A five-car wreck set up the first use of NASCAR’s new “overtime” rule in the Sprint Unlimited and a win by Denny Hamlin in the exhibition race.
But Hamlin didn’t need more than one restart. He led 39 laps and earned his third Sprint Unlimited win – and first since undergoing ACL surgery in the offseason. It was also his first race with new crew chief Mike Wheeler.
“I’m so happy for Mike Wheeler to start one-for-one with a win here at Daytona,” Hamlin told Fox. “This win, first of all couldn’t be possible without my teammates. Matt (Kenseth) sacrificed so much pushing me at the right time.”
Hamlin secured the win with a block on a surging Paul Menard right before most of the remaining cars in the 25-car field wrecked in Turns 1 and 2. Kenseth was involved in the wreck. Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch were also involved in late wrecks. Only four cars weren’t involved in a crash at some point in the race.
“I had in my mind what (Menard) was going to do and when the cars are closing that fast you almost have to anticipate where they’re going to go or else you’re going to get wrecked,” Hamlin said.
The wreck that created the overtime scenario came with three laps left in the scheduled 75-lap event. The crash involved Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Casey Mears, Edwards and Aric Almirola on the backstretch.
There were seven cautions for 25 laps and Hamlin was part of the first one when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made contact with him on Lap 14 while the two were laying back in the field.
HOW HAMLIN WON: Hamlin was in front for the first use of NASCAR’s new overtime rule and kept the field behind him before a caution on the last lap secured the win.
WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Hamlin, Joey Logano, Paul Menard and Kyle Larson finished in the top four. Logano, Menard and Larson were among the few cars to not be involved in an accident in some form during the race … Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was involved in an early accident with Hamlin but managed to finish sixth.
WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Brian Vickers, in his first Sprint Cup race since early 2015, started a multi-car wreck on Lap 22 when a tire went down and he crashed in Turn 1. The No. 14 hit Dale Earnhardt Jr, which sent a burst of blue foam from Earnhardt’s car flying. Vickers then collected Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle … The third caution of the night came when Jimmie Johnson spun on the backstretch on Lap 45. Johnson slid through grass and received significant damage to this front end. He finished 22nd … On Lap 56, Kasey Kahne, the last Hendrick Motorsports driver eligible to win, was turned by Jamie McMurray on the backstretch. The No. 5 then slammed AJ Allmendinger into the outside wall, bringing out the caution. Kahne would later bring out a debris caution with nine laps left in the scheduled distance.
NOTABLE: Hamlin is the fifth driver to win three or more Sprint Unlimited races … Jimmie Johnson has failed to finish the last five Sprint Unlimited races … There were only three separate leaders in the race: Hamlin, Keselowski and McMurray.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “We’ve got such a young team of crew chiefs and engineers; they all look like a bunch of high school kids.” Denny Hamlin after winning with rookie crew chief Mike Wheeler.
NEXT: Pole qualifying for the 58th Daytona 500, Sunday at 1:15 p.m. ET on Fox