Denny Hamlin won a race of attrition Saturday night, beating just seven other cars to the finish of the exhibition Sprint Unlimited.
Only eight cars finished the 75-lap showcase at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., on a bizarre night that saw Ricky Stenhouse Jr. end girlfriend Danica Patrick’s race and the Chevrolet pace car catch fire.
“When you think you’ve seen it all, then you see that. It’s never-ending,” second-place finisher Brad Keselowski said about the pace car fire. “I thought it was a race car. Someone said it was the pace car, and I couldn’t help but start laughing.”
The victory proved that Hamlin has finally fully recovered from the fractured vertebra that cost him five races last season and caused him to struggle for months after his return. But he closed out the year with a victory – his only win of 2013 – in the season finale, and made that momentum last over the offseason.
The third and final segment of the race was a 20-lap sprint to the finish, and it had the second fewest number of drivers taking the checkered flag in event history. Only seven drivers finished the 1981 race.
Hamlin charged to the front right before he took the white flag by diving to the inside and sailing past the few cars on the track.
“That was survival of the fittest for sure,” said Hamlin, also the winner as a rookie in 2006.
This year’s race had a heavy fan involvement as sponsor Sprint allowed fans to vote for various aspects of the race. Among them was the starting order, how the segments were split and how the cars lined up in the final segment.
But it was mostly for naught as half the 18-car field was knocked out six laps into the second segment when Matt Kenseth cut across the front of Joey Logano. That triggered a nine-car accident on the frontstretch – including Stenhouse’s dramatic late hit into the side of Patrick’s car.
The accident ended the night for Tony Stewart, who was racing for the first time since he broke his right leg in an August sprint car crash. Stewart said he felt physically fine after the hard hit.
Petty stands by remarks
Richard Petty stood by his comments that Danica Patrick can only win a Sprint Cup race “if everybody else stayed home,” and the Hall of Famer says it’s unfair he has been labeled a sexist.
Petty says no one would make a fuss about his remarks if he was talking about a male driver.
“I am not a sexist by any ways. I love women,” Petty says.