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Denny Hamlin wins NASCAR sprint race at Daytona

By Amanda Vincent, The Sports Xchange   |   Feb. 14, 2016 at 12:13 AM

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - With cars crashing behind him, Denny Hamlin claimed his sixth Daytona International Speedway win and his third in the Sprint Unlimited NASCAR Sprint Cup Series exhibition on Saturday night. It was Joe Gibbs Racing's fourth win of the event in the last five years.

"This win couldn't be possible without my teammates," Hamlin said. "Matt (Kenseth) sacrificed so much, pushing me at the right time. Total team effort. Just like Kyle's (Busch) championship, we win as one. This is a Joe Gibbs Racing win."

Joey Logano finished second, Paul Menard was third and Kyle Larson and Casey Mears rounded out the top five in the 25-car event.

"It was crazy like normal, right?" Logano asked. "What a great race. I had a great Shell Pennzoil Ford Fusion, and we kept working our way up from the back, and it was hard for us to get that lead."

Hamlin last pitted on lap 22 of the race that was scheduled for 75 laps but went into extra laps because of a sixth caution with three laps remaining due to a multiple-car crash involving Carl Edwards, Busch, Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Mears and Austin Dillon.

"The Unlimited is always that way," Keselowski said. "You hope if you run up front, you can avoid most of it. I didn't get torn up until I fell back to fifth or sixth. I needed to stay in the top two or three but couldn't pull it off. It is a very high-aggression level race, and I think that is a good thing."

Hamlin and Keselowski combined to lead most of the second half of the race. Keselowski was the leader just past the halfway point and was joined by Hamlin in second.

Hamlin took the lead from Keselowski on a restart following a lap 44 caution. Hamlin and Keselowski battled for the top spot throughout the remainder of the race, and on a restart with six laps remaining, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske occupied all top-five positions.

When Keselowski got collected in the wreck with three to go, he was replaced by Penske teammate Logano in the battle up front with Hamlin.

Hamlin pitted under green just before a lap-23 yellow flag and inherited the lead when others pitted under caution. Keselowski pitted for fuel only and restarted second.

Keselowski took the lead at the start of the race with Larson in tow. Keselowski led throughout the first 11 laps of the race, while Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Larson and Jamie McMurray juggled the second spot back and forth around lap 10.

After picking up a piece of plastic that blocked air flow into his radio, Keselowski was forced to give up the lead as his car overheated on lap 12.

"I think my spotter said it best when he said it looked like there was a lot of construction debris out there," Keselowski said. "I don't know. There were really big sheets of plastic. I don't think it would have mattered what manufacturer it was. It is just one of those days."

McMurray, after starting 24th in the 25-car race, took the lead just before the first yellow flag waved on lap 13 for an incident between Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Hamlin. The caution was just the opportunity Keselowski needed to get more water added to his cooling system.

McMurray continued to lead until a multi-car crash involving Brian Vickers, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. on lap 23. With a competition caution scheduled for lap 25, the lap 23 yellow flag replaced the scheduled caution. McMurray gave up the lead to pit for two fresh tires.

NOTES: Jimmie Johnson received the pole starting spot through a blind draw on Friday. Brad Keselowski also started on the front row. ... Matt Kenseth won the 2015 Sprint Unlimited. ... Kevin Harvick was the only repeat winner in the last nine Sprint Unlimiteds heading into Saturday night's race. He has three wins in the race, most of any driver in the 2016 field. ... The race was comprised of 25 cars, including those of the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup competitors, 2015 pole winners, former Daytona 500 pole sitters, and former Sprint Unlimited winners, provided they raced full-time last season. The race field was brought to 25 cars by adding the highest 2015 points finishers among those not qualified by aforementioned criteria. ... Brian Vickers substituted for the injured Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet. ... David Gilliland was eligible for the event as the 2007 Daytona 500 pole winner, but he didn't have a car for the race.

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