Matt Kenseth may have went win-less in 2014, but he’s starting off this year’s Sprint Cup season off with a bang; the driver of the #20 Toyota got to victory lane in Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited by holding off a hard-charging Martin Truex, Jr. on the final lap of the 75-circuit event. New Joe Gibbs Racing driver Carl Edwards ended up 3rd with Casey Mears and Kyle Larson rounding out the top 5. That finish had to be a sigh of relief for Larson, as he finished 38th and 36th in his two starts at Daytona last year, his rookie season. Also, as many suspected, there were quite a few penalties handed down with NASCAR’s new video system. And, of course, there were some flared tempers on pit road after the race.
Caution & Penalty Summary
Only 12 of the 25 cars who started the 2015 Sprint Unlimited ended up finishing the event. Like last year–and as with most races at restrictor plate tracks–there were several wrecks that took out some of the top contenders on Saturday night.
- Caution #1 – Lap 23 – Brad Keselowski (who just laps before said he thought the field was about to wreck) gets turned and ends up in the wall, ending his night. Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon each got some damage while avoiding the wreck, and Kyle Larson and Joey Logano hit each other, although it was minor for each.
- Penalties: Ryan Newman passed through too many pit boxes; Jamie McMurray had crew members over the wall too soon. Both have to restart in the rear.
- Caution #2 – Lap 49 – Jamie McMurray gets spun and collects Paul Menard, Kurt Busch, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Aric Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Jimmie Johnson, and Denny Hamlin. The wreck is bad enough we go under a red flag.
- Penalties: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, and Aric Almirola all have to restart from the rear because of too many men over the pit wall.
- Caution #3 – Lap 62 – Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Austin Dillon wreck while Jeff Gordon and Danica Patrick receive minor damage.
- Caution #4 – Lap 65 – Tony Stewart spins (possibly from contact with Kyle Busch) and collects Greg Biffle, who hits the inside wall very hard. The #16 Ford is then nailed by Kurt Busch and red flag #2 comes out.
- Penalty: Jeff Gordon – too many men over the pit wall (must restart in rear)
Harvick and Logano Argue After Race
In the closing laps of Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited, Kevin Harvick–who already had a beat-up race car–got into the wall once again while running 3rd and immediately fell back, ultimately finishing 11th. Upon further review, it was Joey Logano who was pushing Harvick at that point. Obviously, both drivers had different views on the issue. They confronted each other after the race, first with Harvick running into Logano’s #22 Ford and then Logano trying to spin out Harvick’s #4 Chevrolet. Once on pit road, they both exited their cars and confronted each other, Joey without his helmet on and Kevin with his still intact.
This will be an issue to keep an eye on as the 2015 season progresses. Remember, it was Kevin Harvick that instigated the fight between Brad Keselowski–who is Joey Logano’s teammate–and Jeff Gordon at Texas last season. Obviously Logano is going to stand up for his teammate. As far as his word fight with Harvick on Saturday night, Joey was quoted as saying that it was just “Kevin being Kevin” and that the driver of the #4 Chevrolet is just an “instigator.” Harvick attributed his frustrations to unnecessary drafting by Logano.
Fantasy Implications of This Race
Typically I don’t recommend analyzing restrictor plate races because the winner tends to get to victory lane out of pure luck the majority of the time. With that being said, I think Matt Kenseth needed this win to start of 2015 on the right foot. This is the same guy that took home a career-best 7 checkered flags in 2013, his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing. Last year, Matt got to victory lane a grand total of zero times. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff remained with the team this year despite the internal moves among all JGR cars, and him and Kenseth were starting to get back into their groove near the end of 2014. Personally I think the #20 Toyota will win quite a few times in 2015 and be an actual title contender once again–and I wouldn’t count Kenseth out in next week’s Daytona 500, either. Keep in mind, however, that the last person to win the Sprint Unlimited event and The Great American Race in the same year was Dale Jarrett way back in 2000.