Earnhardt triggers 9-car accident in Daytona 500
Busch had led a race-high 88 laps before the accident, which came just after a restart with 75 laps to go in Sunday's race at Daytona International Speedway.
Earnhardt had just made his second mistake of the day in the pits under a previous caution when he pulled his Chevrolet too far out of his stall during a service stop. He was penalized one lap and returned to racing intent on putting himself in position to get back onto the lead lap.
He was racing with Brian Vickers, also a lap down, who blocked the move by pushing Earnhardt down below the yellow out-of-bounds line. When Earnhardt re-entered the racing surface, he clipped the left-rear corner of Vickers' car to trigger the accident.
"My goal is to keep Junior behind me," Vickers said. "I went to block him. I beat him to the yellow line and then he just turned us. To wreck somebody intentionally like that in front of the entire field is really kind of dangerous. That's my problem with it."
Vickers also wondered why NASCAR did not penalize Earnhardt for aggressive driving, particularly since it issued a five-lap penalty to Jason Leffler in Saturday's Nationwide Series race for a similar incident.
Busch, who was racing the approaching rain for his first Daytona 500 victory, said the accident was senseless.
"Some guys having some bad days and not doing their best out there, just made their bad day our bad day," Busch said. "It's just a shame. It's just unfortunate that two guys got together that were a lap down that were fighting over nothing."
Three-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Robby Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Jamie McMurray, Scott Speed and Carl Edwards also were caught up in the accident, which sent Vickers to the garage.
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.