DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—Matt Kenseth did what he couldn’t do all of last year — win a race.
And Martin Truex Jr., runner-up in Saturday night’s 75-lap Sprint Unlimited exhibition race at Daytona International Speedway, did what he could do only once in 2014 — lead a lap.
Coming to the finish line on the last lap, Kenseth blocked Truex’s move off Turn 4 and crossed the finish line in his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota .219 seconds ahead of Truex, who led four times for 28 laps after leading just one lap in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series all of last season.
The victory was Kenseth’s first in the non-points race, but it was the second straight win for Joe Gibbs Racing.
With only 12 of the 25 cars that started the race running at the finish, Carl Edwards came home third in his first run in a JGR Toyota, followed by Casey Mears and Kyle Larson. Joey Logano was sixth, but a last-lap altercation with reigning series champion Kevin Harvick (11th Saturday), left those two drivers jawing at each other after the finish.
Logano was pushing Harvick after the final restart with four laps left, and Harvick felt the No. 22 Ford ran him up into the outside wall.
Kenseth was worried when he saw Truex back out of the throttle on the final lap.
“At the end there, Martin did an excellent job,” Kenseth said. “He backed off me so far. I saw him letting off the gas before we got to Turn 1, and I was like ‘Ah, this isn’t good.’…
“I just decided I was going to keep going. He got a big run at me, but we just had enough speed that, as he starting getting closer to me, we started building a little bit of RPM, and I was able to make sure that my car stayed in front of his car and was able to hold on.”
Truex didn’t get the help he needed from Edwards, who joined JGR during the offseason. But Truex was elated with the speed in his car after a very disappointing first year in the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet in 2014.
“I had more fun in the car tonight than I’ve had since 2013,” said Truex, who raced for the first time with former team engineer Cole Pearn as his crew chief. “I only made one mistake tonight — and that was giving up the lead with handful of laps to go (Truex led for the last time on Lap 55). That’s what cost us the race.”
A five-car incident that KO’d the No. 2 Team Penske Ford of Brad Keselowski on Lap 22 was merely a prelude to the main event, a 14-car wreck on Lap 45 that erupted when the field accordioned out of Turn 4 and Greg Biffle tapped Jamie McMurray’s bumper and sent the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet out of control.
Severely damaged in the accident that red-flagged the race for 15 minutes were the cars of McMurray, polesitter Paul Menard, Jimmie Johnson, defending race winner Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer.
Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota took a ride through the tri-oval grass.
“It was a matter of time that we were going to wreck,” Hamlin said. “We were side-drafting so aggressively from the first lap of the race… We were trying to get to front and protect our track position, because we knew this was coming. I just couldn’t get there quick enough.
“When you hit the grass now, it’s death. It tore the front end of the car off.”
Subsequent wrecks eliminated Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon (Lap 62), as well as Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Biffle (Lap 68). The latter incident brought out the second red flag of the night, for 5 minutes 18 seconds.
“You can tell we’ve been cooped up all winter long and we’re ready to go,” Stenhouse said ruefully.
Note: The first caution of the race produced the first use of NASCAR’s new pit road technology. Cameras flagged infractions by McMurray’s crew (over the wall too soon) and driver Ryan Newman (passing through too many pit boxes), and officials on computer monitors in a NASCAR trailer confirmed the violations.
1. (16) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 75, $198475.
2. (10) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 75, $84475.
3. (14) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 75, $44450.
4. (23) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 75, $38450.
5. (25) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 75, $37450.
6. (3) Joey Logano, Ford, 75, $35450.
7. (11) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 75, $34950.
8. (5) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 75, $32950.
9. (24) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 75, $30950.
10. (15) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 75, $29450.
11. (8) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 75, $28950.
12. (12) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 75, $28450.
13. (22) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, Accident, 67, $27950.
14. (7) Greg Biffle, Ford, Accident, 67, $27450.
15. (13) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, Accident, 67, $26950.
16. (20) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, Accident, 61, $26700.
17. (6) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, Accident, 61, $26450.
18. (19) Aric Almirola, Ford, Accident, 55, $25950.
19. (9) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, Accident, 45, $25450.
20. (18) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, Accident, 45, $25200.
21. (1) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, Accident, 45, $24950.
22. (17) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, Accident, 45, $24710.
23. (2) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, Accident, 45, $24450.
24. (21) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, Accident, 45, $23950.
25. (4) Brad Keselowski, Ford, Accident, 22, $23450.
Reid Spencer – NASCAR Wire Service
Image: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR