NASCAR pulled back the curtain on the 2014 season last weekend in Daytona with plenty of excitement for the fans.
After a long off season, NASCAR's elite cranked things up with the Sprint Unlimited under the lights on Saturday night. The event featured the pole winners from the 2013 season and it didn't take long for the action to get a little wild.
Jimmie Johnson crashed on the final lap of the first segment for the third straight year ending his night early. However, it was the nine car pileup in the second segment that took out many of the pre-race favorites.
Tony Stewart in his first race back after breaking his leg last season was caught up in that crash but escaped without injury.
When the action resumed, Denny Hamlin made it clear that he was ready to pick up where he left off last season by drafting by his teammate, Kyle Busch, to take the victory.
"Winning never hurts anything, especially when you finish a year with a win and then start the year with a win," said Hamlin after the race. "You think the sky's the limit. You think you can win every race from here on out"
Hamlin knows that the win didn't carry any points toward the 2014 championship but, understands the value of the momentum it brings heading into the Daytona 500 next Sunday.
"We're motivated anyway for the start of this year, and obviously expectations were really high within our team," continued Hamlin on his winning effort. "But this obviously gives us even more."
Hamlin's win Saturday night was quickly overshadowed the following day as rookie driver Austin Dillon captured the pole for the Daytona 500 while sporting the famous Number 3 on the side of his car.
It was the first time that the Number 3 had participated in a Sprint cup race since the late Dale Earnhart Sr. crashed on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
"You know, the 3 is special to all of us," said team owner Richard Childress on his grandson's fast lap. "The family, the Earnhardt family to every one of us, but I think it's special because Austin, our family is in the car. You know, the emotion will fly if the 3 rolls in there on Sunday."
Dillon understands the scrutiny that he will be under by running that iconic number but is trying to keep everything in perspective.
"It's a long season," commented Dillon. "There's a lot of ups and downs, and this is one of the top points, obviously starting off like this, so you want to carry that momentum going forward. But for me, I just have to stay grounded and have fun."
Judging from what we've seen in the last few days, NASCAR fans should have some fun this season as well.
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