Denny Hamlin has made it clear that he’s back and he’s ready to take this NASCAR season by storm.
Hamlin not only started on the pole, but he won all three segments in Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited at the Daytona International Speedway.
The Sprint Unlimited format was decided by the fans. The fans voted to have the 75-lap race broken into three segments: the first lap was 30 laps, the second was 25 laps and the last segment was 20 laps. The majority of the fans also voted for the starting grid where they chose the driver who was the fastest in practice to begin the race. Denny Hamlin was fastest in practice which gave him the first position. The final vote found the majority of the fans choosing for a pit stop in order to decide who would start the final segment of the race.
Hamlin won all three segments and his pit crew sent him to the front with a quick stop for the final segment.
The first caution of the night came when reigning champ Jimmie Johnson got loose coming off of turn four right at the end of the first segment. He hit the interior wall which ended his night early.
“The big one” happened in the second segment where seven cars were collected. Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth attempted to get a spot on the bottom line of a string of race cars, but there wasn’t enough space and he spun causing a chain reaction.
Tony Stewart, who was in the race in his first NASCAR start since his accident in August, was collected in the melee, but he was able to emerge from his mutilated car and walk away. He told reporters after the race that he would see how he would feel after the adrenaline wore off.
Jeff Gordon was also caught up in the wreck along with Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., and Danica Patrick. Patrick almost made it through the carnage until Stenhouse crashed into her car on the driver’s side. Stenhouse explained that he was having difficulty seeing out of his windshield with a crinkled hood and didn’t see Patrick’s car in his path.
Kyle Busch had quite the save when his car spun around in the third segment, but Kyle was being
Kyle and was able to save his car without too much damage. He was able to continue in the race.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s night ended just short of the end of the race when he tangled with Marcos Ambrose in the closing laps.
It was Denny Hamlin who emerged as the victor as he passed leader Brad Keselowski with just a few laps to go and won the exhibition race – picking up right where he left off at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November when he won the final race of the 2013 season.
“Any questions?” Hamlin asked over the radio after the checkered flag flew.
In all, 18 drivers participated in the Sprint Unlimited. They include, in unofficial finishing order: Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Marcos Ambrose, Ryan Newman, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Danica Patrick, Jimmie Johnson and Terry Labonte.
This is just the beginning. Qualifying for the Daytona 500 is Sunday, Feb. 16 at 1 p.m. ET and it will be then when we’ll see what’s to come for the Great American Race scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 23 at 1 p.m. ET.