The 2016 Sprint Cup Series season has officially kicked off with it’s annual right of passage, the non-points Sprint Unlimited at Daytona. And much like 2015, the 2016 Sprint Unlimited came with lots of carnage, and tight racing right to the finish.
Twenty-five cars, set in a random draw for the starting grid, would take to the massively renovated superspeedway on Saturday night. Jimmie Johnson (#48 Lowe’s Chevy) would start on pole, but the battle up front all night would be the same one from the end of 2015 – Team Penske vs. Joe Gibbs Racing.
Brad Keselowski (#2 SKF Ford) would take to the lead early, leading triple the number of laps of any other Sprint Unlimited race he was in. Meanwhile Denny Hamlin (#11 FedEx Toyota) would battle him for the top spot, leading the charge for the team champion from last season. Jamie McMurray (#1 McDonald’s Chevy) would also shine, climbing from the rear of the field into the top five.
Wrecks, many of them multi-car wrecks, would slow the race repeatedly. The first two would occur before the scheduled competition caution at Lap 25, taking out a number of contenders including Kevin Harvick (#4 Busch Chevy) and Brian Vickers (#14 Mobil 1 Chevy), subbing for Tony Stewart. The race’s end would also see two more wrecks, causing the first use of NASCAR’s new overtime rules.
In the end, the field would get past the new overtime line in use on the backstretch, setting up one last lap to race, with Denny Hamlin in the lead. However, a wreck in Turn One by five drivers racing in the pack would end the race before the checkered flag, giving Denny Hamlin the win in the Sprint Unlimited for the second time in three years.
Joey Logano (#22 Shell Pennzoil Ford) would come in second, while Paul Menard (#27 Menard’s Chevy) quietly came home third. The jury may still be out about the NASCAR overtime rules after the race, but all the drivers could agree on an exciting race all around.
The excitement is just kicking off, of course, as one week from Sunday will be NASCAR’s version of the Super Bowl – the Daytona 500. Stay tuned for more updates from around the famous speedway.