Kenseth, Hamlin favorites at crash-hit Daytona

Fri Feb 21, 2014 5:09pm EST
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By Lewis Franck

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida (Reuters) - Joe Gibbs Racing team mates Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin surged into the roles of favorites for the Daytona 500 on Sunday after roaring to victories in preliminary races at Daytona Speedway.

While Kenseth and Hamlin claimed the spotlight in their Toyotas, concerns grew that the Speedway could be turned into a collision course in NASCAR's season-opening spectacular as pack-racing has led to crashes that have wrecked 20 cars this week.

Kenseth, a two-time winner at the 2.5-mile, high-banked oval, won his preliminary 150-mile race on Thursday, holding off Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne. In 2012, Kenseth went on to win the Daytona 500 after winning his qualifying race.

Hamlin, who missed most of 2013 due to a back injury, not only won his crash-marred qualifying race but also won a race on the track last Saturday.

Garage insiders consider the preliminary events good indicators for the 56th edition of the event known as the Great American Race.

Under unique race rules, only the front row of pole winner Austin Dillon and Martin Truex Jr. had been locked into their starting positions before the qualifying races. However, Truex wrecked his car in the qualifier, sending him to the rear of the 43-car grid in his back-up car when they start on Sunday.

Kenseth starts third and Hamlin fourth in the second row.

Despite the impressive showing, team owner Gibbs, the former three-time winning Super Bowl coach of the Washington Redskins, was not overconfident about seeing one of his cars win Daytona for the first time since 1993 with Dale Jarrett.   Continued...

Feb 20, 2014; Daytona Beach, FL, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Matt Kenseth (20) celebrates winning race one of the Budweiser Duel at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports - RTX197XE