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 while chaos erupted behind him.
Now he will attempt to become the first driver in history to sweep Speedweeks when he tries to win Sunday’s season-opening Daytona 500. Hamlin also won last Saturday night’s exhibition Sprint Unlimited.
“Once that snowball starts to roll, it’s hard to stop it, and right now we’re just on a heck of a run,” said Hamlin, who closed last year with a win in the season finale.
Matt Kenseth, Hamlin’s teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, won the first Budweiser Duel 150.
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The Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas were strong last season and contenders to win, but came up empty when Kenseth’s engine failed while leading. Minutes later, teammate Kyle Busch’s engine failed. Toyota is still looking for its first win in the “Great American Race.”
The first qualifying race was redemption for Kenseth, who was involved in two wrecks earlier in Speedweeks. He felt vindicated when he nipped Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne of Enumclaw at the finish line.
“It makes up a little bit for the rest of the week — the rest of the week I haven’t been very coordinated,” Kenseth said. “I was kind of embarrassed walking in the garage. You feel like people are kind of looking at you cross-eyed.”
Said Harvick: “We just had a three-wide finish for the win. I guess if you guys don’t like that, we’ll have to try something different.”
Harvick’s Chevrolet, sponsored by Budweiser, failed post-race inspection. He will have to start at the back of the Daytona 500 field as penalty, joining Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Tony Stewart and Danica Patrick, who also have to fall to the back for making unapproved engine changes.
While the first race was uneventful, 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 went 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 the inside retaining wall hard.
“I knew he was saving gas coming to the green. It’s too bad to tear cars up like that,” Bowyer said. “That was one of the wildest flips I’ve ever had. I think we would have been just fine if I hadn’t hit the grass right here.”
Johnson was apologetic.