Denny Hamlin won an attrition-filled Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, prevailing under NASCAR’s new green-white-checkered overtime rules.
Only eight cars of the original 25-car field remained as Hamlin took the checkered flag ahead of Joey Logano and Paul Menard. The 75-lap non-points race included six cautions, the final one during overtime. Since Hamlin had passed the new “overtime” line on the first overtime lap, he was declared the winner when he crossed the finish line.
“I wanted to get to the (overtime) line, because we probably didn’t have enough fuel to go five more laps,” said Hamlin.
The rest of the five remaining drivers included Kyle Larson, Casey Mears, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kurt Busch and Austin Dillon. Only four cars were not involved in an accident.
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It was the third Unlimited victory of Hamlin’s career. The triumph might not mean much for Hamlin in next week’s Daytona 500. The last driver to win the Unlimited and the 500 in the same year was Dale Jarrett in 2000.
Hamlin had surgery recently to repair an anterior cruciate ligament he tore playing basketball last year. He said he’s about 75 percent recovered.
“The knee’s good,” Hamlin said. “I’m not near doing anything sports-related, but I’m good in the car.”
The race went to overtime after Carl Edwards tried to squeeze between Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth on Lap 74. Edwards got past Keselowski, but wasn’t able to completely clear him. That sent Edwards into the wall and caused five-car wreck to send the race into overtime.
Three who mattered
Denny Hamlin: Gets his season off to a strong start, although he doesn’t get any points for his victory.
Joey Logano: Started 25th and last (in a random draw), then came all the way through the field to contend late. Finished .924ths of a second behind Hamlin.
Paul Menard: Stayed out of trouble and finished a strong third after starting 14th.
▪ Brad Keselowski, who started on the outside of the front row, led the first eight laps. He fell back after that when a plastic bag stuck on his grille, overheating his car. A caution from a spin by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. allowed Keselowski’s pit crew to take care of the problem. Another piece of plastic found its way to Keselowski’s grille during the second segment, but he was able to maintain his lead until another caution (from a Jimmie Johnson wreck) came out.
▪ The first segment ended under caution after Brian Vickers (driving in the injured Tony Stewart’s place) blew a right rear tire and hit the wall hard. The wreck swept up Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle, AJ Allmendinger and Kurt Busch.
▪ Jeff Gordon, who retired after last season, made his broadcasting debut for Fox. It’s still odd to hear Darrell Waltrip scream, “Boogity, boogity, boogity, let’s go racing boys!” when Danica Patrick is in the field.
They said it
“Like Kyle (Busch’s) championship last year, we win as one. At Joe Gibbs Racing, we win as one.” – Hamlin.
Where: Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, Fla.
When: Feb. 21, 1 p.m.
Radio: Motor Racing Network