Wild night: Denny Hamlin avoids 9-car wreck, pace car fire en route to Sprint Unlimited win

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After winning last year’s season finale at Homestead Miami Speedway, Denny Hamlin picked up where he left off by starting the new 2014 season with a win in Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.

Hamlin, who started the night from the pole, was the class of the field, leading 27 laps across the three segments of the 75-lap exhibition race to win the entire event.

It was further affirmation that Hamlin is fully back from last year’s devastating wreck early in the year at Fontana, Calif., that knocked him out for four races and forced him to drive in pain for most of the remainder of the season.

But his win at Homestead was the best medicine Hamlin could ask for and provided momentum and motivation not only coming into Saturday night’s race, but certainly for next Sunday’s Daytona 500 and the rest of the 36-race season.

“The best car won, that’s for sure,” Hamlin said of his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry. “We’re two in a row and building on something. It was survival of the fittest, for sure. With three (laps) to go, we were at the tail end of a very small pack and it’s really hard to get a run, but this car was just phenomenal.”

What started as an 18-driver field ended with only eight cars remaining at the end. Brad Keselowski finished second, followed by Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Marcos Ambrose and Ryan Newman.

With a full moon shining down on the track, it was perhaps one of the strangest nights of racing NASCAR has seen in a long time.

It started with defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson spinning out by himself and ending his night early by slamming into the inside retaining wall on the final lap of the first segment, a 30-lap affair.

On the sixth lap of the 25-lap second segment, a massive nine-car wreck brought out a race-stopping red flag. The mayhem began when Matt Kenseth cut down on the front end of Joey Logano, triggering the wreck.

Drivers involved in the wreck were Danica Patrick, Carl Edwards, Kenseth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Logano, Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch.

The night grew even stranger when the final part of the big wreck resulted in Stenhouse slamming into the side of his girlfriend’s car.

Stenhouse was unable to see where he was going due to damage incurred in the first split seconds of the crash. To her credit, Patrick avoided all of the slamming and banging around her and slid to a stop – only to have her boyfriend run into her and end her night.

Earlier in the day, hours before the Sprint Unlimited during practice for Sunday’s front row qualifying session, Patrick and Stewart suffered motor failure in engines leased from Hendrick Motorsports. Patrick and Stewart drove different cars with different motors in the Sprint Unlimited.

But wait, it got even stranger: As Hamlin and the other eight drivers that were left to start the final segment came to the green flag, the pace car caught fire! (See video below)

The pace car was quickly brought to a halt and track fire and safety personnel converged upon it to put out the small blaze — certainly nothing like the inferno that took place in the 2012 Daytona 500 when Juan Pablo Montoya slammed into the rear of a track jet dryer.

Other things of note in Saturday’s strange night:

* Kyle Busch went on a wild single-car ride when he spun out in the third segment, but was able to regain control and continue on early in the final segment, rallying for a third-place finish.

* Dale Earnhardt Jr. was knocked out of the race midway through the final 20-lap segment when he was hooked into the outside retaining wall by Marcos Ambrose.

Before taking his mangled car to the garage, Earnhardt managed to catch up with Ambrose on the track and expressed his displeasure at what happened.

But after climbing from his car and watching a TV replay, Earnhardt backed off on fully blaming Ambrose for the incident.

“It looks like I was trying to get down there and Marcos went to the outside and I didn’t know he was there,” Earnhardt said. “Hard racing and I hate to have it happen.

“I was upset with him, but I can’t really say it was his fault. He was going to the outside and I didn’t know he was up there. I thought he was staying with me because he’d been pushing me down the straightaway. I thought he was committed to that situation, and a lot was happening right there, and we just got turned around.”

While Earnhardt’s night was over at that point, Ambrose was able to continue on.

All in all, the Sprint Unlimited may not have played out the way many had hoped, but in the end a strange night ended with an exciting finish and a great storyline for the winning driver. We can only hope that next Sunday’s Daytona 500 plays out that well.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Peacock to stream all Supercross and Motocross races in 2023, plus inaugural SuperMotocross Championship

Peacock Supercross Motocross 2023
Feld Entertainment, Inc.
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NBC Sports and Feld Motor Sports announced that Peacock and the NBC family of networks will stream all 31 races of the combined Monster Energy Supercross, Lucas Oil Pro Motocross and the newly created SuperMotocross World Championship beginning January 7, 2023 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California and ending October 14 in the place where Supercross was born: the Los Angeles Coliseum.

The combined series will create a 10-month calendar of events, making it one of the longest professional sports’ seasons in the United States.

The agreement is for multiple years. The season finale will air live on Peacock and the USA Network.

Peacock will present live coverage of all races, qualifying and heats across both series. The 31 total races will mark a record for the combined number of Supercross and Pro Motocross events that NBC Sports will present in a single season.

NBC, USA Network and CNBC will provide coverage of all races, including the SuperMotocross World Championship Playoffs and Final, through 2023 and beyond. For more information about the Peacock streaming service, click here.

“With our wide array of live and original motorsports offerings, Peacock is a natural home for Supercross and Pro Motocross races,” said Rick Cordella, Chief Commercial Officer, Peacock. “We’re looking forward to providing fans with an easily-accessible destination to find every race all season long, including the exciting finish with the newly formed SuperMotocross World Championship.”

MORE: A conversation about media rights created the new SuperMotocross World Championship Series

The NBC family of networks has been home to Supercross for the past several seasons and this is a continuation of that relationship. The media rights for both series expired at the end of 2022, which allowed Supercross and Motocross to combine their efforts.

In fact, it was that conversation that led to the formation of the SuperMotocross World Championship (SMX).

The SMX series will begin on September 9, 2023 after the conclusion of the Pro Motocross season. Points will accumulate from both series to seed the SMX championship, which creates a record number of unified races.

“The SuperMotocross World Championship adds a new dimension to the annual Supercross and Pro Motocross seasons that will result in crowning the ultimate World Champion,” said Stephen C. Yaros, SVP Global Media and Supercross for Feld Motor Sports. “We are thrilled to be extending our relationship with NBC Sports so our fans can watch all the racing action streaming live on Peacock and the option to also watch select rounds on NBC, USA Network and CNBC.”

Complete 2023 coverage schedules for Supercross, Pro Motocross and the SuperMotocross World Championship on Peacock, NBC, USA Network and CNBC will be announced in the near future.