DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Denny Hamlin made a bold move by nearly driving under the yellow line on the backstretch with one and a half laps left and went on to win Saturday night’s crash-filled Sprint Unlimited NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
“Any questions?” Hamlin radioed to his crew after taking the victory.
It was Hamlin’s second victory in this exhibition preliminary race to the Daytona 500 in his nine attempts. He won this race as a rookie 2006 – the only rookie ever to win this contest.
“The best car won; that’s for sure,” Hamlin said. “We had a great car all weekend. It was survival of the fittest for sure. This car was phenomenal.”
Hamlin’s Toyota finished ahead of Brad Keselowski’s Ford. Kyle Busch, who spun out in the final segment but was able to continue in the race, finished third to give Joe Gibbs Racing two cars in the top three.
“Denny’s on a mission – I think he lost too much time sitting on the sidelines so he has a lot to make up for,” Busch said. “He’s on fire right now. He’s good. He’s fast. He’s ready. It was nice to see us be able to rebound and finish third. It was disappointing to see the 20 (Matt Kenseth) have their issues. I think JGR as a whole is fast here and we have shown some speed and smarts here.”
Joey Logano’s Ford was fourth followed by Kevin Harvick’s Chevrolet.
That was the end result of a crash-filled event that had far too few cars running at the finish with eight of the 18 starters making it to the finish.
Defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was the first to crash when he was heading out of the fourth turn at the conclusion of the 30-lap initial segment. He lost control of his Chevrolet coming out of the fourth turn and slid across the asphalt apron before slamming into the infield retaining wall to end his race.
It was a massive crash on lap 37 that involved all four of the Stewart-Haas Racing cars including Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Harvick and Danica Patrick. The crash was triggered when Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano made contact with each on the tri-oval. Stewart ran into the back of Kenseth’s car sending the rear of the car into the air. Jeff Gordon’s Chevy then slammed into the back of Stewart’s car and Kurt Busch’s car jacked up the rear-end of Gordon’s Chevy.
Stewart was driving in his first race since he suffered a badly broken leg in a sprint car crash in Iowa on August 5.
“I’m not a big fan of blocking but unfortunately that is what you have to do,” Stewart said. “A few more inches here and there and we would have got out of it. I’m trying to figure out how that 10 car (Patrick) got caught up in it but she got hit. The leg feels fine but we’ll see how the adrenaline feels after it wears off in about an hour.”
By the time it was over nine cars were involved in the crash including Kurt Busch, Stewart, Ricky Stenhouse, Carl Edwards, Harvick, Patrick, Gordon, Kenseth and Logano.
Patrick would have missed the carnage but in an effort to avoid the spinning cars she dropped the two left-side wheels into the grass and that sent her sliding back up the track. Her boyfriend, Stenhouse, slammed into the side of her Chevrolet and that was it for those two.
“All I know is I hit something really hard there,” Stenhouse said. “I couldn’t stop and tried to look over the hood and then I saw it was her. She would have been all right if I had not hit her so that’s not good. We tore up a lot tonight.
“I didn’t see anything from the time it started to the time it ended. 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 Ford. I was up around the top and just tried to slow down as much as I could and then all of a sudden I saw the underneath body of the 41 (Kurt Busch). He was pretty much on the roof and I couldn’t see, and after that the hood was up in the way and I couldn’t get out of gear and couldn’t steer. Everything was all bent up, so that’s not the way we wanted it to end, but I thought we learned a lot through the first 35 laps of it, but I definitely would have liked to finish it.”
After getting checked at the infield care center Patrick tried to explain what happened.
“I’m bummed it got cut short but it was a good warm-up for me to get used to the closing rates and getting bumped and hanging on to it,” Patrick said. “As soon as the accident happened I went low, clipped the grass and spun and then I got hit by my boyfriend, what a bummer. His hood was up and he couldn’t see anything.”
The race was red-flagged for 11 minutes, 25 seconds. When the race resumed there were just nine cars running for the remainder of the 25-lap second segment and the final 20-lap segment that would determine the winner.