Hamlin succeeds as Sprint Unlimited kicks off Speedweeks with a Bang

Speedweeks is the prelude to the impending start to the NASCAR season, and its first event is the Sprint Unlimited. Formerly known as the Bud Shootout, the exhibition event is made up of pole winners from 2013 and pervious winners of the race. The lack of points creates the tone of an exciting, fun spectacle for drivers and fans.

Only this time, nobody thought it would get this weird.

The night began with the reveal of segment lengths. Fans were allowed to vote on how many laps comprised each section, along with deciding how the lineup would be chosen for the start and final part of the race. With 30 laps, 25 laps, and 20 laps being chosen, it was time to determine where everyone would start. Final practice times would be the way to go, placing Denny Hamlin on the pole.

The first 30 laps were full of shuffling and trying to establish the bottom line. As things began to wind down, the first domino fell; Jimmie Johnson spun out and hit the inside barrier, trashing his car and drawing a caution on the last lap of the segment. The reigning champion took it to the garage and called it a night before it really began. He was running second at the time of the incident.

Order at the End of Segment One

1. Denny Hamlin
2. Kevin Harvick
3. Joey Logano
4. Kurt Busch
5. Carl Edwards
6. Brad Keselowski
7. Matt Kenseth
8. Ryan Newman
9. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
10. Jeff Gordon
11. Marcos Ambrose
12. Kyle Busch
13. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
14. Danica Patrick
15. Tony Stewart
16. Jamie McMurray
OUT: Jimmie Johnson (accident on lap 29), Terry Labonte (start and park)

It didn’t take long for more excitement to follow. Eight laps into Segment Two, Kenseth drove across Logano’s hood, then came back up the track to cause a nine-car wreck. Among the carnage rested Stewart, Gordon, the eldest Busch, and Edwards. The focus settled on Patrick, who avoided the wreck and would’ve been clear if it weren’t for Stenhouse Jr.; as she recovered from a self-induced spin, something stuck on the No. 17, and he plowed into her machine. Because the two are currently dating, it created a lot of talk. Harvick retreated to pit road for repairs and returned. At the end, the air was thick, and there was more mischief up ahead. With only nine cars still in the running.

Order at the End of Segment Two

1. Denny Hamlin
2. Brad Keselowski
3. Kyle Busch
4. Jamie McMurray
5. Marcos Ambrose
6. Joey Logano
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
8. Ryan Newman
9. Kevin Harvick
OUT: Danica Patrick, Tony Stewart, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards (accident on lap 38), Jimmie Johnson (accident on lap 29), Terry Labonte (start and park)

At this time, the fans chose to write in a mandatory two-tire pit stop, and the race off pit road set the final restart order. Everyone was ready to keep the excitement going, and the (small) field was ready to take the green when a small mishap occurred. The full moon was taking the race to a whole new level; a fire had sparked in the back of the Chevy SS pace car. As the backup was brought out, people realized this was actually happening.

When the cars finally took the green, it was a nine-car shootout. Drivers sliced and diced as they put on a show, although they were cutting it close. The remaining Busch brother got loose and made yet another elaborate save with 15 laps to go, proving he is the ultimate wheelman. Six laps later, Earnhardt Jr. and Ambrose tangled, giving the No. 88 car race-ending damage.

In the end, Hamlin came out on top in what was a dominant performance by Daytona standards. There is no doubt it was a beautiful start to a season full of goals and redemption.

As for the event itself, it was a fantastic way to kick off the 2014 NASCAR season. The Daytona 500 now has expectations to fulfill.

Order at the End of Segment Three/Finishing Order

1. Denny Hamlin
2. Brad Keselowski
3. Kyle Busch
4. Joey Logano
5. Kevin Harvick
6. Jamie McMurray
7. Marcos Ambrose
8. Ryan Newman
OUT: Dale Earnhardt Jr. (accident on lap 66), Danica Patrick, Tony Stewart, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards (accident on lap 38), Jimmie Johnson (accident on lap 29), Terry Labonte (start and park)

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