DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) – Matt Kenseth’s latest victory came in an exhibition race and with only 12 cars running at the end.
The circumstances didn’t matter to Kenseth, who made his first trip to victory lane in 17 months on Saturday night.
Kenseth, coming off a winless 2014 season, has opened the new year with a long-awaited win. He claimed Saturday night’s exhibition Sprint Unlimited, which was a crash-filled kickoff to the NASCAR season for the second consecutive year.
“It’s always fun to win at Daytona for sure, it’s fun to win anywhere,” Kenseth said. “There’s nothing like winning. That’s why we come out and do this every week. Getting a win was the best part for us.
Only 12 of the 25 cars in the field were running at the end of the race, which was stopped twice by red flags for multi-car accidents. There were only eight cars running at the end of the 2014 race.
Kenseth, in his third season with Joe Gibbs Racing, had one of the strongest cars in the field and he pulled away on a restart with four laps remaining to claim the win.
Now he’s hoping it’s a sign that his Toyota will be a contender in the Feb. 22 season-opening Daytona 500.
“It’s going to be a good week,” Kenseth said. “We’ve got a lot of racing left to do. But all our cars have speed, which is the first thing you’re going to look for.”
Martin Truex Jr., who led just one lap all of last season, led 30 laps but finished second.
“What a hot rod we had. After the last year and a half I’ve had, I really needed that,” Truex said. “These guys really needed a shot in the arm. I’m just really proud of their efforts over the wintertime. I’m really excited about this week.”
Carl Edwards, in his debut race for Joe Gibbs Racing, was third as JGR Toyotas went first and third in the race. It marked the second year JGR has won the Speedweeks opener; Denny Hamlin went to victory lane last season.
“I’m glad Matt won that race, but, man, I could taste it there,” said Edwards, who left Roush Fenway Racing at the end of the season to join JGR. “That was a good day.”
Casey Mears was fourth and followed by Kyle Larson, Logano, and Jeff Gordon, who raced in his final Speedweeks opener. Gordon is retiring from full-time racing at the end of this season and has said this year will be his final Daytona 500.
Reigning NASCAR champion Kevin Harvick exchanged cross words with Joey Logano after the 75-lap race.
Harvick was upset with Logano for how he pushed Harvick’s car in the final laps, and the two showed their displeasure with each other by banging cars on the cool-down lap. They then spoke on pit road, where Harvick held the conversation while wearing his helmet.
“It’s Kevin being Kevin. New year, same stuff,” Logano said. “I was just trying to help, really. We had a run and we kept pushing. He doesn’t understand I was trying to help.
“I understand his frustration, but I was trying to help out and trying to get to the front and trying to win this thing,” he added. “There are no points or anything like that; you go for a win. Second place, third place, fourth place doesn’t mean anything.”
Harvick said he didn’t appreciate Logano shoving his car.
“You know when you can push and how you can push and how far you can push, and you can’t push them all the way into the corner and against the fence,” Harvick said. “It was a hell of a race. Just really dumb driving there at the end. You’ve got to be aggressive, but you’ve still got to use your head. You can’t just detach it and lay it on the floorboard.”
Danica Patrick also seemed to be upset with Logano as she walked by him after the race, but Logano didn’t understand what was bothering her.
“I am confused,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going on right now. I am really confused about everything.”
The second red-flag occurred after a three-car accident that sent Greg Biffle hard into an inside wall. The hit caused his car to ricochet into Kurt Busch’s, as both cars were mangled. Also involved with Tony Stewart, who seemed on a mission to prove he’s back to his old self after two tough years.
He charged from 22nd to eighth in the first two laps of the race, and confidently told his team how he was feeling: “You think they know I showed up to play today?” he radioed.
On the restart with four laps remaining Kenseth was able to pull away as Truex couldn’t get any assistance from Edwards, who elected not to give Truex a push in an effort to help Kenseth get the win.
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