Denny Hamlin Wins Season-Opening Sprint Unlimited
Denny Hamlin won the Sprint Unlimited exhibition race in convincing fashion by leading the most laps after starting 15th in the #11 FedEx Express Toyota Camry.
Hamlin led the field for the last 16 laps, but following a late race caution, had to hold off a hard charging Joey Logano during an "overtime" finish that extended the race four laps beyond the scheduled 75 laps. The two raced side-by-side until Hamlin finally pulled ahead before a wreck behind the leaders brought out the caution and froze the field, sealing the win for the FedEx team.
Hamlin had to overcome an early race accident that damaged the right side of the car to score his first victory with new crew chief Mike Wheeler, a longtime engineer on the FedEx team. Wheeler made a gutsy call and pitted the #11 off sequence and used fuel mileage strategy to keep Hamlin up front throughout the final two-thirds of the race.
"This is a great team win," said Hamlin. "We were very close on fuel. We drove it in which is a good sign for our fuel mileage for this Toyota, but we had a plan all along to come in and pit on lap 22 and it just so happened a caution came out as we came on pit road. It was part of our plan, it just all worked out in our favor."
Hamlin led five times for a total of 39 laps to claim his third Sprint Unlimited victory, winning as a rookie in 2006 and dominating the race in 2014.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season officially begins with the Daytona 500 on Sunday, February 21.