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Hamlin Wins Unlimited Survival Test At Daytona

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 14 2016
The 2016 NASCAR season officially began Saturday night with the running of the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)

The 2016 NASCAR season officially began Saturday night with the running of the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/NASCAR via Getty Images)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Denny Hamlin lifted the lid on the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup season by winning Saturday night’s crash-filled Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.

It was the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s second victory in the event in three years and his sprint-logo-08third overall victory in the Unlimited, an annual exhibition race that features a field of driver who meet a changing list of qualifying criteria.

The victory came in overtime.

Joey Logano finished second, Paul Menard third and Kyle Larson fourth in a race that saw only four of the 25 cars avoid wrecks that collectively produced seven cautions for 25 laps.

The final, overtime wreck was a biggie.

When the cars passed the new overtime finish line (past Turn 2), the wreckfest started when the No. 1 car of Jamie McMurray hooked the No. 20 car of Matt Kenneth.

“I don’t know what happened in the wreck,” Kenneth said. “I was going straight one
second and I was turned into the door of the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) the next – I really don’t know, but yeah we had some good speed in our Dollar General Camry. The finish is disappointing, but our performance was really good. Denny (Hamlin) was really fast. I was almost able to get behind him off of (turn) two and the 42 (Kyle Larson) was in there, so anyway we were just – that was good racing that last lap and, like I said, I don’t really know what happened.”

Among others caught up in the wreck was 2015 Final Four driver Truex Jr. of
Furniture Row Racing.

“This is the nature of this race, no points on the line and it’s winner take all,” Truex said. “We were in good position to make a move on the final restart, but just got caught up in someone else’s mistake and came away with a frustrating ending. Before the last restart it seemed like I couldn’t get to where I needed to get to. It was a battle to get into the middle lane. I kept on getting stuck in a position where I didn’t want to be.”

Hamlin wrecked early in the event – on Lap 13 – but his No. 11 Toyota was repaired and then victorious.

Hamlin chose the outside line for the final restart.

“It was just such a dilemma for me to figure out what lane to start in,” Hamlin said. “I
had gotten good pushes from Matt all night long, and I hated leaving him in that top line, but I felt like I’d had success on the bottom all night, and I didn’t want to leave it for that final restart.”

A seven-car crash on Lap 23 severely damaged the cars of several pre-race favorites, including the No. 88 Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt Jr.

In his first gig as a substitute for injured Tony Stewart, Brian Vickers spun while barreling into Turn 1 after his right rear tire went flat.

Vickers’s spin ignited the wreck that also crippled the cars of Earnhardt, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and also involved the Ford of Greg Biffle and the Chevrolet of AJ Allmendinger.

“I cut a right rear tire,” Vickers said after exiting the infield care center. “It’s unfortunate. I don’t know how I cut the tire. I had a little contact. Everyone was racing hard. It’s the Sprint Unlimited, right? That’s what it’s all about. The 18 (Kyle Busch) and I got together early on, going four-wide. Had a little rub but it went away so we thought everything was fine.

“The 2 (Brad Keselowski) and I got together a little bit right there on the front stretch going into (Turn) 1. Maybe that was it. I just don’t know. It was a cut of some kind. It’s just unfortunate.”

“It was crazy like normal right?” JGR’s Logano said. “What a great race.”

Not for one future Hall of Famer. Six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson’s Unlimited was limited to just 44 laps as he spun on the backstretch after contact with the No. 13 Chevy of Casey Mears.

Johnson had run near the front up to that point.

“We learned a little bit tonight,” Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus said. “Thanks, everybody. Good dress rehearsal.”

Everybody learned about the new overtime rule on Saturday night. Some drivers offered reviews of the new rule.

“I think the concept is good,” Kenneth said. “Tonight’s hard to say because we still wrecked – typically we don’t wreck until the second lap at a superspeedway anyway – but I think the concept is certainly good and we’ll avoid things like we had at Talladega last year.”

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 14 2016
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