Heading into tonight’s Sprint Unlimited at Daytona, no one really knew was going to happen. With such limited drafting practice in both testing and the two practice sessions last night, it was going to be a “trial by fire” type night for NASCAR’s new Generation Six racecar.
To add to that, a new element to the race formerly known as the Budweiser Shootout gave fans a say in just about everything except for who would win the race.
Once the race started, all appeared to be relatively calm for the opening 15 laps as drivers were able to swap the lead back-and-forth while drivers in the back showed that they could still make their way to the front in the new-style car.
However when lap 16 flashed on the scoring pylon, the 19-car field was shrunk.
A six-car crash triggered when Tony Stewart cut across the front end of Marcos Ambrose’s Ford, causing cars behind them to slow and eventually ensuing in a melee in the second turn of the 2.5-mile track.
“I went on my own,” said Stewart regarding the lap 16 incident. “I thought I had enough of a run to be clear of the third place guy (Ambrose) and I’m pretty sure I clipped whoever was in third.
“I made a move for the lead and was probably a little anxious too early, but I was kind of stagnant where I was at and I was having fun moving forward.”
Once the race resumed, the battle was one once again between the two cars of Stewart and Matt Kenseth with Stewart holding the top spot when the first 30-lap segment came to a close.
After winning the race off pit road following the mandatory 4-tire pit stop, Kevin Harvick took control of the lead, holding on to capture the race’s second segment, earning the right to start on the front row for the third and final segment.
For the final, 20-lap dash to the finish, it was primarily a battle between the Chevrolet’s of Harvick and Stewart, with Kenseth’s Toyota appearing in the mix towards the front end of the segment. Behind them, the trio of Fords headed by Greg Biffle road around the top-side of Daytona International Speedway, waiting for the right opportunity to pounce on the leaders.
But as the laps ticked down to under five-to-go, it appeared as though no one was willing to jump out of line and make the pass for the win in the race that many consider the ultimate win-or-go-home race of the season.
As the white flag flew, the 12 cars remaining remained in a tight, single-file line until Joey Logano in the Penske No.22 darted to the bottom and picked up a draft from the car of Kenseth.
Making the charge up the line, Harvick and Stewart blocked their momentum on the bottom as Biffle nearly pulled up alongside the No.29 of Harvick before the door was closed in the middle of the final turn.
Coming to the checkered flag, it was all Harvick as he claimed his third victory in five years in the Sprint Unlimited.
“Well, I was really kind of nervous about the 20 (Kenseth) and the 14 (Stewart) cars,” said Harvick in victory lane after he lead a race-high 40 of the 75 laps. “Their cars were a little bit better that what we had.”
With the win, Harvick joins the likes of Stewart and Dale Jarrett as the only three-time winners of the event now known as the Unlimited. Dale Earnhardt is the all-time wins leader in the race with six.
Sprint Unlimited Unofficial Results
- Kevin Harvick
- Greg Biffle
- Joey Logano
- Tony Stewart
- Matt Kenseth
- Aric Almirola
- Kasey Kahne
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Juan Pablo Montoya
- Marcos Ambrose
- Carl Edwards
- Kurt Busch
- Jimmie Johnson
- Denny Hamlin
- Kyle Busch
- Jeff Gordon
- Mark Martin
- Terry Labonte