DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Denny Hamlin is still undefeated in 2014, winning the second Daytona 500 qualifying race Thursday night as he coolly pulled away from the field as chaos erupted behind him.
Now he will attempt to become the first driver in history to sweep Speedweeks when he tries to win Sundays season-opening Daytona 500. Hamlin also won last Saturday nights exhibition Sprint Unlimited.
Once that snowball starts to roll, its hard to stop it, and right now were just on a heck of a run, said Hamlin, who closed last year with a win in the season finale.
Matt Kenseth, Hamlins teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, won the first Budweiser Duel 150 on Thursday night.
The Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas were strong last season and contenders to win, but came up empty when Kenseths engine failed while leading. Minutes later, teammate Kyle Buschs engine failed. Toyota is still looking for its first win in the Great American Race.
The last Daytona was so far away, weve moved well beyond that, Toyota Racing Development President David Wilson said. Were certainly not sweating the issues we had last year.
JGR and the manufacturer are in great shape headed into Sunday following the strong performance Thursday in the two races, the first of which was redemption for Kenseth, who was involved in two wrecks earlier in Speedweeks.
The second race had a wild ending when defending Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson ran out of gas as the field raced toward the checkered flag. It caused Jamie McMurray to run into the back of Johnson, turning Johnson sideways and both cars into the wall.
The entire pack began to spin around them, and Clint Bowyer flipped upside down. Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip slid through the grass and hit hard into the inside retaining wall.
I knew he was saving gas coming to the green. Its too bad to tear cars up like that, Bowyer said. That was one of the wildest flips Ive ever had. I think we would have been just fine if I hadnt hit the grass right here.
Notes: Dave Blaney withdrew from the Daytona 500, a day after he totaled his only car in the first full practice for the race. Rookie Parker Kligerman landed LendingTree as a sponsor for the No. 30 Toyota for the Daytona 500. Chevrolet believes a pinched wire caused a pace car fire during last weeks Sprint Unlimited exhibition race.