Two-time DAYTONA 500 champion is back in Gatorade Victory Lane. After a winless 2014 season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Kenseth captured the 75-lap non-points Sprint Unlimited on Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.
“It was a great start for the week [leading up to the Feb. 22 DAYTONA 500],” Kenseth said. “Hopefully we can keep up the momentum for the rest of the week.”
The Sprint Unlimited rolled off with 25 drivers, a high-profile mix of 2014 pole winners, former Sprint Unlimited winners and DAYTONA 500 pole winners who competed full time in 2014, Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers from 2014, plus several others who qualified based on final 2014 series championship standings. Quite different from the event’s 1979 debut, which featured nine drivers – 1978 pole winners only – racing for 20 laps. That one lasted 15 minutes and was won by Buddy Baker who, earlier that afternoon, had captured the pole for the DAYTONA 500.
After a Lap 23 crash, however, 18 cars remained in contention in this 37th running of the event. The 14-car accident started when Greg Biffle’s Ford hit former DAYTONA 500 champion Jamie McMurray’s Chevrolet from behind, turning it sideways with the rear wheels briefly off the ground – directly into the path of the field. The race was red-flagged due to the clean-up required; that lasted 14 minutes, 42 seconds. When the race was restarted on Lap 30, two-time DAYTONA 500 champion Dale Earnhardt Jr., seeking a third Sprint Unlimited victory, was the leader.
A late dust-up took several more cars out of the mix, setting the stage for a four-lap dash to the finish. Kenseth, in the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota, outdueled the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet of Martin Truex on the final lap, with the help of some cagy blocking moves. Kenseth’s margin of victory: 0.219 seconds. Carl Edwards, in his debut run as Kenseth’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, finished third in the No. 19 Arris Toyota.
The 75-lap/187.5-mile race was divided into 25- and 50-lap segments. The first segment ended under caution after 2012 series champion Brad Keselowski crashed in the tri-oval, ruining his night.
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Grant Enfinger won the Lucas Oil 200 Presented By AutoZone – the season-opening race for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards – for the second straight year prior to the Sprint Unlimited, driving the No. 23 Alamo Rent A Car Chevrolet. Enfinger edged Daniel Suarez’s No. 15 Arris Toyota by a mere 0.140 seconds. It was a career milestone for Suarez, a 23-year-old driver from Monterrey, Mexico who is part of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity initiative. Suarez is competing full-time this season for Joe Gibbs Racing in the NASCAR XFINITY Series.
“This is an incredible feeling,” Enfinger said. “It was definitely a nail-biter from my seat.”
Tickets for the 57th annual DAYTONA 500 and all Budweiser Speedweeks 2015 events are on sale now and can be purchased by calling 1-800-PITSHOP or visiting www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com.
Fans can follow NASCAR on Twitter and stay up to speed on the latest news by using hashtag #DAYTONA500 and #SPEEDWEEKS. Fans can also stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest for the latest news all season long. Fans can follow the latest on DAYTONA Rising, the $400 million frontstretch renovation at the “World Center of Racing” by using #DAYTONARising on Twitter or visiting www.daytonarising.com.