Denny Hamlin continued Joe Gibbs Racing’s winning ways from the 2015 season with a trip to victory lane in tonight’s Sprint Unlimited, NASCAR’s annual all-star race to open the new season.
Tonight’s race was split into two segments with an opening 25-lap run and a final 50-lap battle to the checkered flag. Hamlin’s win was his third in the annual event and it was JGR’s fourth win in the last five years. Meanwhile Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch were caught up in accidents that ended their night prior to the checkered flag. Kenseth finished 12th, Edwards 16th, and Busch 17th.
Hamlin started from the 15th position on the grid and was content to ride in the back of the pack in hopes of avoiding any early-race accidents. The strategy didn’t work out quite as planned however when the 17 car spun down into the FedEx Express machine on lap 14 causing right side damage. But first-year crew chief Mike Wheeler showed no panic and the FedEx team was able to make the necessary repairs to keep Hamlin on the lead lap. Hamlin would go on to lead a race high five times for 36 laps and won a tight battle over a final green white checkered two-lap finish to earn the win.
Hamlin’s teammates were also strong on the 2.5-mile superspeedway tonight. In fact, all four JGR Camrys could be found at the front of the field and racing in the top seven late in the race. Unfortunately the 2 car would set off a major accident in the final laps when he turned the No. 19 ARRIS Toyota which creating a chain reaction that also collected Busch and his No. 18 M&M’S Toyota. Meanwhile Kenseth was hoping to put the No, 20 Dollar General Toyota in victory lane for a second consecutive year, but he would get caught in the night’s final accident when the 78 car spun down in front of his path. He would go on to be scored in 12th.
The starting front row for the Daytona 500 will be decided Sunday during a qualifying session at 1:30 PM. The rest of the line up for the Daytona 500 will be decided by a pair of Duel races on Thursday evening. Sunday’s qualifying session will be broadcast live on Fox at 1:30 PM, while the Duel races can be seen on Fox Sports 1 starting at 7 PM on Thursday.
The Great American Race will once again provide the official start to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season when Fox broadcasts the Daytona 500 live from Daytona International Speedway next Sunday, February 21 at 1 PM ET. The race will also be carried on Sirius NASCAR radio channel 90.