NASCAR Sprint Unlimited: Denny Hamlin wins crash-strewn race

Denny Hamlin beat a crash-depleted field to win NASCAR's Sprint Unlimited non-championship curtain-raiser at Daytona on Saturday night

NASCAR Sprint Unlimited: Denny Hamlin wins crash-strewn race

Hamlin had taken pole when the fan vote determined that Friday practice times should set the grid, led the most laps, headed the field at the end of both of the first two segments, and then won the pitstop race that decided the restart order for the final 20-lap section.

Yet despite that on-paper dominance, the Joe Gibbs Toyota driver had to come from the back of the lead pack in the decisive sprint.

He took to the inside of Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch to go three-wide in a battle for the lead starting the final lap and then edged clear of the pair to secure the first win of the 2014 Sprint Cup season.

BIG CRASH HALVES FIELD

Just eight of the 18 cars that started the race - for which only 2013 pole-winners and previous Shootout victors were eligible - got as far as the closing laps.

Reigning champion Jimmie Johnson had spun into the infield wall when running second at the end of the first segment.

The major flashpoint came early in part two, when Matt Kenseth moved down on Joey Logano and was sent spinning.

Kenseth collected Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards, with Stenhouse then slamming into Danica Patrick as she tried to recover after spinning in avoidance.

Although a red flag was required to clear up, and only Harvick's car was fit to continue, all drivers involved were unhurt.

There were two more incidents in the final 20-lap segment. While Busch was able to catch a spin - caused by a brush with Keselowski - and rejoin, Dale Earnhardt Jr's night ended when he was helped into the wall by an apologetic Marcos Ambrose.

That left eight surviving cars for the final five-lap shootout, with Penske team-mates Logano and Keselowski battling for the lead with Busch before Hamlin's decisive move.

Logano and Harvick were fourth and fifth. Jamie McMurray, Ambrose and Ryan Newman completed a small and bruised field covered by just seven tenths of a second at the flag.

Not even the course cars got through the night unscathed. A change of pace car was required during the caution for Busch's spin after the original began smoking and then caught fire.

Results - 75 laps:

Pos  Driver              Team/Car                    Time/Gap
 1.  Denny Hamlin        Joe Gibbs Toyota        1h18m35.000s
 2.  Brad Keselowski     Penske Ford                  +0.197s
 3.  Kyle Busch          Joe Gibbs Toyota             +0.444s
 4.  Joey Logano         Penske Ford                  +0.505s
 5.  Kevin Harvick       Stewart-Haas Chevrolet       +0.578s
 6.  Jamie McMurray      Ganassi Chevrolet            +0.705s
 7.  Marcos Ambrose      Petty Ford                   +0.761s
 8.  Ryan Newman         Childress Chevrolet          +0.769s

Retirements:

     Dale Earnhardt Jr   Hendrick Chevrolet           65 laps
     Matt Kenseth        Joe Gibbs Toyota             35 laps
     Tony Stewart        Stewart-Haas Chevrolet       35 laps
     Jeff Gordon         Hendrick Chevrolet           35 laps
     Carl Edwards        Roush Fenway Ford            35 laps
     Kurt Busch          Stewart-Haas Chevrolet       35 laps
     Ricky Stenhouse Jr  Roush Fenway Ford            35 laps
     Danica Patrick      Stewart-Haas Chevrolet       35 laps
     Jimmie Johnson      Hendrick Chevrolet           28 laps
     Terry Labonte       Go FAS Ford                    1 lap
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