DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Recap by Race Chaser Online Mid-Atlantic Correspondent Marshall Gabell – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images North America photo –
Amidst torn up racecars, post-race tempers and a nail biting finish, Matt Kenseth returned to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Victory Lane for the first time since Speedweeks a season ago during Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.
Kenseth celebrated his first-career win in NASCAR’s traditional non-points season opener after leading 21 of the 75 scheduled laps on the night.
Officially, it was the Wisconsin native’s first time atop the scoring pylon since winning his Budweiser Duel in 2014.
“There’s nothing like winning,” Kenseth explained. “That’s why we come out and do this every week. Getting a win was the best part for us. Obviously that’s the best part of the night, when you’re not tore up, you’re sitting here talking to you guys, means you had a good day.
Along with winning the non-points race, Kenseth got to work with new Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Carl Edwards throughout the race – an experience he thinks will help throughout the remainder of Speedweeks, as well as in the 57th annual Daytona 500 next weekend.
“Whenever you do these kind of races, you always want to take care of your teammates the best you can,” Kenseth said. “Like I always tell those guys, if you got a chance to help each other, you need to do it, but only if it doesn’t hurt your own efforts.
“I tried to help Carl as much as I could without me losing the lead. It would be silly to stick in the bottom groove to help him, then watch a car pass me and neither one of us win. You try to help each other the best you can, you know, without hurting your own effort.”
Right in Kenseth’s tire tracks until the checkered flag, Furniture Row Racing driver Martin Truex Jr. opened his 2015 campaign on a high note after leading 28 laps and scoring a runner up result. Truex had a run on Kenseth coming off of turn four and tried to sneak to the inside of the No. 20 Toyota, to no avail.
”What a hot rod we had. After the last year and a half I’ve had, I really needed that,” Truex said after climbing from his machine. ”These guys really needed a shot in the arm. I’m just really proud of their efforts over the winter time. I’m really excited about this week.”
Rounding out the podium was the aforementioned Edwards, which excited his new car owner Joe Gibbs following the result as he thought about the possibilities.
“I went over and found Carl, thanked him for everything,” Gibbs said. “He was happy. To put all that together, work that hard, get everything done, get down here, then to be able to race, have a real good race, I thought he was really pleased with the way everything worked out.”
Germain Racing’s Casey Mears and 2015 Rolex 24 co-winner Kyle Larson rounded out the top five — after both drivers benefited from avoiding wrecks that knocked multiple drivers from contention.
Team Penske’s Joey Logano, three-time Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon, Kenseth’s teammate Kyle Busch, defending Daytona 500 champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Danica Patrick capped off the top ten.
Four cautions during the 37th annual Sprint Unlimited left just 12 cars of the 25 starters on-track at the finish — and massive carnage in their wake.
One of the cautions, which came out on Lap 46, was labeled the ‘Big One’ after 14 machines were involved – the incident starting after Jamie McMurray was turned into the pack with help from Greg Biffle.
Last season’s Sprint Unlimited winner Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, polesitter Paul Menard, Kasey Kahne, and Jimmie Johnson were among the cars who suffered severe damage.
“It was a matter of time before we were going to wreck,” Hamlin said after the accident. “We were side-drafting so aggressively from the first lap of the race. We were trying to get to front and protect our track position, because we knew this was coming. I just couldn’t get there quick enough.”
Following that wreck, the race went green until Lap 63 when the third caution flew as Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got into each other and ended up with damaged race cars.
Once the track was cleared from that multi-car crash, the race would see just one more caution, but it was a wild one — involving Stewart-Haas drivers Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart and also collecting Greg Biffle – all three drivers were unable to continue.
And with just five laps remaining following the skirmishes, Kenseth would jump out to a huge advantage on the restart and fend back Truex’s last lap charge en route to the win.
However, there was more drama on pit road between Logano and Harvick, two rivals that have gotten under each other’s skin before, after the race concluded.
Harvick was upset due to Logano pushing him into the wall in the final few laps; of course the two competitors had opposing opinions – a disagreement that led to a heated discussion and momentary shoving before the two were separated.
“You can’t just drive somebody straight in the corner into the fence,” Harvick said. “He kind of did the same thing to me at Talladega and I told him, ‘The karma train is coming after you’ and it bit him right in the a–. You can’t race like that.”
Logano saw the confrontation as Harvick hoping to instigate something.
“He’s just Kevin,” Logano said. “He’s an instigator, right? It’s the same thing he is every other time he talks to someone. It’s the same old crap. It just happens all the time. No big deal. It’s whatever. I understand his frustration, but I was trying to help out and get to the front and try to win this thing”
Along with the Harvick altercation, Patrick also was upset with Logano about his driving skills, something that led her to make comments over her team radio.
“Those Penske guys are going to have something coming to them,” Patrick said over the radio, whether she was defending her teammate or it was over a separate incident is unknown.
After learning about Patrick’s comments, Logano was left speechless and confused.
“I don’t know,” Logano expressed. “I am confused. I don’t know what going on right now.”
The Sprint Cup Series field, including Patrick, Harvick and Logano, now prepare for tomorrow’s group qualifying that will set the front row for the Great American Race. Coverage begins at 1:00 p.m. local time on FOX.
RESULTS: Sprint Unlimited; Daytona International Speedway; February 14, 2015
- Matt Kenseth
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Carl Edwards
- Casey Mears
- Kyle Larson
- Joey Logano
- Jeff Gordon
- Kyle Busch
- Dale Earnhardt Jr
- Danica Patrick
- Kevin Harvick
- Ryan Newman
- Tony Stewart
- Greg Biffle
- Kurt Busch
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
- Austin Dillon
- Aric Almirola
- Denny Hamlin
- Clint Bowyer
- Paul Menard
- Jimmie Johnson
- Kasey Kahne
- Jamie McMurray
- Brad Keselowski