Hamlin Outruns Mayhem In Sprint Unlimited

Matt Kenseth (20) crashes with Tony Stewart (14) and Jeff Gordon during the Sprint Unlimited. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas Photo)
Matt Kenseth (20) crashes with Tony Stewart (14) and Jeff Gordon during the Sprint Unlimited. (HHP/Christa L. Thomas Photo)

According to Kenseth, he was trying to avoid Keselowski’s car after it slightly slowed.

“Honestly, I had no idea anybody was inside of me or had that run and I watching the mirror, but I was also watching Denny Hamlin and in hindsight probably too focused on trying to help my teammate there,” Kenseth said.” “I probably jus should have stayed in the top lane and kept going, but I was just easing my way down there and had no idea Joey Logano was so close to me and our cars got hooked together. That’s not the way you want to start your season.

“It appears that I cut off Joey and didn’t leave enough room.”

Hamlin, McMurray and Logano were the leaders at the end of the 25-lap second segment and during the break all cars had to make a pit stop to change at least two tires with the lineup determined by the order of cars off that were off pit road.

To add to the lunacy of this event the Chevrolet Pace Car caught on fire on the track forcing the safety crew to extinguish the flames as the Pace Car driver and NASCAR official had to bail out of the smoking vehicle. A battery in the trunk used to power the safety lights ignited to cause the fire.

“When you think you’ve seen it all; then you see that,” Keselowski said. “That’s an interesting one there. I just aw the whole back half of the car was on fire. I thought it was a race car but then it was the pace car. That’s racing.”

After another delay, finally the green flag waved to start the final segment with just nine cars running on the lead lap. Earnhardt got pushed to the lead at the end of the first lap.

With 15 laps to go, Kyle Busch cut off Keselowski’s Ford and was tapped to send his Toyota spinning into the grass. The incident did not damage Busch car.

“I was just lucky I didn’t get hit,” Busch said. “As long as nobody messes you up again you can sorta just drive through things. I’ve done it now three times so I have experience at it where others do not. I was able to continue on in the race. I was two shy (spins) of what I was able to do the last time I did that (when he spun three times and won in 2012.)”

During the caution, Hamlin pitted for four tires. Busch was able to pit to change tires after his spin.

The green flag waved with 12 to go and Earnhardt the leader and Logano second. But with 10 laps to go Earnhardt and Marcos Ambrose made contact while attempting to bump draft and that turned Earnhardt’s Chevrolet into the wall. Earnhardt showed his displeasure after the damage was done by rubbing Ambrose’s Ford on the backstretch after the caution flag flew.

“It looks like I was trying to get down and Marcos went to the outside and I didn’t know he was up there,” Earnhardt said. “I was upset with him but it really wasn’t his fault.”

That set up a five-lap green flag run to decide the race with Logano listed as the leader, Keselowski second and McMurray third out of the eight cars still running.

And nothing denied Hamlin of his drive to victory.

“It’s a great win,” he said. “You love starting SpeedWeeks like this. In 2006, it kind of spring-boarded my career into a great year. In 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.

“It’s big. Every little win, it doesn’t matter whether it’s practice, if it’s happy hour, if it’s qualifying — every little accomplishment goes a long way with the team moral. I think we’re building on something big here.”

Hamlin was impressed with the nature of the race despite the crash-decimated field.

“I was actually surprised, once the pack got whittled down to five or six cars, I was thinking there’s no way you’re going to get a run. It’s extremely hard to get runs and pass the leader, but we made a three-wide move there and we pushed our teammate up there for a battle for the lead. Coming to the white flag I have to do what I have to do to try to get the win.”