Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin win Daytona qualifying races
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Last-lap mayhem in Thursday night's second Budweiser 150 qualifying race shook up the field for Sunday's Daytona 500.
The wreck included Martin Truex Jr., who was slated to start alongside pole-sitter Austin Dillon in the 500. Truex's Furniture Row Chevrolet was heavily damaged, all but certainly forcing him to a backup car and the rear of the field on Sunday.
Joe Gibbs Racing made a statement, winning both ends of the doubleheader with Matt Kenseth in the opener and Denny Hamlin in the nightcap.
It was an accident-free evening until six-time champion Jimmie Johnson ran out of gas and was plowed into by former Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray, touching off a nine-car crash.
Two Michael Waltrip Racing entries were heavily involved. Clint Bowyer's car was flipped into a barrel roll after being struck by David Ragan. Waltrip suffered a hard hit, running into an opening in the pit road wall.
"That was one of the wildest flips I've ever had," Bowyer said. "I think we would have been just fine if I hadn't hit the [infield] grass."
"I feel terrible," Johnson said. "I tried to get out of the way. I had my hand outside my window [signaling]. But I knew I was going to get run over if I ran out [of fuel]."
Kenseth, a two-time Daytona 500 winner, held off Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne in a frantic first-race finish. Hamlin then backed up his victory in last Saturday's Sprint Unlimited, taking the second race ahead of Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch.
Kenseth finished second to Johnson in the championship standings last season. Hamlin missed four races with a back injury and was relegated to 23rd in points despite winning the final race of 2013.
"Last year was so, so hard on us," said team owner Joe Gibbs, looking for his first Daytona 500 victory since 1993 with Dale Jarrett. "I think we're all hungry. This is fun."
Hamlin, who led the last 23 laps, is brimming with confidence, having won his last three starts. "Right now, it's like a huge snowball that's like an avalanche," he said, "and it's not stopping."
Kenseth seemed to have matters in hand until Harvick made a dramatic rush coming off the final turn. Harvick stuck the nose of his Chevrolet in front of Kenseth's Toyota, but Kenseth had enough momentum on the outside to take the checkered flag, also holding off the fast-closing Kahne in a three-wide finish.
In his first race for Stewart-Haas Racing, Harvick's car failed NASCAR's post-race inspection. Harvick's track bar exceeded the maximum allowed split, but he qualified for Sunday's race based on his pole qualifying time.