Veteran won Sprint Unlimited, posted strong time in qualifying Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live " Vote: Ultimate Daytona Challenge DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – He won the Sprint Unlimited and posted the fourth fastest time in the final round of qualifying for Sunday’s Daytona 500 (which became the third fastest in the final round after teammate Denny Hamlin's time was disallowed). Matt Kenseth is looking more like the driver that won seven times in 2013 and less like the one who went winless last season. But there's a long way to go between qualifying for the 500 and taking the green flag in the season-opening race. Three more practice sessions (two on Wednesday and another on Thursday) are on tap, and that's just before this week's Budweiser Duel qualifying races on Thursday night. There are three more practices after the duels. "We got through the first two processes and now we need to get through the (qualifying race) with a good finish and get ready for Sunday," Kenseth said after locking in the No. 2 starting spot for Thursday's opening 60-lap, 150-mile race. "I feel like all our (cars) have been real competitive since we got here – we've got a lot of speed and that's encouraging, but it's speedway racing and anything can happen." Kenseth's No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing entry will start alongside Daytona 500 pole winner Jeff Gordon in the opening duel. Help from his teammates was crucial during Sunday's qualifying, but Kenseth will have no such assistance come Thursday. Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin will be lining up in the second qualifier, based on the odd-even pairing to set the two fields. Those three rolled into Daytona with new crew chiefs in tow – Darian Grubb with Edwards, Adam Stevens with Busch and Dave Rogers with Hamlin. Kenseth touched down with Jason Ratcliff, just as he did last year. Team owner Joe Gibbs said there no reason to pull the plug on the No. 20 pairing. "There was no thought there," he said. "We really felt like this is one team we wanted to leave matched up. "Each one of those other situations was a little bit different." Kenseth didn't make it to the winner's circle last year in a points-paying event, but Ratcliff doesn't sound too disappointed when ask about the results. "We had a great season. When you look at our overall performance, our top 10s, top fives … we had a lot of good opportunities," he said. "Having two years under out belt, I think it's a no-brainer. We're looking forward to a remarkable year." How a team fares here at Daytona may set the tone for the season, but it doesn't set the table. Restrictor-place races are few and far between on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. It's the intermediate tracks that are the meat and potatoes. And while history shows that Daytona 500 winners rarely go on to win the championship, that nugget doesn't take any of the shine off winning the series biggest race. Kenseth has been to Victory Lane here twice in the 500, both times while with Roush Fenway Racing. JGR drivers have won here once, and that was back in '93 with NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett driving. "We've been here 24 years. We've won once," Gibbs said. "It's extremely hard. … For us it has been gut‑wrenching. I can't tell you how many times we've been disappointed walking away from here." Getting a win in the Unlimited race, a non-points event, was big, Kenseth said, but it also afforded the team the opportunity to understand a few things that might be of use in the coming days. "I felt like we learned some things about the race car, the track and the tires a little bit," he said. "that will apply Thursday night. This is the only shot at it (in race conditions). "It's a great start. Hopefully we can keep the momentum for the rest of the week." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Joe Gibbs Racing driver holds off Truex Jr., teammate Edwards Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live " Vote: Ultimate Daytona Challenge MORE: Full Sprint Unlimited results DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.— Matt Kenseth did what he couldn't do all of last year — win a race. And Martin Truex Jr., runner-up in Saturday night's 75-lap Sprint Unlimited exhibition race at Daytona International Speedway, did what he could do only once in 2014 — lead a lap. Coming to the finish line on the last lap, Kenseth blocked Truex’s move off Turn 4 and crossed the finish line in his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota .219 seconds ahead of Truex, who led four times for 28 laps after leading just one lap in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series all of last season. The victory was Kenseth's first in the non-points race, but it was the second straight win for Joe Gibbs Racing. RELATED: See the best photos from Saturday's race With only 12 of the 25 cars that started the race running at the finish, Carl Edwards came home third in his first run in a JGR Toyota, followed by Casey Mears and Kyle Larson. Joey Logano was sixth, but a last-lap altercation with reigning series champion Kevin Harvick (11th Saturday), left those two drivers jawing at each other after the finish. Logano was pushing Harvick after the final restart with four laps left, and Harvick felt the No. 22 Ford ran him up into the outside wall. Kenseth was worried when he saw Truex back out of the throttle on the final lap. "At the end there, Martin did an excellent job," Kenseth said. "He backed off me so far. I saw him letting off the gas before we got to Turn 1, and I was like 'Ah, this isn’t good.'... "I just decided I was going to keep going. He got a big run at me, but we just had enough speed that, as he starting getting closer to me, we started building a little bit of RPM, and I was able to make sure that my car stayed in front of his car and was able to hold on." Truex didn't get the help he needed from Edwards, who joined JGR during the offseason. But Truex was elated with the speed in his car after a very disappointing first year in the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet in 2014. "I had more fun in the car tonight than I've had since 2013," said Truex, who raced for the first time with former team engineer Cole Pearn as his crew chief. "I only made one mistake tonight — and that was giving up the lead with handful of laps to go (Truex led for the last time on Lap 55). That’s what cost us the race." An early incident that KO'd the No. 2 Team Penske Ford of Brad Keselowski on Lap 23 was merely a prelude to the main event, a 14-car wreck on Lap 45 that erupted when the field accordioned out of Turn 4 and Greg Biffle tapped Jamie McMurray's bumper and sent the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet out of control. MORE: 'Big One' hits 14 cars Severely damaged in the accident that red-flagged the race for 15 minutes were the cars of McMurray, polesitter Paul Menard, Jimmie Johnson, defending race winner Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer among others. Hamlin's No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota took a ride through the tri-oval grass. "It was a matter of time that we were going to wreck," Hamlin said. "We were side-drafting so aggressively from the first lap of the race… We were trying to get to front and protect our track position, because we knew this was coming. I just couldn't get there quick enough. "When you hit the grass now, it's death. It tore the front end of the car off." Subsequent wrecks eliminated Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon (Lap 62), as well as Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch and Biffle (Lap 68). The latter incident brought out the second red flag of the night, for 5 minutes 18 seconds. "You can tell we've been cooped up all winter long and we're ready to go," Stenhouse said ruefully. Note: The first caution of the race produced the first use of NASCAR's new pit road technology. Cameras flagged infractions by McMurray's crew (over the wall too soon) and driver Ryan Newman (passing through too many pit boxes), and officials on computer monitors in a NASCAR trailer confirmed the violations. MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Matt Kenseth holds off the field to win the 2015 Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.
Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart hit the wall in the DAYTONA 500.
Matt Kenseth takes the checkered flag to win the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway
Matt Kenseth and Joe Gibbs talk about winning the Sprint Unlimited and starting the year strong.
Matt Kenseth celebrates a victory in the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway.
Joe Gibbs Racing driver looks to bounce back from winless season RELATED: Full schedule of driver previews Team: Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota Rank in final 2014 standings: Seventh Wins: None Year in photos: Recap Kenseth's 2014 season Strides: "Highlight of our season? That's a tough one because we didn't win any races," Kenseth said when asked about 2014 superlatives. The winner of a career-best seven races after making the move to JGR in 2013, Kenseth and the No. 20 team couldn’t find their way to Victory Lane once the '14 season got under way. But by the end of the year, Kenseth actually had more top-five (13) and top-10 (22) finishes than he managed the previous year. He also qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for the 10th time, advancing through two rounds before being eliminated in the Eliminator Round. In addition to earning two pole positions, Kenseth posted a career-best second-place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway . Actually, Kenseth wasn't shut out of Victory Lane entirely -- he did collect a checkered flag in the season-ending Nationwide (now XFINITY ) Series event at Homestead, and won one of the two qualifying races prior to the Daytona 500 . "Winning the first (Duel) race at Daytona was probably the highlight, going out and feeling like we were going to be pretty competitive there; Denny (Hamlin) won the second one, we won the first one," Kenseth said. "At the time I didn't think that would be our highlight, but that was probably one of them. "We had a lot of solid races but none that really stand out, where I was like 'Man, that was just an awesome day' because we didn't get any wins." Setbacks: The lack of wins -- it was his first shutout season since 2010 -- and a lack of get-to-the-front speed proved to be the team's undoing. But Kenseth said it wasn't a single item that held the team back throughout the course of the 36-race season. Down the stretch, he and his team remained in contention. A third-place finish at Phoenix in the Eliminator Round finale saw him finish just outside the cutoff for advancing to the Championship Round. "Exceptionally fast" the previous year, Kenseth said "between the aero changes (in '14) and getting the car down on the track, we just didn't seem to have a handle on it the way we did the year before. Our balance was just way off and we could never get it fixed the way we wanted it." Quoteworthy: "I feel like we did a really good job this year with what we had to work with. None of our cars were near as fast as they were last year." What's next: While expansion and a crew chief shuffle at JGR will have new faces in new places for '15, Kenseth's group will have a familiar look. Jason Ratcliff returns for a third season as crew chief, a non-change that Kenseth feels good about. Kenseth said he's also looking forward to the the latest changes to the rules package, moves that will take away a bit of horsepower and lessen downforce. "Hopefully that will make it a little easier to pass in traffic; hopefully it will make the cars a little freer," he said. "They just had so much spoiler on them last year and were always so tight. I'm hoping that will help. It's the same for everybody but hopefully it will help." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Matt Kenseth shares his thoughts of the final laps as Martin Truex Jr. dropped back to set up a run to the finish and hopes this trip to Victory Lane is the first of many in 2015.
Matt Kenseth talks about being ready to work with new team and crew members and what the new rules package means for NASCAR.