Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth survived the first race of the season at Daytona International Speedway, the invitational Sprint Unlimited, to land in victory lane on Saturday night. The driver of the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota Camry crossed the finish line 0.219 seconds ahead of runner-up Martin Truex Jr., who led 28 laps of the 75-lap event.
It was the second-straight win for JGR in the event, as Denny Hamlin won last year’s race.
Carl Edwards, making his first start for JGR, finished third in the No. 19 ARRIS Toyota, while Kyle Busch finished eighth in the No. 18 M&Ms Crispy Toyota in spite of being involved in a couple of the event’s wrecks.
“At the end there, Martin did an excellent job,” said Kenseth. “He backed off me so far. I saw him letting off the gas before we got to Turn 1, and I was like ‘Ah, this isn’t good.’…I just decided I was going to keep going. He got a big run at me, but we just had enough speed that, as he starting getting closer to me, we started building a little bit of RPM, and I was able to make sure that my car stayed in front of his car and was able to hold on.”
Denny Hamlin, in the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota, was involved in one of the event’s numerous accidents, finishing 19th after completing only 45 laps.
“It was a matter of time that we were going to wreck,” said Hamlin. “We were side-drafting so aggressively from the first lap of the race… We were trying to get to front and protect our track position, because we knew this was coming. I just couldn’t get there quick enough. When you hit the grass now, it’s death. It tore the front end of the car off.”
Casey Mears and Kyle Larson rounded out the top five at Daytona.
All four JGR cars made it into the final round of knockout qualifying for the front row for the Daytona 500 next Sunday, February 22nd, but none could beat the Hendrick Motorsports duo of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, who will lead the field to the green flag. Gordon won the pole for his final Daytona 500 with a speed of 201.293 mph in the final round, while Johnson will line up outside of Gordon after his lap of 201.135 mph.
Hamlin set the third-fastest time at 200.933 mph, followed by Kenseth at 200.214 mph. Busch had the fifth-fastest time at 200.187 mph, while Edwards was seventh-fastest at 197.837 mph. Hamlin’s car failed post-race inspection, and will start his Budweiser Duel on Thursday, February 19th from the rear of the field.
For the first time, group qualifying was used for Daytona 500 qualifying, and it resulted in a few in-track incidents.
Keep up with the action in 2015 at joegibbsracing.com.