Denny Hamlin got his 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season started the same way that he ended 2013, and that was with a trip to Victory Lane. It’s not an official points race, but The Sprint Unlimited on Saturday night from Daytona International Speedway does come with bragging rights, and the 33 year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver of the FedEx Toyota did win the season finale’ at Homestead last fall.
It was near absolute carnage Saturday night as only eight of the 18 cars that took the first Green Flag, took the Checkers. Six-time Sprint Cup Champion, Jimmy Johnson was the first to experience the closing rate the Gen 6 Car has, with the new spoiler package authorized by NASCAR.
Lap 28 collected The Lowes Chevrolet when Johnson took a trip to the inside wall, and a trip to the infield care center. Jimmie Johnson has not typically had good luck at the season’s first race. He won in 2005 for his only then, Budweiser Shootout win.
It was lap 35 when Matt Kenseth, driver of the Home Depot Toyota tried to change lanes and caused the big pile up. Happening close to the front, the incident collected most of the field in a massive pile-up. Kenseth admitted the incident was his fault as he tried to change lanes and misjudged Joey Logano’s closing speed.
The wreck took out Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse, and Danica Patrick. Danica Patrick, driving the No.10 GoDaddy Chevrolet had missed the wreck, and was free and clear when Stenhouse with limited vision clipped her, and took out the complete left side of her car.
A later incident on lap 65, ended Dale Earnhardt’s Jr’s night when, as traffic slowed, Marcos Ambros appeared to hit the Rick Hendrick No.88 Chevrolet in the rear. It sent the 11-time most popular NASCAR driver into the wall and an early exit.
Dale Jr was upset, and thinking Ambrose was the cause of the wreck, showed his displeasure on the way to pit road by hitting the No.9 both in the rear, and the door. After a minute to cool down and a look at the tape, realized he owed Ambrose an apology.
The Fans wanted the Pit Crews to be involved so voted for the final segment to be a two-tire pit stop. The final segment took on the look and feel of a Saturday Night Trophy Dash with only eight cars taking the Green Flag. Most fans that I interacted with around various Social Media sites were disappointed, and felt the race became boring.
I couldn’t disagree with them more. If what we saw with the new spoiler package at Daytona on Saturday Night can translate to the 1.5 mile tracks, we are going to have a great season. The drivers and Crew Chiefs are going to spend the week talking about the closing rates of these cars at the speeds we see at Daytona as they prepare for the Budweiser Duel races on Thursday.
Unless NASCAR makes some changes before the 500 next Sunday, we should not see the pack racing that has controlled the restrictor plate tracks for the past four years. The bigger air-foil is keeping the cars separated and with the added horsepower, we are seeing some great racing.
I liked what I saw on Saturday Night, and can’t wait until Thursday night and the Twin 150′s. The drivers will be in cars that will have to make the 500 on Sunday, so we’ll see if they play a little better or we continue to see the type of racing we had on Saturday night.
You can follow Les on Twitter @Spin_47