Pace Car Catches Fire


Safety workers examine the pace car after it caught fire during the Sprint Unlimited. (Photo: Getty Images)


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Even the pace car didn’t last Saturday night’s crash-filled Sprint Unlimited won by Denny Hamlin.

As the pace car led the field before the start of the final 20-lap segment, smoke began pouring from the back of the car and filling the vehicle. Brett Bodine, who drives the pace car, pulled off the track and stopped near a fire truck before he and a NASCAR official exited the car.

“I guess it was the batteries in the back for the lights ... because cars just don’t catch on fire like that,’’ Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. “It was pretty weird.’’

Chevrolet issued a statement Sunday morning about the incident.

"During the closing laps of the NASCAR Sprint Unlimited race, the pace car experienced a fire in the trunk area, which contains a purpose-built auxiliary electrical kit to operate the numerous caution lights during the race,'' the statement read. "The pace car driver and passenger safely exited the vehicle. An assessment is underway."

The incident brought back memories of bizarre incidents at Daytona International Speedway. Juan Pablo Montoya had a mechanical malfunction that sent his car crashing into a jet dryer in 2012 that created a fireball and burned the track.

In 1999, Joe Cooksey slammed into the back of the pace car during an ARCA race at Daytona when the pace car stopped on the track. The contact sent the pace car driver to the hospital for neck pain.

“I thought I’d seen a lot when I saw the jet dryer get hit and catch on fire,’’ Kevin Harvick said. “Never a pace car.’’

Said Kyle Busch: “That’s crazy. It’s unfortunate. What else do you say?’’

Hamlin said he thought the right rear was going down on the car when the saw the smoke.

"I thought it was tire smoke until I saw flames,'' he said.

NASCAR called in a backup pace car and that took over duties of leading the field during cautions. 

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