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Driver of Daytona jet dryer grateful for well wishes

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- The driver of the safety truck that exploded into flames during the Daytona 500 thanked NASCAR fans Tuesday night for their concern.

Duane Barnes was driving the jet dryer that was hit under caution when something broke on Juan Pablo Montoya's car and sent it careening into the truck. The collision caused a raging inferno that scorched the track and stopped Monday night's race for just over two hours.

"I appreciate everyone for taking the time to write, call and ask how I am," Barnes said in a statement. "I am OK, and I am amazed at how many people have wished me well. I am also glad Juan Pablo Montoya is OK, and thank him for his concern."

Barnes, a 24-year employee of Michigan International Speedway, was evaluated at a Daytona hospital Monday night and released. He was one of two employees Michigan sent to Daytona to help with the season-opening race.

Barnes often assists at tracks owned by International Speedway Corp. by driving jet dryers. Michigan sent three jet dryers to the race.

Meanwhile, Daytona president Joie Chitwood III said the 200 gallons of jet fuel that spilled across Daytona International Speedway and caught fire was a worst-case scenario.

"The worst possible thing that can happen to a racetrack is fuel," Chitwood said. "We hardly ever talk about burning fuel. If we would have talked about having 200 gallons of burning jet fuel on the racetrack during the event, I'm not sure what the likelihood would have been of completing the race."

Track workers put out the fire, then turned to laundry detergent to clean up the mess because, Chitwood said, the detergent is typically used to wash the track surface. The track was watered, soaped, watered again, then a street bond was added.

The entire process took just over two hours, and racing resumed right after.

"It was about a 10- or 11-step process," said Chitwood. "There is no true training manual to light a track on fire and respond to it. But what the team did . I think is phenomenal."

Drivers seemed concerned about racing through the area as they turned laps under caution, and a collective sigh was let out once Jeff Burton led a line of drivers through the high-side of the track that seemed to be the riskiest area.

"The drivers did not get an opportunity to see the track before we re-started, and I can only assume as I go through there and I hear stuff flying up into the crush panels that it's asphalt," Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. "When you're a driver and you're running on a racetrack and you hear things flying up, that's not typically normal. So I just assumed the track was pretty soft, but it held up well."