Matt Kenseth snags first race of season

Rusty Jarrett/Harold Hinson Photography

By Jerry Jordan — DAYTONA BEACH – The only thing that mattered Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway was winning in the Sprint Unlimited because points didn’t count and after several crashes, typical of restrictor plate racing, Matt Kenseth put the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota in Victory Lane.

“The big race Sunday (Feb. 22) is the important one,” Kenseth said, during his post race interviews. “It’s a great start to the week and hopefully we can keep the momentum for the rest of the week. It is the hardest thing in the world to do is drive those racecars. You find that you make a lot of wrong moves and some great moves.

“There is nothing like winning. That is why we come out and do this every week. I also feel like we learned some stuff. I felt like we learned some stuff that will help us Thursday night (in the Budweiser Duels).”

For his efforts, Kenseth brought home $198,475 and the runner-up, Martin Truex Jr. pocketed $84,475. However, when looking at what the Sprint Unlimited cost Joe Gibbs Racing, it’s hard not to question its financial feasibility. The Gibbs organization lost one car when Denny Hamlin caved in the frontend of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota and only recouped $25,450 in prize money. Adding insult to injury, Kyle Busch tore up the No. 18 Crispy M&M’s machine but was still able to pull off an eighth place finish and snagged a lukewarm $32,950. Carl Edwards finished third and brought home $44450 for the night.

Kenseth said he wasn’t surprised by the carnage seen on the track because it’s standard procedure at Daytona.

“I wasn’t surprised. It’s what happens every year,” he said. “I have seen a lot of plate races in the past 15 years and more of them end up like that than don’t.”

Truex said he had fun racing for the first time in 2015 and hopes he can parlay his experience into a good finish in next week’s Daytona 500. He said he didn’t care about anything but trying to win because that was all that mattered Saturday night.

“That’s what made it fun,” Truex said. “Because there’s no points on the line. Everybody’s just out there to win. That’s the only thing that matters. Nobody is going to remember next year that I finished second in this race. So that’s kind of the mentality of everyone that goes out there. There’s a lot of things we can build off of as a team. But at the end of the day, it’s all about winning. That’s why everybody runs that hard all night long.”

Truex said he had a shot at the win but he felt like his momentum was broken when Carl Edwards slowed and cost him value speed by disrupting the draft. He said he felt like Edwards was dragging the brakes so he couldn’t get a run on the No. 20.

“I kind of got the setup that I wanted coming off of two on the last lap. The problem was the 19 was the car behind me. He was obviously the 20’s teammate. He wasn’t going to give me the push down the back that I needed to get the momentum to get around the 20. I didn’t have enough speed when I got to him to keep him from blocking me. So the simple truth is, if Carl would have pushed me a little bit harder, he was probably dragging the brake because he didn’t want me to pass his teammate. I just didn’t have enough speed on the 20 to make the move without him being able to block.”

Rounding out the Top 5 on the night were Mears and Logano, respectively.

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