It seems like injuries and winning go together like peanut butter and jelly for Denny Hamlin, who wound up in victory lane on Saturday night in the Sprint Unlimited. Less than six months ago, Hamlin tore his ACL in a game of pickup basketball. Hamlin didn’t let that stop him from winning the Sprint Unlimited for the third time in his career.
It’s Joe Gibbs Racing’s third consecutive win in the event, but the win hasn’t translated to winning the Daytona 500 in 16 years (Dale Jarrett was the last one to accomplish that feat back in 2000).
But even Hamlin was involved in one of the many wrecks that took place in this race.
On lap 12, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s No. 17 Ford seemed to have a tire issue, forcing him down into the No. 11 Toyota of Hamlin thus creating some damage on the right side door. The FedEx crew was able to patch up the damage and Hamlin was back up front in no time. About 50 laps later, they were standing in victory lane to start off the 2016 season.
“This win couldn’t be possible without my teammates,” Hamlin said in an interview with FOX. “Matt [Kenseth] sacrificed so much, pushing me at the right time. Total team effort. Just like Kyle [Busch’s] championship, we win as one. This is a Joe Gibbs Racing win.”
It was also a big night for Hamlin’s Crew Chief, Mike Wheeler, who got his first career win in his first career start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Wheeler made the decision to have Hamlin save fuel throughout the majority of the second segment (50 laps) which ended up benefiting him in the end.
“I don’t know if he was poised. He was poised on the radio,” Hamlin said about Wheeler in a post-race interview with FOX. “We’ve got such a young team, crew chief, engineers, they all look like they’re a bunch of high school kids.” But age doesn’t seem to matter for Joe Gibbs Racing, who seems to keep winning, and winning, and winning.
Joey Logano, the 2015 winner of the Daytona 500, finished second and wasn’t one of the many cars involved in a crash.
“I don’t know if it’s a non-points race that plays into it or if it’s just superspeedway racing,” Logano said. “Typically in the Unlimited, there a lot of crashes.”
In total, only four of the 25 cars involved in the race didn’t have some sort of damage by the end. There were seven cautions for 25 laps (which totaled the scheduled laps of the first segment of the event).
A seven-car crash on lap 22 damaged Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, and AJ Allmendinger. The crash began when the No. 14 of Brian Vickers had a tire going down and lost control heading into turn 1. On lap 43, Jimmie Johnson’s night ended, as contact with the No. 13 of Casey Mears sent him spinning down the backstretch.
NASCAR’s new overtime rule was also tested, as a green/white/checkered finish took place. After taking the green flag, Hamlin passed the newly marked “overtime line” on the backstretch, parallel to the start/finish line. Per the new rule, after passing that line, the race becomes official.
On the final lap of the race, there was another huge wreck as everyone was jockeying for position. As a result, NASCAR had to throw the caution, freezing the field. Hamlin was declared the winner, and his Speedweeks are off to a fantastic start in 2016.
“To start one-for-one with a good win here at Daytona, I’m so happy […]” an elated Hamlin said in victory lane.
He will look to get his first career Daytona 500 win this coming Sunday at 1:00 p.m. on FOX.