Denny Hamlin picked up right where he left off after winning the final race of 2013 at Homestead-Miami. In fact, Hamlin went undefeated in the Sprint Unlimited, a 75 lap non-points race at Daytona to kick off the 2014 season. Denny won all three segments to claim the bragging rights. Hamlin passed Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski with two laps remaining in the final twenty lap segment. Keselowski finished second, followed by Kyle Busch, Logano and Kevin Harvick.
The evening’s race started under a full moon with temperatures quickly falling. Couple that with a non-points race at Daytona and you have the ingredients for the “Big One”. It was during the second segment on Lap 37. Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano made contact on the front stretch. This triggered a nine car wreck eliminating about half the field. Wadded up in the melee were Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Carl Edwards, Harvick, Danica Patrick and Jeff Gordon.
The race was red-flagged for 11 minutes to clean up debris and sheet metal. With only a handful of cars left, the race re-started and eventually came down to the final twenty lap segment. With only thirteen laps remaining, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had the lead. Remember that full moon ? Marcos Ambrose tagged Jr. and put him out of the race.
Following the race Hamlin said, “The best car won, that’s for sure.” “It was survival of the fittest for sure. This car was just phenomenal.” And if Saturday night’s wild ride was not enough to kick off the 2014 season, qualifying for the Daytona 500 resulted in the legendary No.3 becoming the leader of the pack.
Rookie Austin Dillon put his No.3 DOW Chevrolet SS on the pole for next Sunday’s Great American race. It’s the first time since 2001 the historic number 3 will appear in a Sprint Cup Series race. “You want to perform with the number 3; everyone wants to see it perform,” said Dillon in his media interview. “It’s a long season…. and this is one of the top points. I just have to stay grounded and have fun.”
This is the fourth time the No. 3 has won the pole for the Daytona 500, and its 67th NASCAR Sprint Cup pole, overall. In addition, Dillon , who won last year’s Nationwide Series Championship, becomes the fifth Rookie of the Year contender to win the pole for the Daytona 500. He joins Loy Allen Jr. (1994), Mike Skinner (1997), Jimmie Johnson (2002) and Danica Patrick (2013). Martin Truex Jr., now driving the No.78 Furniture Row Chevrolet, will start second on the front row next to Dillon.