevin Harvick to pass Elliott Sadler with 54 laps to go. Caution came out moments later for an accident started by Paul Menard, and the rain that had been threatening all day finally arrived.
NASCAR stopped the race two laps later, and the cars were called to pit road. Some drivers climbed from their cars to await NASCAR's decision on whether to restart the race, but Kenseth sat patiently inside his parked Ford on pit road.
When NASCAR declared it over, the 2003 Cup champion tearfully climbed from his car to celebrate his victory, which snapped a 36-race winless streak. It was also the first Daytona 500 win for team owner Jack Roush.
"It's going to be really wet if I cry like a baby," the usually cool Kenseth said as he choked back tears. "I tell you what, after last year, winning a race means a lot to me."
Kevin Harvick, who used a push from Kenseth to win the 500 in 2007, finished second.
AJ Allmendinger, who had to race his way into the field in one of Thursday's qualifiers, finished third.
Clint Bowyer was fourth and Sadler was fifth, devastated he lost the lead moments before the rain stopped the race.