DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Ticker) — A massive 12-car crash on the backstretch, which left defending champion Michael Waltrip’s car mangled in the mud, had the 46th Daytona 500 under caution at the 200-mile mark Sunday. “I guess you take the good with the bad,” Waltrip said. “Daytona’s just a tough race.”
Jeff Gordon was the leader, ahead of Tony Stewart at lap 80, when the green flag waved to restart the race.
The crash came on lap 71 and involved Johnny Benson, Waltrip, Terry Labonte, Scott Riggs, Kevin Lepage, Ryan Newman, Sterling Marlin, Robby Gordon, Brian Vickers, Jamie McMurray, Johnny Sauter and John Andretti.
Sauter, Vickers and Waltrip were coming out of turn 2 when Sauter’s Chevrolet Monte Carlo got into the side of Vickers’ Chevy.
That pinched Waltrip into the wall, triggering the violent, spinning crash. Waltrip’s car slid across the track and was slammed into by Robby Gordon’s Chevy.
That sent Watlrip’s Chevrolet into a slide. It dug into the grass and began to flip wildly before landing upside down.
Safety workers were able to get Waltrip out of the car and the mess cleaned up before resuming the race. It took emergency crews about 10 minutes to flip Waltrip’s car right-side up, and extract him from the car.
“I couldn’t see where they were doing a whole lot of good to get me out,” Waltrip said after leaving the infield care center a while later. “I was trying my best to explain to them what needed to happen. And what did they eventually do? They flipped it over and I got out. I hope that was a lesson learned.”
Stewart was the leader when the yellow flag waved ahead of defending series champion Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon.
When the race resumed, Gordon was ahead of Stewart and Earnhardt.
Waltrip tried not to place blame for the accident, but he was clearly annoyed that Vickers, a rookie, had chosen to take a position between himself and Sauter to run three-wide.
“It was a little impatient and immature, but he saw other people doing it,” Waltrip said.
Said Vickers: “I thought everyone was doing a good job. It all broke loose. This is my first time at Daytona, and I got the full skinny.”
Waltrip is racing in the Busch series race Monday — post-poned from Saturday because of rain — so he still has a chance to salvage something from the week.
But the Busch series certainly isn’t the Daytona 500, and Waltrip has to wait another year to contend in a race he clearly knows how to win.
“I wasn’t going to cut anyone off, I wasn’t going to squeeze in a hole,” he said. “I was taking my time, looking forward to sorting it out.