January 26th, 2015
The key to winning Saturday Night’s Sprint Unlimited was to survive. Following an eight car wreck in the second segment, the field was cut down to half. The remaining half put on quite the show that came down to the final few laps. It was Denny Hamlin outsmarting the field when he sprinted out ahead on the last lap. Hamlin was able to hold his position as his closest challengers in Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Kyle Busch weren’t able to catch up.
What was seen from the very beginning was a very competitive race. Under the new restrictor plate package teams have, drivers were able to race each other like NASCAR hasn’t seen in years. Passing occurred often and the lead changes kept coming throughout the night.
With the virtue of fans voting to set the starting lineup by final practice speeds, Denny Hamlin began the race out front. Like other drivers throughout the night, he couldn’t hold the lead for too long. The first segment stayed rather uneventful until the final lap when Jimmie Johnson crashed coming to the line.
Johnson got a bit lose racing down the short shoot prior the tri-oval and spun himself down towards the inside wall. The left side of the No.48 car slammed the inside wall and ended Johnson’s night.
The big one struck just six laps into the second segment. As the cars shuffled all around going down the frontstretch, Matt Kenseth came down on Joey Logano. Logano got into Kenseth, turning Kenseth around mid-pack. Kenseth came up the track and hit Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon, sending all three into the wall. Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Carl Edwards were also was collected.
A late hit involving Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick concluded the wreck as Stenhouse Jr. absolutely destroyed a side of the No.10 car. Patrick had managed to only spin through the wreck and was in the clear until Stenhouse Jr. clipped her. Patrick described the wreck by saying “I got hit by my boyfriend, what a bummer.” All cars but the No.4 had their day ended in the incident.
Once the race resumed with only nine cars remaining, a sprint to the finish was on. Hamlin led following the second segment and restarted first in the final round as he was the first to emerge off of pit road.
Prior to the start of the final segment, the pace car experienced an issue as the cockpit filled with smoke and the trunk caught on fire. Pace car driver Brett Bodine was able to exit quickly and the fire was put out without causing any injuries.
Reminiscing on his 2012 Sprint Unlimited performance, Kyle Busch made a miraculous save on Lap 60. Busch came down the track and got into Brad Keselowski, which sent Busch’s car sliding down towards the grass. As Busch hit the apron, he saved the car from spinning out any further. He would go on to contend for the victory, but come up short and finish third.
The fifth and final yellow flag of the night came out on Lap 65 for Dale Earnhardt Jr. His car squirmed around heading into turn 1 and got tagged by Marcos Ambrose. Earnhardt Jr. hit the wall and lost his chance at victory. “Marcos went to the outside and I didn’t know he was out there” was Earnhardt Jr.’s description of the event.
The race concluded with many drives shuffling around at the front of the field. It was Denny Hamlin getting out front at the right time on the final lap as he was able to stay out front long enough to take the victory. It was Hamlin’s second Unlimited win as he last took victory during his rookie season in 2006.
The Sprint Cup Series will hit the track again tomorrow when the cars will compete for the Daytona 500 pole.
|1||1||11||Denny Hamlin||FedEx Express||Toyota||75||$201,139||Running||27|
|2||5||2||Brad Keselowski||Miller Lite||Ford||75||$97,380||Running||8|
|4||11||22||Joey Logano||Shell Pennzoil||Ford||75||$48,380||Running||11|
|5||6||4||Kevin Harvick||Jimmy John’s||Chevrolet||75||$47,355||Running||6|
|9||14||88||Dale Earnhardt Jr||National Guard||Chevrolet||65||$40,580||Accident||7|
|10||16||20||Matt Kenseth||Dollar General||Toyota||35||$39,080||Accident||0|
|11||9||14||Tony Stewart||Mobil 1-Bass Pro Shops||Chevrolet||35||$38,580||Accident||0|
|12||13||24||Jeff Gordon||Drive to End Hunger||Chevrolet||35||$38,080||Accident||0|
|14||10||41||Kurt Busch||Haas Automation||Chevrolet||35||$36,080||Accident||0|
|15||3||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr||Nationwide Insurance||Ford||35||$35,580||Accident||0|
|17||18||48||Jimmie Johnson||Lowe’s-Kobalt Tools||Chevrolet||28||$32,580||Accident||0|
|18||15||32||Terry Labonte||C&J Energy Services||Ford||1||$30,580||Vibration||0|