Hamlin wins Sprint Unlimited under the lights at Daytona International Speedway

Danica Patrick, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Tony Stewart caught up in wrecks

Denny Hamlin wins crash-marred Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway / Headline Surfer®Videos uploaded from YouTube / FOX Sports / for use by Headline Surfer®
Dale Earhardt Jr. and Marcos Ambrose get tangled up in a crash during the Sprint Unlimited. Even the pace car gets caught up in the act, catching fire. In the second video, Denny Hamlin holds onto the lead to take the checkerwd flag.
 
Photo graphic/ NASCAR Media / for Headline Surfer®
Denny Hamlin celebrates his win in Saturday night's Sprint Unlimited, kicking off Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway, which will be capped by the Daytona 500 a week from Sunday.

DAYTONA BEACH -- Denny Hamlin managed to avoid the carnage that collected some of NASCAR's big name drivers -- Danica Patrick, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Tony Stewart -- to take the checkered flag for the Sprint Unlimited tonight under the lights at Daytona International Speedway.

Denny Hamlin takes the green flag to start the Sprint Un limited Saturday at Daytona / Headline Surfer®Hamlin kicked off Budweiser Speedweeks 2014 with a strong showing 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.”

“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.”

Hamlin’s teammate, Kyle Busch, finished third despite a spin in Turn 4 with 15 laps to go.

Busch expertly commanded the No. 18 Toyota and received minimal damage.

“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.” 

"It's been a great start to Speedweeks obviously," Hamlin said in a post-race press conference. "This is a very small part of what goes into this weekend, or these two weeks.," he said. "But obviously it feels good to have all the accomplishments that we've had in such a short amount of time."

Hamlin, a former Sprint Cup champion, told Headline Surfer and other media outlets his team was "motivated anyway for the start of this year, and obviously expectations were really high within our team. But this obviously gives us even more."

Asked how winning the very first race of 2014 Speedweeks at Daytona felt, Hamlin was matter of fact in his assessment as a driver looking to take charge -- and who did just that.

"When I feel comfortable in the car, especially in long runs and everything, you know, I can do just about anything I need to be a race winner" Hamlin said.

"When I feel comfortable in the car, especially in long runs and everything, you know, I can do just about anything I need to be a race winner" Hamlin said.

The field for the non-points race 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.

Though he got caught up in a late-lap crash, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was the driver the fans clearly came out to see and when his name was announced in the driver introductions, the crowd roared.

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 the late 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.

King's wife, singer Shawn King, performed the National Anthem.

Enfinger captures Lucas Oil race

Grant Enfinger captured his first victory at Daytona International Speedway in Saturday night’s 80-lap Lucas Oil 200 Presented By MAVTV American Real. Enfinger, who rolled off second in his fourth start in the season-opener for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards, first raced at Daytona in go karts with his dad. He has also raced on the 2.5-mile tri-oval in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, finishing 12th in 2012.

Despite two wins in the ARCA Series in 2013, Enfinger was awaiting the win that would propel his career; he now has it. “This means everything to everybody,” Enfinger said of winning at the historic track. “Everybody knows Daytona, everybody knows this race. More than just personally and career-wise – which is great for me and for BCR (Racing) – we put ourselves on the map last year with a couple wins, but to (win) here, in front of everybody – the biggest crowd, the biggest spectator race we have all year – is just an incredible feeling.

“This (win) is one of those things that hasn’t sunk in yet,” Enfinger continued. “I’m feeling it, but it hasn’t sunk in yet. It’s just incredible. I wish my family could have been here because this is something we’ve dreamed of for a long time.”

Finishing second and tallying his ninth top-five finish in 23 starts in the kick-off race to Budweiser Speedweeks 2014, was 10-time ARCA Series champion Frank Kimmel, who despite his career accolades, has yet to visit Gatorade Victory Lane at Daytona.

Following Kimmel across the finish line was Martinsville Speedway president Clay Campbell, Tom Hessert and top-finishing rookie Tyler Reddick.

There were also some familiar last names participating in the race. Chase Elliott, son of 11-time Daytona winner and owner of the fastest qualifying speed in a stock car at DIS, Bill Elliott, stayed near the front of the pack for the majority of the race and finished ninth.

Jeb Burton, son of Daytona 500 champion Ward Burton, finished 29th and Justin Allison, grandson of Donnie Allison and great-nephew of Bobby Allison, finished 36th.

TICKETS for the Daytona 500:

Tickets for NASCAR’s biggest, richest and most prestigious race – the 56th annual DAYTONA 500 on Sunday, Feb. 23 – start at $65 and are available at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP. Fans can follow NASCAR on Twitter (@NASCAR) and stay up to speed on the latest news by using hashtags #NASCAR, #DAYTONA500 and #ROADTODAYTONA. Stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest for the latest news all season long.

Fans can also follow the latest on DAYTONA Rising, the $400 million frontstretch renovation at the “World Center of Racing” by using #DAYTONARising on Twitter or visiting www.daytonarising.com.

Information from NASCAR Media and Daytona International Speedway's Andrew Booth were used in the reporting of this Headline Surfer® story.

About the Headline Surfer® writer:

 

 
 
 
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Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via HeadlineSurfer.com for a decade now. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed dozens of journalism-industry awards in print anddigital platforms. Frederick is enrolled at Full Sail University in Winter Garden, FL, where he's three-fourths through the online Master of Arts program in New Media Journalism. His graduation is in August.