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Denny Hamlin prevails in Sprint Unlimited shootout in Daytona

Tony Stewart (14), Jeff Gordon (24), Kurt Busch, second from right, and Matt Kenseth (20) wreck on the front stretch as Dale Earnhardt Jr. (88) goes low to avoid the crash during the NASCAR Sprint Unlimited auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014.

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Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, 11:18 p.m.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Denny Hamlin kicked off the NASCAR Sprint Cup season by winning the Sprint Unlimited shootout Saturday at Daytona International Speedway.

But the race to the checkered flag was overshadowed by a multicar crash that took out nearly half the favorites, including three of four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers: three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart, last year's Daytona 500 pole winner Danica Patrick and 2013 Chase qualifier Kurt Busch.

Kevin Harvick narrowly escaped the scattered debris that spewed from the pile-up caused by Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski. Kenseth tried to take evasive action when Keselowski slowed on the backstretch 36 laps into the 75-lap exhibition race.

“It appears that I cut off Joey (Logano) and didn't leave him enough room,” said Kenseth, the 2013 Sprint Cup runner-up. “I was trying to watch both lanes, and I was trying as hard as I could to help my (Joe Gibbs Racing) teammate (Hamlin).”

Harvick, who was seeking back-to-back shootout wins, four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Kenseth suffered too much damage to finish the final two segments, which covered 25 and 20 laps, respectively.

Even the pace car couldn't make it through NASCAR's first event of the year. The car's engine blew while the second segment was under caution.

Hamlin, who won last year's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, swung past teammate Kyle Busch and Keselowski on the backstretch of the white-flag lap, then pulled away to win the shootout for the second time.

Keselowski finished second, followed by Kyle Busch, Logano and Harvick. Jamie McMurray, piloting the No. 1 Chevrolet for Fox Chapel native Chip Ganassi, finished sixth.

“In 2006, this race was a springboard for my career,” Hamlin said. “Every little win or accomplishment goes a long way with team morale.”

Only a handful of drivers have won the shootout and the Daytona 500, including Dale Jarrett, who twice accomplished that feat.

It was rough outing for six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. Johnson failed to make it to the finish for the third straight year. Earnhardt brushed the wall after slamming into Marcos Ambrose with 10 laps remaining.

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.




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