Saturday evening the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers took to the track for the first non-points race of the 2015 season with the Sprint Unlimited held at Daytona International Speedway, Valentine’s Day. Matt Kenseth, driving the #20 Dollar General Toyota, was able to survive the carnage with only 12 cars finishing the race out of the 25 starters. Kenseth has 8 victories at Daytona, including two Daytona 500 wins.
Kenseth was winless in his sophomore season at Joe Gibbs Racing, after having his best season in 2013 with 7 wins. But he drove away from the field with four laps to go, starting on the outside of his teammate Carl Edwards. Kenseth blocked the #78 of Martin Truex with a margin of victory by 0.219 seconds, after leading 21 laps.
“It’s always fun to win at Daytona, for sure, it’s fun to win anywhere,” said Kenseth in victory lane. “All our cars have speed, I had a feeling it’s going to be a good week.”
With 75 laps the Sprint Unlimited did not disappoint with 14 lead changes among 9 drivers, and 4 cautions for 17 laps that included two red flag cautions for a total of 20 minutes.
Brad Keselowski was taken out of contention early in the race on Lap 23, when Kyle Larson moved up bumping into the #22 of Joey Logano; Logano drove away with minimum damage, and into the #2 Miller Lite Ford on the frontstretch sending the #2 careening into the infield and then back across the track in front of traffic into the outside wall, barely missing the other cars.
Again Daytona included the big wreck after Greg Biffle, driving the #16 Ortho Ford bumped into the back of Jamie McMurray, driving the #1 McDonald’s Chevrolet, going into the tri-oval on Lap 44 resulting in McMurray spinning in front of the field having been in the third position hitting the wall, triggering a 14 car wreck on the frontstretch. That included Paul Menard, Denny Hamlin, the 2014 Sprint Unlimited Winner, Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne.
“I saw a car backwards, and then I hit it,” a laughing Bowyer said. “These things don’t seem to like to go through the grass very well so not the way we wanted to get started.”
The remaining cars were brought down to pit-road to stop in their pit-stalls so that track officials were able to clear the track from debris safely, leading to a 14 minute, 42 second red flag period, with the cars restarting on Lap 50.
“It was a matter of time that we were going to wreck, we were side-drafting so aggressively, really from the first lap of the race,” Hamlin said after leaving the infield care center. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen that aggressive driving from the start.”
Nearing the end Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon wrecked on Lap 62 with Danica Patrick picking up some minor damage after having driven past the previous two wrecks.
With the race proceeding on Lap 66 another caution would shortly come about within 2 laps involving Tony Stewart who was tapped from behind by Kyle Busch, with Stewart knocking Biffle resulting in the #16 pounding the inside wall, with Kurt Busch, hit by Stewart, spun and plowed into Biffle, Jeff Gordon received little damage but was able to continue. The crash brought about another red flag for 5 minutes and 18 seconds.
Sunday, February 15 the drivers will qualify for the Daytona 500 with coverage on Fox beginning at 1 p.m. eastern time.