Denny Hamlin won a wreck-marred Sprint Unlimited Saturday night to deliver Joe Gibbs Racing its third straight victory and fourth in the past five years in the annual season-opening exhibition race at Daytona International Speedway.
Hamlin was leading on the second of a two-lap overtime when a multi-car wreck triggered by JGR teammate Matt Kenseth brought out the caution and froze the field as is. Joey Logano finished second, Paul Menard third, Kyle Larson fourth and Casey Mears fifth.
The win was Hamlin's first with new crew chief Mike Wheeler, who took over the positon during the off-season. Wheeler had been a longtime engineer on Hamlin's No. 11 team before moving to the Xfinity Series last year to gain crew chief experience. When JGR enacted a personnel reorganization over the offseason, Hamlin lobbied for Wheeler, a good friend, to become his crew chief.
Hamlin led the final 16 laps to secure victory. He previously won the Unlimited in 2006 and 2014.
"I'm so happy for Mike Wheeler," Hamlin said. "He's 1-for-1 with a good win here at Daytona."
Seven cautions, five of them for wrecks, slowed the race for 25 laps.
The largest incident saw Brian Vickers puncture a tire and spin, starting an accident that included Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer among others.
Although Harvick and Earnhardt both said they could see Vickers' right-rear tire equalizing, neither could avoid the mayhem that ensued. Harvick finished last, 22nd, while Earnhardt limped to a 15th-place result.
The Unlimited was Vickers first start as a replacement for Tony Stewart, who is out indefinitely after fracturing his back in an all-terrain vehicle accident last month. Vickers raced just twice last season due to a recurrence of blood clots. He was not injured Saturday night.
"It was a hard hit, they are never fun," Vickers said. "You blow a right-rear tire, you hit driver-side at 200 mph, but that is part of racing. That is all the risk we take. I'm fine. I feel fine. I was having fun. I was having a blast actually. It was just so much fun to get out there with those guys and rub fenders again and race hard."