Hamlin Wins Sprint Unlimited
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone on February 15, 2014 | 10:35 P.M. EST
Hamlin added another win in the annual pre-season non-points race to his resume to go along with his 2006 victory. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)
Denny Hamlin scored his second career Sprint Unlimited victory Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver added another win in the annual pre-season non-points race to his resume to go along with his 2006 victory.
Hamlin survived a crash-filled night and outraced Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch to the checkered flag in the final 20-lap segment of the 75-lap event.
Keselowski and Team Penske teammate Joey Logano were in position to possibly run one-two until Hamlin was able to muscle around them for the lead on the final lap.
"That was survival of the fittest for sure," Hamlin said. "With three to go, we were at the tail end of a very small pack. It's really hard to get runs, but this car was phenomenal. You saw it those last couple of laps."
Hamlin was the leader after all three segments Saturday night and was in front a race-high 27 laps.
“It’s a great win,” said Hamlin, who followed up his Homestead win last November with another trip to Victory Lane. “You love starting Speedweeks like this. In 2006, it kind of spring-boarded my career into a great year. 2009 winning Homestead spring-boarded us into a great 2010 and a championship run. There’s no negatives that come out of a day like today.”
Busch was able to finish third after making a miraculous save of his spinning car when he made contact with Keselowski earlier in the final segment.
“All in all, the M&M’s Camry was fast and had to save it again -- another Sprint Unlimited where we don’t end up backwards, but we got somehow, somewhat crashed,” Busch said. “I made it through it and come home third. We’re happy with that, great for our teammate to close out last year with a win and start out this year with a win.”
Logano and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five.
Jamie McMurray, Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth rounded out the first ten finishers although only eight cars were running at the checkered flag.
A number of top contenders were taken out of contention by the numerous accidents including defending Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, who lost control of his Chevrolet on the final lap of the first segment and slammed hard into the front stretch inside retaining wall.
The second segment was marred by a huge nine-car melee that began when Matt Kenseth made contact with Logano. Before it was over Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick were among the victims.
Stenhouse Jr. drove into the side of girlfriend Patrick’s car after he drove away from the main accident.
“I didn’t see anything from the time it started to the time it ended,” Stenhouse Jr. said. “Talking to Danica when I got in there that I drilled her when she was pretty much sitting still. I couldn’t see, couldn’t turn and just really destroyed our Nationwide Insurance Ford.”
"I got hit by my boyfriend. What a bummer," Patrick said.
Fans voted for drivers to take a mandatory pit stop after the second segment and Hamlin was the first off pit road after a two-tire stop. But the last 20-laps also included fireworks when Earnhardt Jr., who had taken the lead at one point, touched Marcos Ambrose and was turned hard into the outside wall.
"We just got turned into the wall," Earnhardt Jr. said. "We had a good car, but there's a lot of torn-up cars out there."
Ambrose was apologetic for the incident.
“Yeah, I was trying to push him and there was a little bit of a zig and a little bit of a zag and the next thing you know I helped him in the fence,” said Ambrose. “I apologize to Junior. I’ll try and find him later on if he wants to talk to me, but that’s just what happens here.”
The strange night also included the pace car catching fire on lap 55. Driver Brett Bodine and NASCAR official Buster Auton were able to escape from the incident after the smoking car veered off the track.