Denny Hamlin raced his battle scarred Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to overtime win in the NASCAR Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway Saturday night. It was Hamlin’s third win in the non-points exhibition race, and his second in the last three years.
Hamlin pitted on the 13th of the 75 scheduled laps and was able to stretch out his fuel and avoid the worst of the carnage that left only 8 of the 25 cars to cross the line in the end. The race featured the first use of NASCAR’s new overtime line that allowed for multiple attempts at a green white checkered flag finish. Hamlin and Joey Logano were side by side for the lead and took the white flag but Hamlin was able to pull ahead as behind them a six car pileup erupted. Hamlin held a clear lead into turn three when NASCAR threw the final caution giving the win to Hamlin.
“It was just such a dilemma for me to figure out what lane to start in,” Hamlin said. “I had gotten good pushes from Matt (Kenseth) all night long, and I hated leaving him in that top line, but I felt like I’d had success on the bottom all night, and I didn’t want to leave it for that final restart.”
The race featured seven cautions and included several multicar crashes. And featured a total of four overtime laps. Behind Logano Paul Menard was third, Kyle Larson was fourth and Casey Mears fifth. Kenseth was scored 12th.
Keselowski led early but had debris on his grill and was forced to drop back on lap 10. . Caution number one flew on lap 12, when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun after losing a tire; Hamlin suffered some damage when Stenhouse spun down into him. Both pitted with damage. Keselowski’s car continued to overheat with a large piece of plastic on the grill. Half the field pitted on the next lap for service, including Keselowski who needed to have water put in his engine. The front seven led by Jamie McMurray, stayed out. Larson was second, Jimmie Johnson third, Mears fourth, and Joey Logano fifth.
On lap 23, Brian Vickers, subbing for Tony Stewart, lost a right rear tire and spun down into Dale Earnhardt Jr. and back up the track collecting Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer Kurt Busch was able to avoid the melee but did suffer slight damage. Also getting damage were Greg Biffle, and AJ Allmendinger. Both drivers and Busch were the only ones able to continue. The leaders pitted, but Hamlin stayed out and took the lead. Keselowski and Hamlin would swap the lead as the laps wound down.
With three laps to go the final caution flew. As the field exited turn two, Kurt Busch shot up to the outside wall, but up front Carl Edwards got up into Keselowski sitting off a multi-car crash that included Mears, Kyle Busch, and Aric Almirola and setting up on overtime finish. On the final restart the field made a lap cleanly as Hamlin and Logano were side by side. As the white flag flew Hamlin and Logano were still side by side, but as the back of the field entered turn one, a multi-car crash erupted. Up front Hamlin took a clear lead and the caution came out as he entered turn 3 and cruised to the finish line. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was sixth, Larson seventh, Austin Dillon eighth with Keselowski and Greg Biffle rounding out the top 10. The full results can be found here.