Matt Kenseth, who failed to win any Sprint Cup races in 2014, grabbed the lead on Lap 56 and held on for 18 of the last 19 laps to win Saturday night’s 75-lap Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.
It was the second straight year that a Joe Gibbs Racing driver won the exhibition, non-points event. Denny Hamlin won the 2014 running.
Kenseth came to JGR from Roush Fenway Racing in 2013 and won seven races en route to second in the Sprint Cup standings. It was the opposite end of the spectrum for him in 2014, as Kenseth went winless in Cup for the first time in four seasons (he did win the Xfinity Series finale).
A two-time Daytona 500 winner, Kenseth won with a speed of 144.204 mph.
“It’s a great feeling, it’s always fun to win at Daytona, it’s fun to win anywhere, it’s been a year,” Kenseth said on Fox Sports.
There were some verbal fireworks after the race between Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano, who made contact on the second-to-last lap. But nothing more transpired between the pair.
Martin Truex Jr., who led after the first 25-lap segment, finished second, followed by Carl Edwards, Casey Mears and Kyle Larson.
Sixth through 10th were Logano, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Danica Patrick.
The last two cars running at the end were Harvick (11th) and Ryan Newman (12th).
Following a three-car wreck between Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart, Kenseth pulled away from the field on the restart with four laps to go.
Truex led the most laps (29), followed by Kenseth (21) and Earnhardt (13). Others who led included Paul Menard (7), Brad Keselowski (2), and three others that led one lap each: Biffle, Harvick and Edwards.
There were four wrecks involving 20 cars:
* On Lap 67, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart were involved in a heavy wreck that brought out the second red flag of the night.
Looking at a TV replay, Stewart appeared to move up slightly and was tapped by Kyle Busch, sending Stewart spinning. Biffle also went spinning and hit the inside SAFER barrier hard, bounced off, and was struck by Busch’s car.
* The biggest wreck of the night occurred on Lap 46. Jamie McMurray was tapped in the rear by Greg Biffle, who himself may have been tapped in the rear by Joey Logano.
From that point on it was multi-car mayhem as a total of 14 drivers ultimately wound up being involved.
In addition to McMurray, others involved included defending Sprint Cup champ Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, 2014 Sprint Unlimited winner Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart.
The race was red-flagged for 14 minutes, 42 seconds while the track was cleaned. Ironically, the man who started the wreck, Biffle, was scored as the leader when the race resumed.
Biffle told his crew on the team radio that it appeared as if McMurray was loose before the incident, which McMurray somewhat agreed about.
“It was (pretty loose) when he had my back tires off the ground, it’s hard to hang onto it. He was helping me,” McMurray said of Biffle. “It happened two or three times before. It’s just part of it.
“When you get a big run like that, you have to get to the guy and start pushing because if you don’t, you lose all your momentum.”
Surprisingly, McMurray was in good spirits despite the event.
“Everyone was racing real hard tonight,” he said. “It was actually a lot of fun out there. … When Greg got in the back of me, I just couldn’t hang onto it anymore.”
* The first wreck of the night – and the new season – came on Lap 22 when Brad Keselowski made contact with Kyle Larson.
Larson appeared to wash up slightly on the track in front of Keselowski, got into the left front end of the No. 2 and sent him spinning into the infield, up across the track, and then back into the grass.
“No, I didn’t get up too far at all,” Larson said on his team radio when crew chief Chris Heroy asked if he got up too high in front of Keselowski.
“I obviously made contact with the 42 and 22 and I couldn’t tell if somebody made contact with me from behind,” Keselowski told Fox Sports. “I ended up in the grass there.
“When all that happened, it’s not good, it tears up the front end on these cars quick. It’s just part of racing at Daytona. We’ve got a lot of racing left in Speedweeks. This is just a preliminary. We’ll be ready to go when it counts in the 500.”
The entire field missed Keselowski with the exception of Austin Dillon, who couldn’t avoid the former as he spun back onto the infield grass.
While Keselowski was unable to continue, Larson’s and Dillon’s cars both had minimal damage.
Keselowski finished last in the 25-car field, the first time in his career that he has wound up lower than fourth in the Unlimited.
1 Matt Kenseth
2 Martin Truex Jr.
3 Carl Edwards
4 Casey Mears
5 Kyle Larson
6 Joey Logano
7 Jeff Gordon
8 Kyle Busch
9 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
10 Danica Patrick
11 Kevin Harvick
12 Ryan Newman
13 Tony Stewart
14 Greg Biffle
15 Kurt Busch
16 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
17 Austin Dillon
18 Aric Almirola
19 Denny Hamlin
20 Clint Bowyer
21 Paul Menard
22 Jimmie Johnson
23 Kasey Kahne
24 Jamie McMurray
25 Brad Keselowski