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Harvick finishes second in season-opening race

By David Poole

McClatchy News Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Matt Kenseth took the lead in the nick of time Sunday to win a rain-shortened Daytona 500.

Kenseth passed Elliott Sadler on Lap 146 just before a yellow flag flew and rain that had been threatening all day finally arrived. After 152 laps, NASCAR pulled the cars off the track about 5:30 p.m. and waited less than 20 minutes to make the call, ending the race.

Sadler had picked up the lead when he was on pit road as a caution came out. He kept it through an earlier caution during which he checked the weather with his team. When told the radar showed the rain all around, Sadler said, "that’s my luck — it’s raining on the radar and not on the race track."

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Right after Kenseth took the lead away, with Kevin Harvick, AJ Allmendinger and Clint Bowyer moving up past Sadler in the draft, Aric Almirola was punted in traffic and spun to bring out the yellow just before the rain began.

It was Kenseth’s first Sprint Cup victory since the final race of the 2007 season at Homestead, Fla. It was also the first Daytona 500 victory for his car owner, Jack Roush.

"It’s just an unbelievable feeling," a tearful Kenseth said after the race was called. "I’ve had some fast cars, I have just never made the right moves."

The sudden, abrupt ending to the afternoon’s proceedings capped an unusual day that included a controversial incident involving Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Lap 124.

Two different pit road errors had put Earnhardt a lap down. He made up the first one but for the restart in question was the first car a lap down on the inside.

Brian Vickers, who had pitted just before a yellow to get caught on the end of the lead lap, tried to make a move to the inside. Vickers crowded Earnhardt and forced him below the yellow line. As Earnhardt moved back up, he clipped Vickers and sent him back across the track and into traffic.

Several of the cars that had been among the best all day wound up in a pile and then went sliding through the grass of the frontstretch.

Kyle Busch’s car, which had been dominant to that point, was badly damaged. So were those of Denny Hamlin, Jamie McMurray and Carl Edwards.

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"Some guys having a bad day made their bad day our bad day," Busch said.

Vickers said he was racing Earnhardt to be the first car a lap down.

"Junior just turned us," Vickers said. "To wreck somebody in front of the field is pretty dangerous."

Earnhardt said he was innocent of any wrongdoing.

"It was accidental. I didn’t want to wreck the field," Earnhardt said.

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