Jamie McMurray fended off Dale Earnhardt Jr. to take victory for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing in a heavily disrupted Daytona 500.
The race took over six hours to complete, as the holes that developed in the track surface between Turns 1 and 2 resulted in two long red flag periods while NASCAR attempted to effect repairs. The officials were determined to let the race go its full distance, with the final restart coming in darkness with 39 laps to go.
A spectacular finale then saw two attempts at a green-white-checkered finish required due to a series of late-race pile-ups. Finally, the race was able to run to the flag, with McMurray bursting through the lead pack to secure Ganassi's first Daytona 500 win in his return to the team after being dropped by Roush.
McMurray started the final sprint from the front row alongside Richard Childress Racing's Kevin Harvick, who was the leader when the green flag waved for the last time and looked well-placed for a second Daytona 500 victory.
In what was the second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish, McMurray drove his Chevy past that of Harvick on the outside thanks to a big push from Roush Fenway's Greg Biffle, and then held off a charging Earnhardt Jr. to claim his third restrictor-plate win in his first race back with his former employer.
McMurray's first Sprint Cup win came in 2002 in only his second race when Ganassi hired him to replace an injured Sterling Marlin. His victory now puts his boss up with Roger Penske as the only ones to have won the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 24 Hours and the Daytona 500.
"Biffle helped me out," said an excited McMurray, who was in tears after claiming the greatest win of his career. "I spun the tires on the restart. It is just a gamble on which line to get the biggest run. Greg gave me an unbelievable push down the backstretch."
Earnhardt made aggressive moves in the closing laps, finding his way to the front to challenge for victory, but he just came short of his second Daytona 500 win despite enjoying his best start to the season with Hendrick Motorsports thus far.
"It was a lot of fun," said Earnhardt. "It went by so fast, I couldn't really tell you the process. But I just remember going down the back straightaway and getting in between Greg, and I don't remember who was on the outside of me.
"We all kind of wiggled through that whole deal. Jamie got away from us. I didn't even know where I was. Then we got into three. I was counting in my head how many laps we ran. I knew we were coming to the checkered, I was running second, this is awesome, but it kind of sucks at the same time. It was frustrating to come that close. But, hell, we were running 22nd at the first green-white-checkered."
Biffle finished the race third ahead of Bowyer, while Harvick, who had looked the clear favorite after leading the most laps and getting to the front for the final restart, lost the draft after McMurray passed him and would only finish seventh.
AJ Allmendinger showed strongly at the front before losing time with a spin (left). The race was later disrupted twice by a hole in the asphalt in Turn 2, first on lap 122 and then again on lap 159. The damaged surface appeared to be the cause of tire issues for reigning champion Jimmie Johnson and John Andretti, officials stopping the race each time in order to make repairs. The first attempt to repair the damage was unsuccessful so a second one followed, stretching the first red flag period to one hour and 41 minutes.
The race restarted but had to be stopped again soon after as the repair started to break up, a piece of it breaking the splitter on Clint Bowyer's Richard Childress Chevrolet. Another repair to the damaged track saw the race stopped for 45 minutes, the fix allowing the race to run its full distance.
Reigning Sprint Cup champion Johnson retired late in the race with a broken rear axle and was classified 35th, while Kasey Kahne, who won the second Duel qualifier on Thursday, was involved in an incident on the first attempt to a green-white-checkered finish and finished 30th.
Pos Driver Car Laps
1. Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 208
2. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 208
3. Greg Biffle Ford 208
4. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 208
5. David Reutimann Toyota 208
6. Martin Truex Jr Toyota 208
7. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 208
8. Matt Kenseth Ford 208
9. Carl Edwards Ford 208
10. Juan Montoya Chevrolet 208
11. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 208
12. Mark Martin Chevrolet 208
13. Paul Menard Ford 208
14. Kyle Busch Toyota 208
15. Brian Vickers Toyota 208
16. David Ragan Ford 208
17. Denny Hamlin Toyota 208
18. Michael Waltrip Toyota 208
19. Scott Speed Toyota 208
20. Joey Logano Toyota 208
21. Bobby Labonte Chevrolet 208
22. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 208
23. Kurt Busch Dodge 208
24. Elliott Sadler Ford 208
25. Boris Said Ford 208
26. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 208
27. Bill Elliott Ford 208
28. Robby Gordon Toyota 208
29. Travis Kvapil Ford 205
30. Kasey Kahne Ford 202
31. Robert Richardson Jr Ford 202
32. AJ Allmendinger Ford 198
33. Michael McDowell Toyota 195
34. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 193
35. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 185
36. Brad Keselowski Dodge 174
37. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 160
38. John Andretti Ford 117
39. Regan Smith Chevrolet 90
40. Max Papis Toyota 89
41. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 79
42. Mike Bliss Chevrolet 76
43. Joe Nemechek Toyota 64