Daytona Sprint Unlimited 2014


Denny Hamlin wins Sprint Unlimited on wild night

Mike Hembree, Special for USA TODAY Sports 12:04 a.m. EST February 16, 2014

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — If NASCAR was looking for sizzle and pop to open its new year after an off-season filled with changes, it got a big package of buzz from Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited race.

The 75-lap non-points event, won with a late-race charge by Denny Hamlin, included, among other things, a spectacular nine-car crash, an unfortunate on-track meeting of the sport’s most famous couple — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick — a slight delay when the pace car caught fire and a late-race wreck that eliminated Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s victory chance.

SURREAL: Pace car catches fire in Sprint Unlimited

CRASHED OUT: Stewart, Patrick, others in multicar wreck

Hamlin stood above it all, winning the first two segments of the three-segment race and roaring to the front with a lap to go in the final 20-lapper to cross the finish line first, taking the Unlimited for the second time.

Hamlin broke a draft with Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch and swept past leader Brad Keselowski easily to take the lead for good. He wasn’t seriously challenged on the last lap, winning by .197 of a second.

“When I had the opportunity to make it three-wide or push the 18 (Busch), I knew if I pushed the 18 that would stall my momentum for at least a lap,” Hamlin said. “We were coming to the white (flag) anyway. I had a huge run and needed to keep that momentum going. Had we not cleared the 18, I probably would have been sixth or seventh.

“Inches make or break you. For us, it was a decision I made, and it worked out good.”

Keselowski said Hamlin “timed his run perfectly and made the most of it.” Busch finished third.

Hamlin led 27 of the race’s 75 laps. Second in that category was Joey Logano with 11.

PHOTOS: Denny Hamlin through the years

Denny Hamlin has won more than 20 races and earned more than 125 top-10 finishes in a Sprint Cup career that began in 2006.

Denny Hamlin has won more than 20 races and earned more than 125 top-10 finishes in a Sprint Cup career that began in 2006. Mark J. Rebilas, USA TODAY Sports

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Denny Hamlin won his first career pole in NASCAR’s premier series on Nov. 12, 2005 at Phoenix International Raceway.

In 2006, Denny Hamlin became the first rookie to win the Budweiser Shootout, winning the 70-lap all-star event at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 11.

Team owner J.D. Gibbs, left, sprays driver Denny Hamlin with champagne after Hamlin won his first Nextel Cup race, the Pocono 500, on June 11, 2006, at Long Pond, Pa.

Denny Hamlin was named the 2006 Rookie of the Year after finishing third in the final Cup standings,scoring the highest points finish for a rookie in the modern era of NASCAR.

Denny Hamlin won his third career Cup race at the Lenox Industrial Tools 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway on July 1, 2007.

Denny Hamlin made the Chase for the second consecutive year, finishing 12th in the final standings in 2007.

Denny Hamlin is congratulated after winning the Goody’s Cool Orange 500 Cup race at Martinsville Speedway on March 30, 2008.

Denny Hamlin celebrates winning the Lipton Tea 250 May 2, 2008, at Richmond International Raceway, one of three Nationwide Series races Hamlin won that year.

Denny Hamlin (11) leads Michael Waltrip during the Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway on May 2, 2009. Hamlin finally won on his home track at Richmond in September.

Denny Hamlin takes the checkered flag for the Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 on Aug. 3, 2009, marking the third time Hamlin had won at Pocono Raceway since his Cup debut.

Denny Hamlin celebrates winning the Tums 500 Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 25, 2009.Hamlin guaranteed that he would win this race after he came in second at the spring race.

Denny Hamlin poses with the trophy in victory lane after he won the Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 19, 2010, for his 10th career Sprint Cup win.

Denny Hamlin swept both races at Texas in 2010 and finished second in the final Sprint Cup standings to Jimmie Johnson.

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Sprint Cup drivers at the White House, including Denny Hamlin who is to the right of Obama.

Denny Hamlin celebrates after winning the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 4, 2012.

Denny Hamlin, right, looks on as he caddies for Bubba Watson during the Par 3 Contest prior to the start of the 2012 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 4, 2012.

Denny Hamlin does a burnout after winning the IRWIN Tools Night Race a Bristol Motor Speedway on Aug. 25, 2012.

Denny Hamlin and girlfriend Jordan Fish arrive at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series awards banquet in Las Vegas, on Nov. 30, 2012.

Denny Hamlin addresses the media during the 2013 Sprint Media Tour at Charlotte Motor Speedway in January.

Denny Hamlin hits the wall after colliding with Joey Logano on the final lap of the Auto Club 400 at Fontana, Calif., on March 24, 2013.

Safety workers attend to Denny Hamlin after his last-lap crash at the Auto Club 400 at Fontana, Calif., on March 24, 2013. Hamlin fractured a vertebrae in his back in the crash.

Denny Hamlin, watching the STP 400 at Kansas Speedway from his pit box, missed four full races after fracturing a vertebrae in his back at Fontana, Calif.

Denny Hamlin gets out of his car through a customized roof hatch during the first caution of the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 5. Brian Vickers took over driving the No. 11 Toyota in Hamlin’s first race back from injury.

Denny Hamlin has won more than 20 races and earned more than 125 top-10 finishes in a Sprint Cup career that began in 2006.
Denny Hamlin won his first career pole in NASCAR’s premier series on Nov. 12, 2005 at Phoenix International Raceway.
In 2006, Denny Hamlin became the first rookie to win the Budweiser Shootout, winning the 70-lap all-star event at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 11.
Team owner J.D. Gibbs, left, sprays driver Denny Hamlin with champagne after Hamlin won his first Nextel Cup race, the Pocono 500, on June 11, 2006, at Long Pond, Pa.
Denny Hamlin was named the 2006 Rookie of the Year after finishing third in the final Cup standings,scoring the highest points finish for a rookie in the modern era of NASCAR.
Denny Hamlin won his third career Cup race at the Lenox Industrial Tools 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway on July 1, 2007.
Denny Hamlin made the Chase for the second consecutive year, finishing 12th in the final standings in 2007.
Denny Hamlin is congratulated after winning the Goody’s Cool Orange 500 Cup race at Martinsville Speedway on March 30, 2008.
Denny Hamlin celebrates winning the Lipton Tea 250 May 2, 2008, at Richmond International Raceway, one of three Nationwide Series races Hamlin won that year.
Denny Hamlin (11) leads Michael Waltrip during the Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond International Raceway on May 2, 2009. Hamlin finally won on his home track at Richmond in September.
Denny Hamlin takes the checkered flag for the Red Cross Pennsylvania 500 on Aug. 3, 2009, marking the third time Hamlin had won at Pocono Raceway since his Cup debut.
Denny Hamlin celebrates winning the Tums 500 Sprint Cup race at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 25, 2009.Hamlin guaranteed that he would win this race after he came in second at the spring race.
Denny Hamlin poses with the trophy in victory lane after he won the Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 19, 2010, for his 10th career Sprint Cup win.
Denny Hamlin swept both races at Texas in 2010 and finished second in the final Sprint Cup standings to Jimmie Johnson.
President Barack Obama shakes hands with Sprint Cup drivers at the White House, including Denny Hamlin who is to the right of Obama.
Denny Hamlin celebrates after winning the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on March 4, 2012.
Denny Hamlin, right, looks on as he caddies for Bubba Watson during the Par 3 Contest prior to the start of the 2012 Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 4, 2012.
Denny Hamlin does a burnout after winning the IRWIN Tools Night Race a Bristol Motor Speedway on Aug. 25, 2012.
Denny Hamlin and girlfriend Jordan Fish arrive at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series awards banquet in Las Vegas, on Nov. 30, 2012.
Denny Hamlin addresses the media during the 2013 Sprint Media Tour at Charlotte Motor Speedway in January.
Denny Hamlin hits the wall after colliding with Joey Logano on the final lap of the Auto Club 400 at Fontana, Calif., on March 24, 2013.
Safety workers attend to Denny Hamlin after his last-lap crash at the Auto Club 400 at Fontana, Calif., on March 24, 2013. Hamlin fractured a vertebrae in his back in the crash.
Denny Hamlin, watching the STP 400 at Kansas Speedway from his pit box, missed four full races after fracturing a vertebrae in his back at Fontana, Calif.
Denny Hamlin gets out of his car through a customized roof hatch during the first caution of the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 5. Brian Vickers took over driving the No. 11 Toyota in Hamlin’s first race back from injury.

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The tone of the race changed dramatically on the sixth lap of the second segment as a huge multicar crash impacted half of the 18-driver field.

The incident began when Matt Kenseth, running third, made a move to the inside of the track and into the path of Joey Logano. Contact between the two cars sent Kenseth’s Toyota spinning, scrambling the rest of the tightly-packed field.

The cars of Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch wound up in an accordion-like stack against the outside wall, and Stenhouse Jr. slammed into the rear of Busch’s car at the back of the row, lifting the back of the car.

Stenhouse, his car heavily damaged, continued along the track and hit the front of the Chevrolet of Patrick, his girlfriend, marking the third time the couple has been involved in the same wreck in two seasons.

PHOTOS: Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

None of the drivers were injured, but seven of those in the crash lost any shot at victory, giving the Sprint Unlimited the look of a Sprint Very Limited. Track cleanup forced a red flag of 11:25.

All four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers — Patrick, Stewart, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick — were involved in the crash.

Earnhardt Jr. was running in the top three with 10 laps to go when he and Marcos Ambrose made contact near the outside wall. Earnhardt Jr.’s Chevrolet was damaged, forcing him from the race. During the ensuing caution period, Earnhardt Jr. tapped Ambrose’s car to illustrate his frustration with the incident, but, after watching videotape of the crash, said he overreacted.

The opening 30-lap segment of the race was uneventful — until the final lap. Jimmie Johnson, running second to Hamlin, lost control of his Chevrolet exiting the fourth turn and slid off the racing surface and into the inside SAFER barrier.

Damage to the car forced Johnson out of the race, marking the third straight Sprint Unlimited he has failed to finish.

Johnson’s car slipped as he attempt to move up the track as the field approached the finish line for the 30th of 30 laps in the first segment.

PHOTOS: Sprint Unlimited and Daytona Media Day

Fireworks go off during driver introductions prior to the start of the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 15.

Fireworks go off during driver introductions prior to the start of the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 15. Andrew Weber, USA TODAY Sports

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NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin during driver introductions of the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.

Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin (11) pits during the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.

Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, makes a pit stop during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.

Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, and Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, lead a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson spins away from the field during the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Matt Kenseth (20), Tony Stewart (14), Jeff Gordon (24) are involved in a multi car crash on the front stretch during the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Matt Kenseth (20), Tony Stewart (14), Jeff Gordon (24) are involved in a multi car crash on the front stretch during the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.

Drivers line up on stage prior to the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 15.

Danica Patrick does an on-camera interview during Daytona Media Day on Feb. 13.

Journalists prepare to meet the drivers during Daytona Media Day on Feb. 13.

Kyle Busch relaxes in an elevator before meeting with reporters during Daytona Media Day.

Two-time Daytona 500 winner and six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson answers questions from reporters during Daytona Media Day.

The Harley J. Earl Trophy is given to the winner of the Daytona 500.

Carl Edwards was in a good mood as he spoke to reporters at Daytona Media Day.

NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Regan Smith relaxes on a couch during Daytona Media Day.

Roush Fenway Racing driver Greg Biffle answers questions from reporters during Daytona Media Day.

Florida was the only state in the country Thursday with snow on the ground anywhere in the state.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Danica Patrick (10) talks to the media after blowing an engine during practice for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.

Fireworks go off during driver introductions prior to the start of the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 15.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin during driver introductions of the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin (11) pits during the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, makes a pit stop during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Express Toyota, and Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, lead a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson spins away from the field during the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Matt Kenseth (20), Tony Stewart (14), Jeff Gordon (24) are involved in a multi car crash on the front stretch during the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Matt Kenseth (20), Tony Stewart (14), Jeff Gordon (24) are involved in a multi car crash on the front stretch during the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.
Drivers line up on stage prior to the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 15.
Danica Patrick does an on-camera interview during Daytona Media Day on Feb. 13.
Journalists prepare to meet the drivers during Daytona Media Day on Feb. 13.
Kyle Busch relaxes in an elevator before meeting with reporters during Daytona Media Day.
Two-time Daytona 500 winner and six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson answers questions from reporters during Daytona Media Day.
The Harley J. Earl Trophy is given to the winner of the Daytona 500.
Carl Edwards was in a good mood as he spoke to reporters at Daytona Media Day.
NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Regan Smith relaxes on a couch during Daytona Media Day.
Roush Fenway Racing driver Greg Biffle answers questions from reporters during Daytona Media Day.
Florida was the only state in the country Thursday with snow on the ground anywhere in the state.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Danica Patrick (10) talks to the media after blowing an engine during practice for the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.

Fireworks go off during driver introductions prior to the start of the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 15.

SPRINT UNLIMITED RESULTS

At Daytona International Speedway

Lap length: 2.5 miles (Start position in parentheses)

1. (1) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 75 laps, 127.5 rating, 0 points.

2. (5) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 75, 89.7, 0.

3. (4) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 75, 107.9, 0.

4. (11) Joey Logano, Ford, 75, 97.5, 0.

5. (6) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 75, 83.8, 0.

6. (2) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 75, 83.9, 0.

7. (8) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 75, 77.4, 0.

8. (17) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 75, 55.5, 0.

9. (14) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, accident, 65, 73, 0.

10. (16) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, accident, 35, 60, 0.

11. (9) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, accident, 35, 66, 0.

12. (13) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, accident, 35, 42.3, 0.

13. (7) Carl Edwards, Ford, accident, 35, 61.2, 0.

14. (10) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, accident, 35, 53.5, 0.

15. (3) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, accident, 35, 51.3, 0.

16. (12) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, accident, 35, 44.4, 0.

17. (18) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, accident, 28, 67.2, 0.

18. (15) Terry Labonte, Ford, vibration, 1, 24.3, 0.

———

Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 143.160 mph.

Time of Race: 1 hour, 18 minutes, 35 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 0.197 seconds.

Caution Flags: 5 for 13 laps.

Lead Changes: 16 among 7 drivers.

Lap Leaders: D.Hamlin 1; J.McMurray 2-10; Ky.Busch 11-16; K.Harvick 17-21; D.Hamlin 22; K.Harvick 23; D.Hamlin 24-30; B.Keselowski 31-34; D.Hamlin 35-41; B.Keselowski 42-43; J.Logano 44-46; D.Hamlin 47-55; J.McMurray 56; D.Earnhardt Jr. 57-63; J.Logano 64-71; B.Keselowski 72-73; D.Hamlin 74-75.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): D.Hamlin, 6 times for 27 laps; J.Logano, 2 times for 11 laps; J.McMurray, 2 times for 10 laps; B.Keselowski, 3 times for 8 laps; D.Earnhardt Jr., 1 time for 7 laps; Ky.Busch, 1 time for 6 laps; K.Harvick, 2 times for 6 laps

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