The first Sprint Cup race of the year, albeit an exhibition race, is in the books with Denny Hamlin‘s win in the Sprint Unlimited. It was a messy affair with seven cautions for 25 laps and a majority of the 25-car field involved in incidents in some form during the 79-lap race.
Sprint Cup drivers will be back on the track Sunday for pole qualifying for the Daytona 500, but some drivers shared what they learned from the first race of 2016.
Joey Logano (2nd): (On track being filled with debris) “I think it’s a huge concern. It looked like a landfill on the front straightaway. My dad was in the garbage company. I know all about it. It looked just like it. It was tough. You know, when you’re the leader you’re the first one to (get debris on the grill), and there’s no way to get it off unless you give up the lead. And the same thing happened to Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) last year in this race. He got hot and he had to pit early. You know, the back straightaway is clean, so it’s all coming from the grandstands.
Paul Menard (3rd): “If you had room, you could really get a run and shoot a gap, but a lot of times you were just bogged-in and you just couldn’t go anywhere. Kyle (Larson) was really good at making an extra lane in the middle, and I kind of followed him for a little bit.”
Kyle Larson (4th): “I learned that I had a lot of luck in this race. I missed probably three or four really close wrecks. Hopefully, I didn’t use up all my luck before next Sunday. But I’m happy with a solid finish there. I felt like we ran towards the front of the pack most of the race and it was nice to get familiar with how Chad (Johnston) talks on the radio and get familiar with my spotter again … I was glad I was able to miss some wrecks. It normally feels like I’m in every one of them here.”
Brad Keselowski (9th): “The Unlimited is always that way. You hope if you run up front you can avoid most of it. I didn’t get tore up until I fell back to fifth or sixth. I needed to stay in the top two or three but couldn’t pull it off. It is a very high aggression level race, and I think that is a good thing.”
Greg Biffle (10th): “These (cars) are getting harder and harder to pass. They are all the same speed. We are two- and three-wide and you can’t really do anything. The car drove good though. I was pretty happy with it. We kind of got in the wrong lane and I don’t know what happened to (Ryan Newman). I guess he thought he had a flat. We wrecked getting in down there and that took our chances away.”
Danica Patrick (11th): “The car felt really stable, as stable as I’ve had on a speedway in a long time. It felt pretty fast. It was really just a matter of, on these speedways having experience and being around for a long time pays off because it’s not really what’s in front of you that’s important, it’s what is behind you. I can do everything I can to follow a big line, but if nobody is behind me it really doesn’t matter. If I pull out to pass and nobody follows me it doesn’t really matter.”
Matt Kenseth (12th): “I didn’t do very good on pit road. We’ve got some work to do there to get our pit road speed a little closer and be able to see our stall. Obviously we wrecked. Other than that, I thought our performance was good. I was really happy with the speed of our car.”
Martin Truex Jr. (13th): “It’s just tough when you get in the middle of the pack to do anything, you know? The more you try to make moves – desperation moves – when you’re back there, the more spots you end up losing, so it’s a tough battle. You just really have got to stay patient and almost wait for guys to give you the spot.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (15th): “We learned a lot about our crash repair. When we tore the rocker panel off the car we didn’t have a way to mount the door to the car without the rocker, so we understand a little bit more about how to instant repair our car in situations like this. If we knew that stuff we probably wouldn’t have lost that many laps and might have had a chance to get some of them back and get back on the lead lap.”
Brian Vickers (24th): “It was a hard hit. They are never fun. You blow a right-rear tire, you hit driver-side at 200 (mph), but that is part of racing. That is all the risk we take. I’m fine. I feel fine. I was having fun. I was having a blast actually. It was just so much fun to get out there with those guys and rub fenders again and race hard. It’s such a fun race.”