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Best Buy won race, but Target made lasting impression

Target will forever be associated with the weirdest Daytona 500 ever after the car it sponsors was mysteriously involved in a single car accident that caused a huge on-track fire and a two-hour delay that caused the already rained-delayed race to finish after midnight on Monday.

What went wrong with Juan Pablo Montoya’s number 42 Target Chevrolet wasn’t immediately clear, but as former driver and FOX racing analyst Darryl Waltrip said several times during the broadcast as announcers watched the fire rage, “This is the most bizarre thing I think I have ever seen.”

The weirdness began with the race under caution and Montoya circling the 2.5 mile track to catch up to the pack of cars ahead of him. To do so he attempted a routine pass down low on the track to clear a vehicle known as a jet dryer that is used to blow hot air and either clear debris or dry moisture from the race surface. 

Unfortunately, at the worst possible moment Montoya’s car veered sharply to the right and rear ended the unsuspecting driver of the jet dryer whose vehicle holds a 200 gallon tank of jet fuel used to power burners that produce superheated air. As Montoya emerged unscathed from the badly mangled Target Chevrolet, jet fuel drained from the vehicle high on the steeply banked third corner and as it ran down the track burst into flames to create a wall of fire that track personnel struggled to contain while announcers marveled at the spectacle.

When a Fox correspondent caught up with Montoya after he checked out medically, the driver was at a loss to explain what caused him to uncharacteristically lose control of the car. In fact, going into the race Montoya was regarded as one of NASCAR’s safest drivers. In 10 prior starts at Daytona, he had avoided accidents more often than not and managed to finish eight of the races. His claim to fame last year was that he finished every race he started and ran a total of 10,593 laps, the most of any driver.

It’s fair to say that Montoya and the Target Chevrolet will forever be linked to one of the strangest spectacles race fans have ever seen in a race that was won by Matt Kenseth in the number 17 Best Buy Ford who crossed the finish line at 1 a.m. Tuesday.