Skip to content

Wild night: Denny Hamlin avoids 9-car wreck, pace car fire en route to Sprint Unlimited win

Feb 15, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT

AAA 400 - Practice Getty Images

After winning last year’s season finale at Homestead Miami Speedway, Denny Hamlin picked up where he left off by starting the new 2014 season with a win in Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.

Hamlin, who started the night from the pole, was the class of the field, leading 27 laps across the three segments of the 75-lap exhibition race to win the entire event.

It was further affirmation that Hamlin is fully back from last year’s devastating wreck early in the year at Fontana, Calif., that knocked him out for four races and forced him to drive in pain for most of the remainder of the season.

But his win at Homestead was the best medicine Hamlin could ask for and provided momentum and motivation not only coming into Saturday night’s race, but certainly for next Sunday’s Daytona 500 and the rest of the 36-race season.

“The best car won, that’s for sure,” Hamlin said of his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry. “We’re two in a row and building on something. It was survival of the fittest, for sure. With three (laps) to go, we were at the tail end of a very small pack and it’s really hard to get a run, but this car was just phenomenal.”

What started as an 18-driver field ended with only eight cars remaining at the end. Brad Keselowski finished second, followed by Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Marcos Ambrose and Ryan Newman.

With a full moon shining down on the track, it was perhaps one of the strangest nights of racing NASCAR has seen in a long time.

It started with defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson spinning out by himself and ending his night early by slamming into the inside retaining wall on the final lap of the first segment, a 30-lap affair.

On the sixth lap of the 25-lap second segment, a massive nine-car wreck brought out a race-stopping red flag. The mayhem began when Matt Kenseth cut down on the front end of Joey Logano, triggering the wreck.

Drivers involved in the wreck were Danica Patrick, Carl Edwards, Kenseth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Logano, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch.

The night grew even stranger when the final part of the big wreck resulted in Stenhouse slamming into the side of his girlfriend’s car.

Stenhouse was unable to see where he was going due to damage incurred in the first split seconds of the crash. To her credit, Patrick avoided all of the slamming and banging around her and slid to a stop – only to have her boyfriend run into her and end her night.

Earlier in the day, hours before the Sprint Unlimited during practice for Sunday’s front row qualifying session, Patrick and Stewart suffered motor failure in engines leased from Hendrick Motorsports. Patrick and Stewart drove different cars with different motors in the Sprint Unlimited.

But wait, it got even stranger: As Hamlin and the other eight drivers that were left to start the final segment came to the green flag, the pace car caught fire! (See video below)

The pace car was quickly brought to a halt and track fire and safety personnel converged upon it to put out the small blaze — certainly nothing like the inferno that took place in the 2012 Daytona 500 when Juan Pablo Montoya slammed into the rear of a track jet dryer.

Other things of note in Saturday’s strange night:

* Kyle Busch went on a wild single-car ride when he spun out in the third segment, but was able to regain control and continue on early in the final segment, rallying for a third-place finish.

* Dale Earnhardt Jr. was knocked out of the race midway through the final 20-lap segment when he was hooked into the outside retaining wall by Marcos Ambrose.

Before taking his mangled car to the garage, Earnhardt managed to catch up with Ambrose on the track and expressed his displeasure at what happened.

But after climbing from his car and watching a TV replay, Earnhardt backed off on fully blaming Ambrose for the incident.

“It looks like I was trying to get down there and Marcos went to the outside and I didn’t know he was there,” Earnhardt said. “Hard racing and I hate to have it happen.

“I was upset with him, but I can’t really say it was his fault. He was going to the outside and I didn’t know he was up there. I thought he was staying with me because he’d been pushing me down the straightaway. I thought he was committed to that situation, and a lot was happening right there, and we just got turned around.”

While Earnhardt’s night was over at that point, Ambrose was able to continue on.

All in all, the Sprint Unlimited may not have played out the way many had hoped, but in the end a strange night ended with an exciting finish and a great storyline for the winning driver. We can only hope that next Sunday’s Daytona 500 plays out that well.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Latest Posts
  1. Richard Petty to return at Richmond, first race since wife Lynda’s death

    Apr 24, 2014, 5:21 PM EDT

    Richard Petty AP

    According to driver Aric Almirola, team owner Richard Petty is expected to attend Saturday’s NASCAR Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway. It will be the first time that Petty has been at a racetrack since the death of his beloved wife Lynda on March 25.

  2. NASCAR VP: 2015 Sprint Cup engine package to be revealed before All-Star Race

    Apr 24, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    GoBowling.com 400 Getty Images

    Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s senior vice president of racing operations, says that the process of finalizing the ’15 engine package is underway.

  3. Too much, too fast, too soon: The sad saga of Swan Racing

    Apr 24, 2014, 3:37 PM EDT

    Brandon Davis, majority owner of what is now the essentially defunct Swan Racing. (Photo courtesy Swan Racing) Brandon Davis, majority owner of what is now the essentially defunct Swan Racing. (Photo courtesy Swan Racing)

    Brandon Davis did all he could to keep Swan Racing afloat. But even a multi-millionaire oil and gas industrialist can only bleed so much money before deciding to throw a red flag on the operation. When anticipated funding and sponsorship failed to materialized, the two-team operation sank so fast that Davis had no other choice but to essentially go out of business.

  4. McLaren set to carry out aggressive series of upgrades

    Apr 24, 2014, 1:40 PM EDT

    F1 Grand Prix of China Getty Images

    Team racing director Eric Boullier says that upgrades to the MP4-29 have been planned out to the British Grand Prix in July.

  5. RLL seeks to conquer Barber’s flowing nature, and improve qualifying

    Apr 24, 2014, 12:44 PM EDT

    Rahal Getty Images

    Improved qualifying will likely yield greater results for RLL Racing at Barber this weekend.

  6. KV pair looks for results in Barber

    Apr 24, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT

    BourdaisBarber1 Getty Images

    Sebastien Bourdais, Sebastian Saavedra seek their best weekends of the year at the Barber Motorsports Park event.

  7. Indy 500 car count update: Four more driver/car combos needed for 33

    Apr 24, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT

    Indianapolis 500 Getty Images

    Dale Coyne’s team, plus a handful of others will need to assemble programs shortly to bring the Indianapolis 500 car count number up to 33, and perhaps beyond.

  8. Andretti Autosport seeks big rebound weekend at Barber

    Apr 24, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT

    RHR-Barber Getty Images

    After Long Beach debacle, Andretti Autosport looks to right the ship, get second straight Barber win this weekend.

  9. Unfinished business for Newgarden at Barber

    Apr 24, 2014, 8:45 AM EDT

    NewgyLB Getty Images

    Looking for a second straight fast, solid weekend, Josef Newgarden and the SFHR team seek an improvement on P9 in 2013 at Barber.

  10. IndyCar: Will high grip and high tempers equal high drama at Barber?

    Apr 24, 2014, 8:00 AM EDT

    Barber-Preview Getty Images

    Round 3 of the Verizon IndyCar Series could be a humdinger at Barber with high drama, high tempers possible after Long Beach.

  11. NASCAR Minute: Marcos Ambrose happy with 2014 start (VIDEO)

    Apr 23, 2014, 7:00 PM EDT

    Cheez-It 355 - Practice Getty Images

    RPM’s Marcos Ambrose on his start to the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

  12. NHRA drag racing superstar John Force goes on vacation — at a dragstrip, of course

    Apr 23, 2014, 6:53 PM EDT

    AP Photo/John Force Racing, Elon Werner AP Photo/John Force Racing, Elon Werner

    John Force is your classic workaholic.

    Even when he’s on vacation and supposed to be resting and relaxing and taking things slow, the record-setting 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ never stops working. Force was on vacation with his family last weekend in St. Croix, Virgin Islands, a prelude to his upcoming 65th birthday on May 4.

  13. Swan Racing restructures, splits up two-car Sprint Cup operation

    Apr 23, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT

    Food City 250 - Qualifying Getty Images

    Swan Racing has restructured its two-car Sprint Cup team, the organization announced Wednesday afternoon. Minority owner Anthony Marlowe has merged his ownership stake in the No. 26 Toyota driven by Sprint Cup rookie Cole Whitt with BK Racing, which now expands to a three-car operation. Meanwhile, the No. 30 team has been sold to John Cohen, owner of XxxTreme Motorsports.

  14. Three-year extension for IndyCar at Long Beach approved by City Council

    Apr 23, 2014, 5:51 PM EDT

    Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Getty Images

    IndyCars confirmed to “roar by the shore” through 2018 after Long Beach City Council meeting.

  15. Healed from heart surgery, 4-time NHRA Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson back in the saddle this weekend in Houston

    Apr 23, 2014, 5:11 PM EDT

    Four-time NHRA Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson makes his 2014 season debut this weekend in Houston after undergoing off-season heart surgery. (Photo courtesy NHRA) Four-time NHRA Pro Stock champ Greg Anderson makes his 2014 season debut this weekend in Houston after undergoing off-season heart surgery. (Photo courtesy NHRA)

    The vacation of sorts is over for drivers in the Pro Stock class of the NHRA. Things are going to get a lot rougher from here on out. The reason? Former Pro Stock world champ Greg Anderson will make his return from off-season surgery at this weekend’s O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals at Houston’s Royal Purple Raceway.

  16. Trevor Bayne spends off-weekend racing and winning in a different way

    Apr 23, 2014, 4:10 PM EDT

    Dupont Pioneer 250 Getty Images

    The next time someone says they doubt that NASCAR drivers are athletes, show them this story. NASCAR Nationwide Series driver and 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne spent the Easter off-weekend competing in a different type of race – and he wound up winning. In just his second career sprint triathlon (also known as a short-distance triathlon that features a 750-meter swim, 20k-bike ride and a 5k-run), Bayne captured the TryCharleston sprint triathlon in South Carolina.

  17. It’s official: Redskins QB RG III to drive pace car at Richmond for Saturday’s Sprint Cup race

    Apr 23, 2014, 3:13 PM EDT

    RGIII_Richmond Getty Images

    Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is used to beatin’ and bangin’ on a football field. There certainly will be a lot of that in Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway. And RG III will have a front row seat to all the action as the track announced Wednesday that the ‘Skins’ QB will serve as honorary pace car driver for the race.

  18. Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama highlights motorsports coverage on NBCSN this week

    Apr 23, 2014, 2:28 PM EDT

    Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama - Day 3 Getty Images

    NBCSN’s coverage of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series continues this week with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET, highlighting more than 15 hours of motorsports coverage this week, which includes Mecum Auctions coverage from Kansas City. NBC Sports Live Extra – NBC Sports Group’s live streaming product for desktops, mobile devices, and tablets – will stream coverage of the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama and Mecum Auctions via “TV Everywhere.”

  19. WATCH LIVE: NASCAR AMERICA at 5 pm ET – Hamlin, recap first 8 races, Richmond nuances, Virginia racing history

    Apr 23, 2014, 1:44 PM EDT

    140423-NASCAR-AMERICA

    As the NASCAR world returns from its Easter break, Wednesday on NASCAR AMERICA we start our in-depth focus on this Saturday’s race at Richmond International Raceway. Leigh Diffey and Wally Dallenbach will host from our Stamford, Conn., studios. Remember to tune in at at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra for online or mobile device.

  20. FIA WEC: Ram Racing withdraws from Spa

    Apr 23, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT

    RAM Racing AP

    Privateer GTE team forced to pull out of next FIA WEC over financial issues.

Today on NASCAR AMERICA

More from NASCAR America

Ambrose happy with start of season
Top 10 NASCAR Driver Searches
  1. P. Kligerman (1515)
  2. C. Whitt (1403)
  3. B. Jones (1339)
  4. J. Boston (1204)
  5. B. Myers (1173)
  1. T. Hessert (1166)
  2. A. Seuss (1080)
  3. B. Loftin (1060)
  4. J. Myers (1059)
  5. L. Fleming (974)

Featured video

Lewis Hamilton thanks his 'angels'