By Jordan McAbee
It was the Denny Hamlin / Brad Keselowski show on Saturday night. The two combined to lead 65 of the 79-lap Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway with the #11 Toyota prevailing at the end. And really, there probably wasn’t a better car in the field.
The #2 Ford driven by Brad Keselowski got out to an early lead before a piece of debris caused overheating issues. Once that problem was fixed, BK was able to make his way back through the field and eventually toward the front, although there was another contender up there: Denny Hamlin.
The King of the Plate Tracks
It should have came as no surprise that Hamlin had a great race car: he’s arguably been the best on the restrictor plate tracks over the last two years. Although fan favorite Dale Earnhardt, Jr. typically gets the “best plate racer” recognition when the series is at Daytona or Talladega, Hamlin let the NASCAR fans know on Saturday night that he deserves a piece of that conversation.
This is the second Sprint Unlimited win for Denny Hamlin over the last three years, with the other coming back in 2014. He also won his Duel race that season and went on to finish runner-up to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in “The Great American Race”–the Daytona 500.
On Saturday night, Earnhardt wasn’t able to show very much due to being caught up in an early wreck. Still, there weren’t many cars that looked to be able to challenge the #11 Toyota in this year’s Sprint Unlimited, and it will be interesting to see whether the other Sprint Cup teams can catch up a bit as we get closer to the first “real” race of the 2016 season.
Until Denny Hamlin can get to victory lane in a race that counts at Daytona, the king of the plate tracks is still Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Can Hamlin Win the Daytona 500?
Denny Hamlin has won four Sprint Cup events at Daytona International Speedway, but has yet to get to victory lane in a points-paying race. Will he finally be able to break out and get a win in this year’s Daytona 500?
Over the last two years at Daytona (four points-paying races) nobody has a better average finish than Hamlin, who hasn’t ended up worse than 6th. Denny went to victory lane at Talladega in 2014, and it’s not crazy to think he won’t be able to get there at Daytona sometime soon. The last time that a driver won the Sprint Unlimited and went on to win “The Great American Race” was 2000, though, when Dale Jarrett accomplished the feat.
One thing is for sure, though: although he may not be thought of as a great plate racer, Denny Hamlin and the #11 crew continue to bring great cars to these superspeedway tracks–specifically the one in Florida. The only way that he won’t be a contender for the win in this year’s Daytona 500 is if the #11 Toyota has mechanical issues or gets caught up in a wreck.