After starting on pole, Denny Hamlin would lead the most laps and worked his way to the front at the end of the Sprint Unlimited to pick up the win. It marks the second time that Hamlin has won the event as he won it in his rookie year in 2006.
“Best car won – that’s for sure,” he commented. “Can’t thank this team enough. We’re two in a row now. We’re building on something. We had a good car the whole night. It was survival of the fittest for sure.”
On the final restart with three to go, Hamlin sat in the eighth position. Using the draft to his advantage, he made his way to third with two laps to go and down the backstretch, would make a three-wide move on Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski to the lead. The momentum allowed him to build up a considerable lead and escape the pack.
“With three to go, we were at the tail end of a small pack and it was hard to get runs but we were able to,” he said.
Brad Keselowski finished second followed by Kyle Busch, who came back for a solid finish after sliding sideways and through the grass off of turn four. Joey Logano finished fourth followed by Kevin Harvick.
Harvick was one of the nine drivers involved in the big wreck back on lap six of the second segment. Matt Kenseth went to move down in the tri-oval, though he caught Logano, resulting in a pile-up that collected many drivers.
“Replay tells a lot more than I saw,” he commented. “I honestly had no idea that anyone was inside of me. I was watching my teammate there and trying to move down to help my team there. I guess hindsight I should’ve stayed up there. I didn’t know Joey was there. I thought I had a good half a car length and by the time I looked, he must’ve got a run and got down there.”
Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch all found themselves involved in the wreck with heavy damage as they got pinned up against the outside front stretch wall.
“That’s awfully expensive fun – but it is fun,” Edwards commented. “I did learn a bunch and that’s the key to this race even though we have a torn up car. Team worked hard and it sucks that we’re out. The night is about checkers or wreckers – and fortunately we’re on the other end of it.”
“The race started off calm and then all of a sudden business picked up,” Gordon mentioned. “I knew that they started stacking up and I was right there on Tony’s bumper. The closing rate with the higher spoiler is pretty severe. So maybe he didn’t know that Joey was there. That was a nasty wreck.”
“You just have to protect your spot,” Stewart said. “I’ve always said I’m not a big fan of blocking but it’s unfortunate that’s what you have to do. It was easy to get stalled out so if you got track position, you wanted to protect it.”
Fans were worried that Stewart may have further injured his leg as he is coming back from a broken leg, but Stewart said it feels pretty good.
“I was a little nervous but it feels pretty good,” he added. “We’ll see how it is once the adrenaline wears off.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. also was collected in the pile-up against the wall in the tri-oval, which caused the hood to fly up. Trying to see where he was going and avoid further trouble, Stenhouse would make heavy contact with his girlfriend Danica Patrick.
“I got to watch the replay but all I know is I hit someone real hard now; I couldn’t see. I found out after that it was her,” Stenhouse explained. “I tried to look over the hood and got into her. She probably would’ve fine without that. That’s not good. We should think about getting Nationwide Insurance on these cars because we tore up a lot tonight.”
Patrick thought that she had avoided the wreck as she went down low to avoid those who were wrecking, sliding sideways as her tires touched the grass. The contact from Stenhouse was a surprise.
“I’m sad that it got cut short,” she said. “I was learning a lot. Bummed for the team, bummed for Go Daddy. It was a great warm-up for me to learn about closing rates, saving it after contact, being in the draft. I saw them wrecking high so I went low and got hooked in the grass, came around. Thought I’d be fine and I got hit by my boyfriend. What a bummer, eh? Not the way I wanted it to go.”
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. also saw their nights cut short in seperate incidents.
Johnson would make heavy contact with the inside fronstretch wall at the end of the first segment when his car got loose trying to pass Hamlin.
“Racing hard trying to find way by Hamlin and the transition off of four there made the back of the car light and sent it into a lazy spin,” Johnson said.
Earnhardt’s night ended with 10 laps to go when he would made contact with the outside turn one wall after contact with Ambrose as they fought and blocked for positions.
“Hard racing. I hate it happened. I was upset with him but can’t say really it was his fault,” Earnhardt commented. “He was going to the outside and I didn’t know he was there. I thought he was staying with me because he had pushed me down the straightaway. A lot was happening there and I just got turned around.”
The night featured a lot of excitement as the pace car would catch fire under one of the late cautions.
With the exhibition race under their belts, drivers will now focus on qualifying for the Daytona 500 tomorrow.