The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series kicked off their 2015 season with a Saturday night shootout at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway. The Sprint Unlimited featured an abundance of cautions equipped with a pair of red flags, none of which could keep Matt Kenseth from Victory Lane at the end of the 75-lap event. Here are some key things to take away from NASCAR’s annual exhibition race.
Matt Kenseth Still Has It, but Hasn’t Won Anything…Yet
After a disastrous 2014 season that saw the Joe Gibbs Racing driver go winless (with the exception of a non-points paying Budweiser Duel at Daytona), this win will likely do wonders for the 2003 Sprint Cup champion.
Since 2009, Kenseth has won at Daytona on five different occasions: the Daytona 500 (twice), the Budweiser Duels (twice), and now Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited. Restrictor plate racing is a gamble and the 42-year-old from Cambridge, Wisconsin has done a good job recently of being up front when the cards are on the table.
If Kenseth and crew chief Jason Ratcliff can carry this momentum into the regular season they could propel the No. 20 team back to its 2013 form, when Kenseth won a career-best seven races.
Roush Fenway Racing is a Shell of its Former Self
Usually when the Sprint Cup Series travels to restrictor plate tracks like Daytona and Talladega there is an automatic sense everyone will get a share of the lead and be in contention for the win, but that wasn’t and hasn’t been the case for RFR.
The once main rival to Hendrick Motorsports has fallen way off and was nowhere to be Saturday night. Correction, the only time they were seen was when the caution flew due to an incident they were involved in. Both Greg Biffle and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. struggled, with only Biffle leading one lap between them in a shortened 25-car field.
Biffle was racing mid-pack when he was involved in a wreck down the backstretch late in the running and hit the inside wall hard, ending his day and settling for 14th. Meanwhile, Stenhouse struggled to get a handle on his Ford the entire night and was eventually sent spinning. Don’t worry, in typical Valentine’s Day fashion his girlfriend, Danica Patrick, gave him a light “love-tap” on her way by to a 10th place finish. The two-time XFINITY Series champion finished 16th.
Finding an Official Turns into Where’s Waldo
In the closing stages of the race, defending Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick was fighting among the top five with a car that looked like it was battle tested at Martinsville. Heading into turn three he received a bump from Joey Logano, causing Harvick to slap the wall and lose ground to the leaders.
While heading down pit road on the cool down lap, cameras caught Logano continuing to harass the Stewart-Haas Racing driver’s fenders. Upon parking both cars on pit road the pair began to talk with both pit crews present, but things quickly esculated as words were exchanged and Logano was pulled away by his crew.
During this entire post race incident only one NASCAR official was present. There has to be some concern with how they can handle altercations when nearly all of the officials are now in a trailer viewing computers to examine pit road violations during the race, a new rule for 2015. Ultimately, NASCAR was lucky the incident was miniscule in comparison to those seen during the Chase at Texas and Charlotte last season.
From Cellar to Stellar
Every time the Sprint Cup Series goes to Daytona there is always one feel good story, the Sprint Unlimited was no exception. After what was one of the roughest years for Martin Truex, Jr. in 2014 on and off the track, he opened up his 2015 campaign with an aggressive runner-up finish.
The Furniture Row Racing driver led four times for a race-high 29 laps, and was the class of the field Saturday night. The 34-year-old managed the front of the field perhaps better than any other time in his Sprint Cup career, mentioning after the race that in previous years he “was normally not aggressive enough at blocking.”
Could this be a sign the bad luck that has burdened the New Jersey native over the past few years has finally wore off? Only time will tell, but if he can race this season with the instinctive aggressiveness as he did tonight, Truex could easily find himself in contention for many good things this season, including a possible Harley J. Earl trophy.
Image: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images