First win of the season goes to Joe Gibbs Racing.
Denny Hamlin kicked off Budweiser Speedweeks 2014 with a strong showing under the lights in the star-studded Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.
After keeping the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Toyota out front for a race-high 27 of the 75 laps, and being the lead car at the end of the first two segments, Hamlin fittingly resumed his place at the head of the pack to lead the final lap around the 2.5-mile tri-oval and take the victory.
“The best car won, that’s for sure,” Hamlin said in Gatorade Victory Lane. “We’ve had a good car all weekend. It was survival of the fittest for sure. With three (laps) to go, we’re at the tail end of a very small pack and it’s really hard to get runs, but this car was just phenomenal and you saw it those last couple laps."
“Once I got going on the apron, I didn’t even know where straight was on the steering wheel,” Busch said of the spin. He also had complimentary words regarding his teammate.
“(Denny) won the last race of the year at Homestead, was the quickest in practice by doing what he needed to do to get a quick lap in practice for sitting on the pole for this race tonight, then he wins tonight,” Busch said. “He’s on fire right now. He’s good, he’s fast, he’s ready.”
The field consisted of 18 drivers – the 16 pole winners from the 2013 season and two past Sprint Unlimited winners who attempted to qualify for at least one Sprint Cup race last season.
Fans controlled three details of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series non-points event. Their first vote separated the 75-lap race into three segments of 30, 25 and 20 laps, respectively. The second vote, which was to determine the starting lineup by final practice speeds – gave Denny Hamlin the pole with Jamie McMurray alongside of him. The third vote based the final segment restart order on a mandatory two-tire pit stop, with the first car off pit road the leader being Hamlin.
Tony Stewart made his return to competition after suffering season-ending injuries last summer. Stewart, who is second to Dale Earnhardt Sr. on Daytona International Speedway’s all-time win list, did not get a chance to notch another victory at the “World Center of Racing” after he was involved in an incident early on in the second segment.
Through Daytona Rewards, some lucky fans were able to partake in the events of the evening, winning opportunities like presenting The Sprint Unlimited trophy in Gatorade Victory Lane, serving as Grand Marshal and riding in the Grand Marshal car during the pace laps, attending the drivers’ meeting, serving as an honorary pit crew member and having their photo taken with the winning driver.
Legendary television and radio journalist Larry King served as co-Grand Marshal of The Sprint Unlimited At Daytona alongside two race fans after his wife, singer Shawn King, performed the National Anthem.