By: Cody McGhee
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Denny Hamlin won his third career Sprint Unlimited Saturday in what was a crash-filled event.
Taking place at the Daytona International Speedway, the Sprint Unlimited is an exclusive race that kicks off the NASCAR season one week before the famed Daytona 500.
The field is made up of 25 drivers including 2015 pole winners, former Sprint Unlimited winners, former Daytona 500 pole winners, 2015 Chase drivers, with the remaining positions being made up of the highest point finishers from the 2015 season remaining.
Although the race was made up of NASCAR’s finest, drivers still made mistakes early due to the time off.
On lap 13 while racing in the back of the field to avoid a potential wreck, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. lost control of his car, sending it spinning in turn two and colliding with eventual race-winner Hamlin. Later on lap 23, Brian Vicker’s car blew a tire heading into turn 1 leading him to turn down into Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick before hitting the outside wall, ruining all three drivers’ chances of winning the race.
“You get antsy in the offseason,” said defending Daytona 500 champion Joey Logano speaking on the wrecks early in the race.
Logano finished second to Hamlin when a caution came out on the last lap due to a wreck behind the leaders.
On the final restart with two laps to go, Logano lined up beside Hamlin on the front row for an attempt at a green-white-checkered finish.
“When you’re in the front row like that, your move is depending on what’s going on behind you,” Logano explained. “I saw what the 27 (Paul Menard) was doing trying to make it three wide so I tried to block that, and then I saw the 42 (Kyle Larson) coming so I tried to block that and then the 42 got loose and that was the end of the race.”
Logano’s Penske teammate Brad Keselowski also showed strong during the race, leading the first 10 laps and 26 out of the 75 overall laps, but did not get the finish he hoped for, finishing 9th.
“You always want to win,” Keselowski said. “Having a car as fast as we did means you really feel like you can win and it hurts a little bit more when you don’t win that way.”
Late in the race, Keselowski was involved in a wreck with Carl Edwards putting a strain on his chances to win. The final knockout blow came for Keselowski on the last lap when he once again was included in a crash, ultimately ruining his chances at a victory.
“We had a pretty good day going and it just didn’t come together at the end,” Keselowski said.
Seeing that the Sprint Unlimited takes place at Daytona International Speedway, many of the drivers looked at the race as a tune up for next weekend’s Daytona 500.
When asked whether he learned anything that could help him potentially win the Daytona 500 Keselowski replied, “Yep!” with an optimistic smile on his face.
The Daytona 500 will take place Sunday at 1 p.m.