NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Sprint Cup Race Recap: Hamlin Wins Wild Sprint Unlimited

Denny Hamlin stayed up front early and stayed up front often on his way to claiming his second career Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night.

The Chesterfield, Virginia native survived a wild, crash filled night and got away from Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch in the closing stages on the final 20 lap segment of the 75 lap non-points event. It appeared that Keselowski and his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano were in prime position to secure a 1-2 Penske finish until Hamlin made a power move, making it three wide with three laps to go for the lead that he would never relinquish.

“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 would lead at the end of all three segments during Saturday night’s race, leading a race high 27 laps. Hamlin was ecstatic about the potential of using Saturday’s win as a potential springboard for a rebound 2014 season.

“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 springboarded my career into a great year. [In] 2009, winning Homestead springboarded us into a great 2010 and a championship run. There’s no negatives that come out of a day like today.”

Joining Denny Hamlin in the top 5 on Saturday night was Brad Keselowski in second, Hamlin’s JGR teammate Kyle Busch in third, Joey Logano in 4th, and Kevin Harvick battled back from damage in an early wreck to score a fifth-place finish in his debut for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Jamie McMurray, Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and Matt Kenseth would round out the top 10 of Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited. Only eight cars finished the 75 lap event.

A number of favorites encountered accidents on Saturday night, ending their chances of an early season statement win. Six-time Sprint Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson would continue his love/hate relationship with Daytona International Speedway. On the final lap of segment 1 while running second, Johnson would lose control of his No. 48 Chevrolet and would slam hard into the inside retaining wall ending his night.

The second segment was slowed by a nine car wreck which began when Matt Kenseth spun sideways after slight contact with Joey Logano. After the dust settled, Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. were among the casualties.

“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 [the Infield Care Center], she said 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.

Before lining up for the final 20 lap segment, the fans voted for a mandatory two tire pit stop to help determine how the cars would line up for the final segment. The No. 11 FedEx team would get the job done on pit road, getting Hamlin out first for the final segment. Segment No. 3 also saw its share of fireworks as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Marcos Ambrose got together, sending both drivers into the outside wall. This ended any chance of victory for the No. 88.

“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.”

For as wild and crazy as the racing was on the track, it took an even stranger turn on lap 55 when the pace car caught on fire. Driver Brett Bodine and NASCAR official Buster Auton were able to escape the car unharmed. A statement from Chevrolet on Sunday revealed that “a purpose-built auxiliary electrical kit” was in the trunk of the Chevrolet SS Saturday night in order to operate the numerous lights on the pace car. That kit burst into flames.

It is not the first time that a fire has been caused during a NASCAR by equipment designed to help the event. Robby Gordon was forced to retire from a decent position during the 2001 Global Crossing @ the Glen because of an in-car fire in a battery pack that powered the in-car telemetry for NBC’s race broadcast.

Speedweeks at Daytona continues on Tuesday with the second annual UNOH Battle at the Beach Tuesday night for the Whelen Modifieds and the K&N Pro Series East. Coverage will be aired live on FOX Sports 2.

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