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Denny Hamlin dominates Sprint Unlimited at Daytona

By Jim Utter
jutter@charlotteobserver.com
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/02/15/23/27/KTTt1.Em.138.jpeg|224
    Terry Renna - AP
    Denny Hamlin, front right, with girlfriend Jordan Fish and their daughter Taylor James Hamlin, 1, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Unlimited auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/02/15/23/04/13zacc.Em.138.JPG|233
    John Raoux - AP
    Denny Hamlin celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Unlimited auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/02/15/22/53/wGrka.Em.138.jpeg|177
    Terry Renna - AP
    Danica Patrick, front center, slides through the infield as Tony Stewart, left, Jeff Gordon (24), Kurt Busch (41), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (17) and Matt Kenseth, right, crash on the front stretch during the NASCAR Sprint Unlimited auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/02/15/22/36/YFXI5.Em.138.JPG|210
    Phelan M. Ebenhack - AP
    Kyle Busch (18) loses control of his car between Turns 3 and Turn 4 as Brad Keselowski (2), Jamie McMurray (1), Ryan Newman (31) and Denny Hamlin (11) drive by during the NASCAR Sprint Unlimited auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/02/15/22/36/LcQbl.Em.138.JPG|270
    David Graham - AP
    Matt Kenseth (20) slides sideways in front of Joey Logano (22), Tony Stewart (14) and Jeff Gordon (24), starting a multi-car crash in the front stretch during the NASCAR Sprint Unlimited auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. Denny Hamlin, front, escaped the wreck. (AP Photo/David Graham)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. Denny Hamlin remains undefeated since November.

Hamlin, who ended last season with a victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the season finale, kicked off the 2014 season with a victory Saturday night in the Sprint Unlimited, a 75-lap non-points race at Daytona International Speedway.

Hamlin was stout from start to finish, winning all three segments of the race. Hamlin passed Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski with two laps remaining and held off Keselowski for the win, his second in this event.

“The best car won, that’s for sure,” Hamlin said. “We’re two-in-a-row now. It was survival of the fittest for sure. With three to go, we were at the tail end of a very small pack. This car was just phenomenal.”

Kyle Busch finished third, Logano was fourth and Kevin Harvick was fifth.

Hamlin and Jamie McMurray spent much of the first 30-lap segment trading the lead.

On the 30th and final lap, Jimmie Johnson spun out and slammed into the inside retaining wall, bringing an early end to his evening.

Hamlin ended up winning the first segment followed by Harvick and Logano.

Hamlin led the way at the start of the second segment, set for 25 laps.

On Lap 37, Matt Kenseth and Logano made contact, which triggered a nine-car accident that also collected Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Carl Edwards, Harvick, Danica Patrick and Jeff Gordon.

Patrick appeared to have avoided the incident but got two wheels on the grass and drifted back up on the track and into the path of Stenhouse.

After an 11-minute red flag to clean debris, the race returned to a green on Lap 41 with Hamlin in the lead, followed by Keselowski and Logano. Only nine cars were left racing when the race was restarted.

Keselowski quickly moved into the lead after the restart.

With four laps remaining in the second segment, Hamlin was back out front followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Hamlin held on to win the second segment.

Voting by race fans determined the lineup for the final 20-lap segment would be set by the results of a mandatory pit stop of at least two tires.

Hamlin was the first off pit road, followed by McMurray and Logano and brought the field to the green flag for the start of the final segment.

Two laps in, Earnhardt bolted to the lead, followed by Ryan Newman and Kyle Busch.

On Lap 61, Busch got tapped by Keselowski and was sent for a spin but managed to save it without hitting the wall. The race was still placed under caution.

The race restarted with 13 laps remaining and Earnhardt leading the way. He was followed by Logano and Keselowski.

Logano moved into the lead just before Marcos Ambrose got into Earnhardt, which sent him to the garage. Before turning into the garage Earnhardt slammed into the side of Ambrose’s car to express his displeasure.

On the restart with five laps remaining, Logano led the way followed by Keselowski, McMurray, Newman and Hamlin.

With two laps remaining, Hamlin powered past Keselowski and Logano and moved into the lead.

In voting prior to the race, fans chose to use a three segment format of 30, 25 and 20 laps for the race. Fans also chose to start the race by Fridaynight’s final practice speeds, which put Hamlin on the pole for the race.

Utter: (704) 358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter.
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