Hamlin Survives, Wins Unlimited Race Of Attrition
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Denny Hamlin, whose 2013 Sprint Cup season was interrupted for six weeks by a back injury, won Saturday night’s Speedweeks-opening Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway. Hamlin not only won the overall race, but also all three segments of the 75-lap exhibition.
Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was clearly the fastest car in the field and that was especially important in the Unlimited as a series of wrecks whittled the 18-car field down to eight by the end of the race. Even the pace car was a casualty in the race as it caught fire during a late-race caution.
Hamlin won the race with a three-wide move on the backstretch on the next-to-last lap at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
Brad Keselowski of Team Penske ran second, followed by Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, who are Hamlin’s JGR teammates.
Kevin Harvick, whose No. 4 Chevrolet was damaged in the nine-car wreck that punctuated segment No. 2., finished fourth.
“The best car won, that’s for sure,” said Hamlin, who won the last race of the 2013 season, at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “Two in a row now. We’re building on something. That was survival of the fittest, that’s for sure.
“With three (laps) to go, we were at the tail end of a very small pack, and it’s really hard to get runs. But this car was phenomenal.”
Keselowski, the 2012 Cup series champion, seemed relieved, if not happy, about finishing second.
“It was definitely a race of attrition and we survived, somewhat, to the end,” he said. “We finished second. Obviously came up one spot short, which in a race like this is all that matters. It was just kind of the timing of the runs. I thought it was great racing. The cars are maybe just a tiny bit more responsive than they were last year, but, obviously, if the field gets up by the wall it’s tough to make a move, but, all in all, I thought it was pretty good racing. This format is good for plate racing and I thought it was a decent night. Obviously, if you’re not winning in a race like this it’s kind of irrelevant. None of that stuff matters.”
Busch, finished third despite a spin in Turn 4 with 15 laps to go.
“Once I got going on the apron, I didn’t even know where straight was on the steering wheel,” Busch said of the
spin. He also had complimentary words regarding his teammate.
“(Denny) won the last race of the year at Homestead, was the quickest in practice by doing what he needed to do to get a quick lap in practice for sitting on the pole for this race tonight, then he wins tonight,” Busch said. “He’s on fire right now. He’s good, he’s fast, he’s ready.”
The field consisted of 18 drivers – the 16 pole winners from the 2013 season and two past Sprint Unlimited winners who attempted to qualify for at least one Sprint Cup race last season.
Harvick’s fourth-place finish was the lone highlight of the night for Stewart-Haas Racing’s four-car team. His SHR teammates – Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Danica Patrick – were all eliminated in the multicar accident on lap 35.
“We had a really good car,” Harvick, new to SHR this year, said. “We led several laps in the beginning. Then on that restart in the second segment, we couldn’t get organized and wound up getting shuffled to the back. We got to the back, and then they had the wreck, and we hit the wall and bent the splitter up. It wouldn’t go through the corner, and we about got lapped. We kept working on it and working on it, and the next thing you know, it was at least drivable and I could hold it wide open again.
“Heck, at one point coming to the white flag, I thought we were going to win the race. So it was a great night for our Jimmy John’s guys. It kind of turned into a team building exercise from all angles. Aside from all of us wanting to win the race, to come out of here with a fifth-place finish and do all the things they did to the car to make it go was pretty awesome.”
Not very awesome was the Chevrolet pace car. It caught fire as it led the field around the track for the final segment.
“When you think you’ve seen it all,” Keselowski said, “then you see that. It’s just never-ending. We’ve seen wires, we’ve seen jet dryers. I don’t even know what to expect for the 500. It seems we always find the weirdest thing for the 500, so I just hope nobody was hurt. It doesn’t look like they were, but that’s an interesting one there. I couldn’t exactly tell what happened. I just saw the whole back half of the car was on fire. I thought it was a race car and then someone said it was the pace car and I couldn’t help it but to start laughing. What are you gonna do? That’s racin’.”
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race – Sprint Unlimited
Daytona International Speedway
Daytona Beach, Florida
Saturday, February 15, 2014
1. (1) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 75, $201139.
2. (5) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 75, $97380.
3. (4) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 75, $57380.
4. (11) Joey Logano, Ford, 75, $48380.
5. (6) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 75, $47355.
6. (2) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 75, $45955.
7. (8) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 75, $44605.
8. (17) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 75, $42580.
9. (14) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, Accident, 65, $40580.
10. (16) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, Accident, 35, $39080.
11. (9) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, Accident, 35, $38580.
12. (13) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, Accident, 35, $38080.
13. (7) Carl Edwards, Ford, Accident, 35, $37580.
14. (10) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, Accident, 35, $36080.
15. (3) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, Accident, 35, $35580.
16. (12) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, Accident, 35, $35080.
17. (18) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, Accident, 28, $32580.
18. (15) Terry Labonte, Ford, Vibration, 1, $30580.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 143.16 mph.
Time of Race: 1 Hrs, 18 Mins, 35 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.197 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 5 for 13 laps.
Lead Changes: 16 among 7 drivers.
Lap Leaders: D. Hamlin 1; J. McMurray 2-10; Kyle Busch 11-16; K. Harvick 17-21; D. Hamlin 22; K. Harvick 23; D. Hamlin 24-30; B. Keselowski 31-34; D. Hamlin 35-41; B. Keselowski 42-43; J. Logano 44-46; D. Hamlin 47-55; J. McMurray 56; D. Earnhardt Jr. 57-63; J. Logano 64-71; B. Keselowski 72-73; D. Hamlin 74-75.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): D. Hamlin 6 times for 27 laps; J. Logano 2 times for 11 laps; J. McMurray 2 times for 10 laps; B. Keselowski 3 times for 8 laps; D. Earnhardt Jr. 1 time for 7 laps; K. Harvick 2 times for 6 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 6 laps.
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