Denny Hamlin won the first race of the NASCAR season, Daytona Sprint Unlimited, on Saturday evening after a tense race-long battle with Brad Keselowski. The opening race of the 2016 NASCAR Season serves as a precursory event to next Sunday’s Daytona 500, when the championship begins in earnest and drivers will score points.
The event began under the lights at Daytona Beach with a twenty-five strong grid, but a race of attrition – which saw three multi-car collisions – meant that just eight finished the race without damage.
Hamlin’s race actually started in tough conditions, after contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr caused damage to his Number 11 Joe Gibbs Camry and he had to stop for repairs. Brad Keselowski was in trouble too, as his Number 2 Penske Ford began overheating early in the race due to debris lodge in his radiator.
Lap 23 saw the first of three huge incidents, when an unfortunate Brian Vickers lost pressure in his right-rear tyre, careening across the track and taking Dale Earnhardt Jr, Greg Biffle, AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick with him. Vickers and the latter two retired on the spot, while the rest continued with damage; Junior falling five laps down on the leader.
After the crash the racing resumed on Lap 30 with Hamlin leading the way from Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Austin Dillon. The middle period of the race saw an intense scrap for the lead emerge between the 2 and 11 cars, with neither giving an inch.
Jimmie Johnson had not finished the previous four Sprint Unlimited events, and after he took miniscule contact with Paul Menard on Lap 45 and spun into the infield, it ensured he would not again in 2016. The spin took him through the grass, tearing off his front splitter and front-right fender with it.
Casey Kahne became the third Hendrick driver involved in an incident during the race, after Jamie McMurray attempted to bump-draft him. It did not go to plan, and the 5 car got loose, veering left, into the 47 of AJ Allmendinger.
With three to go another multi-car pile up ensued with sparring duo Keselowski and Carl Edwards making contact at the front, eliminating Edwards, Aric Almirola and reigning champion Kyle Busch from proceedings.
The race resumed and took NASCAR into its new ‘Overtime’ system, essentially a replacement for the old Green-White-Chequered arrangement which used to occur if there was a caution that would take the race through to the chequered flag. Instead the leader has to now reach the ‘Overtime Line’ – which varies from track to track – before the result will be taken, and two more laps will be run.
However, shortly after Hamlin passed this line in Daytona, another wreck behind him, including McMurray and Keselowsi, took out yet more cars, in effect freezing the field where they were and ensuring the victory for Hamlin.
1) Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Toyota, (1:32:16.000)
2) Joey Logano, Penske Ford (+0.924)
3) Paul Menard, Childress Chevrolet (+1.008)
4) Kyle Larson, Ganassi Chevrolet (+2.568)
5) Casey Mears, Germain Chevrolet (+3.733)
6) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Roush Fenway Ford (+3.896)
7) Kurt Busch, Stewart-Haas Chevrolet (+4.512)
8) Austin Dillon, Childress Chevrolet (+6.024)
9) Brad Keselowski, Penske Ford (+17.985)
10) Greg Biffle, Roush Fenway Ford (+26.858)
11) Danica Patrick, Stewart-Haas Chevrolet (+29.094)
12) Matt Kenseth, Joe Gibbs Toyota (+57.130)
13) Martin Truex Jr, Furniture Row Toyota (-1 lap)
14) Jamie McMurray, Ganassi Chevrolet (-1 lap)
15) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Hendrick Chevrolet (+4 laps)
Carl Edwards, Joe Gibbs Toyota (Collision, -7 laps)
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Toyota (Collision, -7 laps)
Aric Almirola, Petty Ford (Collision, -7 laps)
Ryan Newman, Childress Chevrolet (-10 laps)
Kasey Kahne, Hendrick Chevrolet (Brakes, -15 laps)
AJ Allmendinger,JTG Daugherty Chevrolet (Collision damage, -23 laps)
Jimmie Johnson, Hendrick Chevrolet (Spun Off, -36 laps)
Clint Bowyer, HScott Chevrolet (Collision damage, -56 laps)
Brian Vickers, Stewart-Haas Chevrolet (Collision, -57 laps)
Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Chevrolet (Collision, -57 laps)