By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
With the Sprint Unlimited now in the books and Denny Hamlin its victor, it is time to look at some key takeaways from Saturday night’s event.
1) NASCAR overtime rules prove insignificant
The field was set after a late race caution with Hamlin leading Joey Logano, Paul Menard, and a charging Kyle Larson. They passed the overtime line on the backstretch of Daytona International Speedway, and after taking the white flag several cars ended up in the wall in Turn 2. NASCAR had a chance to let the remaining drivers race back to the line, but instead elected to throw the yellow moments after, ending the race under caution. The caution seemed irrelevant as most of the wreckage was cleared and appeared as a race to the line was very possible with no issues. That said, NASCAR had an opportunity for a fantastic finish, but yet again fans were let down.
2) Chip Ganassi Racing is ready for restrictor-plate racing
The usual suspects were found around the front of the pack, but the team that showed some muscle was Chip Ganassi Racing. The duo of Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray consistently stayed among the top 10 and near the end it was Larson that made moves to put his No. 42 in contention to win. If Saturday night was any indication of what to expect for the remainder of SpeedWeeks, then the 23-year-old could very well be the darkhorse for a Daytona 500 win.
3) Vickers looked like a fish out of water
Tony Stewart’s replacement driver for SpeedWeeks struggled mightily in the Sprint Unlimited. Brian Vickers was all over the place in the middle of the field, nearly making contact with several drivers early on. Roughly midway through, Vickers encountered a cut right rear entering Turn 1, hitting the wall hard and collected several race favorite, including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick.
4) Keselowski a strong contender
Perhaps no driver shined at the front as great as Brad Keselowski. The Team Penske driver kept the No. 2 Ford at the front of the field, leading 26 laps before debris caused his car to overheat. Even though the 2012 Sprint Cup champion settled for ninth, he will likely be a contender to give Roger Penske a back-to-back Daytona 500 wins.
5) The grandstands looked empty
Before I get carried away here, first and foremost Daytona Rising looks amazing and a step in the right direction for the fans and the spectacle. However, there was a time when the Sprint Unlimited drew a large crowd. That was not the case Saturday night. For whatever reason (ticket prices, race format changes, etc.), the grandstands appeared to be less lively and it was a shame given how intense the show was.
If the show put on Saturday night is any indication, the Daytona 500 should be one of the finest in recent memory. If the attendance can shore itself up and all the changes NASCAR is making can develop, the sport is in prime position to take itself to the next level.
Image: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images