The "Big One" struck early in the Daytona 500 on Sunday when the cars of 14 drivers -- including reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson and his teammate Jeff Gordon -- were involved in a crash on the 29th lap of the 200-lap race.
Martin Martin, another teammate of Johnson's at Hendrick Motorsports, also was involved at the melee at Daytona International Speedway, as were Brian Vickers, Greg Biffle, Marcos Ambrose, Michael Waltrip and David Reutimann, among others.
Johnson and Gordon were among the drivers whose crews were frantically repairing their cars, hoping to at least finish the season-opening race, but their hopes of winning were finished.
The crash started when Waltrip, Reutimann's team owner and former Daytona 500 winner, tapped the back of Reutimann's Toyota and sent it spinning directly in front of a pack of other cars.
Defending Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray was leading, followed by his teammate Juan Pablo Montoya.
Kevin Harvick, the Bakersfield native who won the Daytona 500 in 2007, was knocked out of the race on lap 22 when his No. 29 Chevrolet suffered a blown engine.
The race opened with a moment of silence -- except for the roaring engines of the 43 cars as they barreled around the 2.5-mile speedway -- on the third lap in remembrance of Dale Earnhardt, who died 10 years ago in his iconic No. 3 Chevrolet on the last lap of the Daytona 500.
Under breezy, postcard-perfect conditions, those in the crowd of more than 175,000 also held up three fingers during the lap in tribute to the seven-time Cup champion. Then they cheered as the cars crossed the start-finish line to start the fourth lap.
--Jim Peltz, reoorting from Daytona Beach, Fla.
Photo: Several cars are sent spinning and colliding during a 14-car accident on the 29th lap of the Daytona 500 on Sunday. Credit: Mark J. Rebilas / US Presswire