Originally written for CLNS Radio.
Denny Hamlin held off NASCAR’s best in a wild Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night.
|Denny Hamlin celebrates his second career Sprint Unlimited (Photo courtesy Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)|
Hamlin had to hold off hard-charging teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano to win the race. Hamlin said his team worked hard all weekend, and it proved to be the deciding factor.
“We had a great car all weekend,” Hamlin told ESPN. “It was survival of the fittest for sure, but this car was phenomenal.”
The race was all about the fans, with multiple parts of the race decided based upon a fan vote.
The race started with one of these fan votes, and the fans decided to have the starting line-up set by final practice speeds. This put Hamlin on pole, and he stayed up front for most of the race.
Hamlin led at the end of the first 30-lap segment, when defending Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson got loose coming off turn 4 and spun into the inside wall.
After pit stops in between segments, segment two started with Jeff Gordon in the lead. Just five laps later, however, the infamous “big one” struck, and it cut the field in half.
Matt Kenseth cut down in front of Logano heading through the tri-oval, and he spun in front of the field. The wreck collected Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick, Carl Edwards, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kenseth.
Kenseth took full responsibility for the accident.
“I honestly had no idea Joey was that close to me,” Kenseth said. “Our cars just got hooked together.”
The race restarted on lap 11 of the 25-lap segment, and Hamlin found himself in the lead when the segment finished.
After the segment, fans voted for a mandatory 2-tire pit stop, and Hamlin was able to win the race off pit road.
When the race restarted, the excitement didn’t stop. Kyle Busch got turned by Keselowski, but Busch was able to save the car, much like he did during the 2012 Sprint Unlimited.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. restarted as the leader, but he and Marcos Ambrose got together just three laps later, and that ended Earnhardt’s night.
“I was trying to get down, and Marcos went to the outside and I didn’t see him,” Earnhardt said after the wreck. “It’s hard racing, but I can’t say I was happy with him.”
When the race restarted, Logano and Keselowski commanded the field. But Hamlin went 3-wide with two laps to go, and he was able to hold off the rest of the field for the victory.
1. Denny Hamlin
2. Brad Keselowski
3. Kyle Busch
4. Joey Logano
5. Kevin Harvick
6. Jamie McMurray
7. Marcos Ambrose
8. Ryan Newman
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
10. Matt Kenseth
11. Tony Stewart
12. Jeff Gordon
13. Carl Edwards
14. Kurt Busch
15. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
16. Danica Patrick
17. Jimmie Johnson
18. Terry Labonte
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series kicks off their season with the Daytona 500.