Matt Kenseth Wins Sprint Unlimited at Daytona

Matt Kenseth puts Toyota in victory lane at Daytona
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Just three months after finishing his first winless season in four years, Matt Kenseth got his 2015 Sprint Cup season started off on the right foot with a win in the 37th annual Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night.

With help from his new Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Carl Edwards, Kenseth grabbed the lead with 56 laps to go and survived a final four-lap shootout to hold off Martin Truex, Jr. for his first victory in NASCAR’s traditional pre-season opener.

Edwards just barely missed getting second from Truex at the line and settled for third, followed by Casey Mears and Kyle Larson.

Brad Keselowski crashed out early
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The victory was Kenseth’s fifth overall Sprint Cup victory at Daytona and second-straight win for JGR in the Sprint Unlimited after Denny Hamlin took the checkered flag in 2014.

Despite making the Chase last year, Kenseth endured his first winless season since 2010 but was buoyed by the off-season signing of his former Roush Fenway Racing teammate Edwards, who helped give Kenseth an edge in the late stages of the race.

"This is a great feeling. It's always fun to win at Daytona for sure – it's fun to win anywhere," said Kenseth. “I tried to help Carl (Edwards) as much as I could without me losing the lead. It would be silly to stick in the bottom groove to help him, then watch a car pass me and neither one of us win. Whenever you do these kind of races, you always want to take care of your teammates the best you can.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]“Great start to the week. Hopefully we can keep the momentum for the rest of the week."

Truex, Jr. led a race-high 28 laps after having led just a single lap in all of 2014, an otherwise miserable season made worse when his longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex was diagnosed with cancer last summer. During last month’s annual media tour, Truex, Jr. announced that Pollex had completed her last round of chemotherapy.

Truex hopes that Saturday night’s runner-up finish was sign of good things to come this season.

“It was a lot of fun. Honestly, it was the most fun I've had in a racecar in quite some time, probably about a year and a half," said Truex, Jr. “It's been miserable for a while. Last year was a tough year for us, on and off the racetrack.

“It's just been fun to come to the racetrack. If we can come to the racetrack and know we're going to have cars like that every week, that's a dream come true for me. Hopefully we can continue that not only tonight, but throughout the season.

“Hate we came up short. Just kind of two against one there at the end. Kind of hard to compete with."

Much like last year’s edition of the race, Saturday night’s event was a sheet metal rending wreck-fest that included four caution flags, two red flags and a 14-car pileup just past the halfway point of the race that took out nearly half the field.

In all, only 12 of the 25 entrants were still running by the time the checkered flag waved.

Brad Keselowski was the first driver to make an early exit on lap 24 after contact with Kyle Larson sent Keselowski spinning through the tri-oval grass before sliding back up the racetrack and into the outside wall directly in front of a pack of six cars that somehow managed to avoid hitting him.

Just 17 laps later, the ‘Big One’ made its first appearance of the season, as Jamie McMurray spun off the bumper of Greg Biffle directly in front of the field, collecting 13 other cars including front row starters Paul Menard and Kasey Kahne, as well as Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer and Denny Hamlin, among others.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]The extended cleanup brought out the red flag for nearly 15 minutes before racing resumed with Truex at the head of the field, followed by Jeff Gordon and Joey Logano.

Back under green, Truex tried to make his no. 78 Chevrolet three lanes wide as he darted from the high side to the low to try and keep the rest of the field at bay, but the gig only held up so long as Kenseth and Edwards powered up the middle, then Kenseth dropped down to the low side to make the pass for the lead.

Truex refused to go quietly, and dogged Kenseth before the caution waved again on lap 63 for an incident involving Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Austin Dillon.

Back under green, Kenseth pulled away like he was shot out of a canon, opening up a five-car length lead that only held up for three laps before the final yellow flag waved for a hard crash between Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Greg Biffle that brought out another red flag.

Setting up for the final dash to the finish, Kenseth jumped out to another huge lead on the final restart as Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Truex jockeyed for position behind him before Truex managed to slide by to take second.

Although trailing by nearly six car lengths, Truex managed to chase down Kenseth on the final lap, closing right on Kenseth’s bumper in the final turn.

Coming out of turn four, Truex looked low as Kenseth moved to block, then looked to the high side only to find Edwards there looking to steal second, allowing Kenseth to escape with the win.

MATT KENSETH, No. 20 Dollar General Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

How does it feel to kick off Daytona with a victory?
"This is a great feeling. It's always fun to win at Daytona for sure – it's fun to win anywhere. Just really proud of this whole team at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) – a lot of new additions this year with Carl (Edwards) and a lot of great personnel at the shop. Everybody has been working hard and all four of our cars were really fast yesterday. I had a feeling that it was going to be a good week. We have a lot of racing left to do, but all our cars have speed, which is the first thing we look for. We have to thank Toyota and TRD (Toyota Racing Development) for all the power and of course our great sponsors – Dollar General, Dewalt and all the great partners that make this all happen."

How were you able to pull away from second-place in the closing laps?
"Martin (Truex Jr.) let off the gas – he kind of let off and did a great job at trying to get a run. I'm usually never smart enough to do that. I saw him backing up and our Dollar General Camry just had so much speed I thought throughout the night and throughout practice. I didn't want to back up with him — I didn't know who was going to get a run with him so I just kept going. We had enough speed – surprisingly enough being that far ahead – to kind of get the block in front of him there. Martin had a strong car. Carl (Edwards) had a real strong car there at the end too. It's a good start to the week."

Who were you most worried about in the race tonight?
"I was worried about every single one of them. All the cars out there are pretty fast. Kevin (Harvick) gave me a great push there at the end to get out in the lead and I knew he had a lot of damage on his car and he was still figuring out how to get that thing up there. Then the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) was strong all night. I think all my teammates' cars were strong all night, but I didn't spend a ton of time up there. I kept getting shuffled back early just being too impatient and trying to learn as much as I could, so once I got in the lead we just had a lot of speed and I tried to manage the line as best I could."

What did you learn from tonight's race for the Daytona 500?
"The wreck didn't hurt anything, that got us five or six spots and we were able to miss that thankfully. I have no idea how. That helped and we had good stops and a couple of the restarts we were able to get through the pack and make up a little bit of ground. Once you got halfway to two-thirds of the way back, it was just hard to make any passes. Most of the guys would just pile up top and I couldn't make it happen."


1 20 Matt Kenseth 16 75 21 Running
2 78 Martin Truex Jr 10 75 28 Running
3 19 Carl Edwards 14 75 1 Running
4 13 Casey Mears 23 75 0 Running
5 42 Kyle Larson 25 75 0 Running
6 22 Joey Logano 3 75 0 Running
7 24 Jeff Gordon 11 75 0 Running
8 18 Kyle Busch 5 75 0 Running
9 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr 24 75 13 Running
10 10 Danica Patrick 15 75 0 Running
11 4 Kevin Harvick 8 75 1 Running
12 31 Ryan Newman 12 75 0 Running
13 14 Tony Stewart 22 67 0 Accident
14 16 Greg Biffle 7 67 1 Accident
15 41 Kurt Busch 13 67 0 Accident
16 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr 20 61 0 Accident
17 3 Austin Dillon 6 61 0 Accident
18 43 Aric Almirola 19 55 0 Accident
19 11 Denny Hamlin 9 45 0 Accident
20 15 Clint Bowyer 18 45 0 Accident
21 27 Paul Menard 1 45 7 Accident
22 48 Jimmie Johnson 17 45 0 Accident
23 5 Kasey Kahne 2 45 0 Accident
24 1 Jamie McMurray 21 45 1 Accident
25 2 Brad Keselowski 4 22 2 Accident

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