Denny Hamlin opens Speedweeks with win in exhibition Sprint Unlimited at Daytona

The Associated Press

Matt Kenseth (20) slides backward as he is involved in a crash with Tony Stewart (14), Jeff Gordon (24) and Carl Edwards (99) on the front stretch during the NASCAR Sprint Unlimited auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

Associated Press SHARE

By JENNA FRYER, AP Auto Racing Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Denny Hamlin has won the exhibition Sprint Unlimited — a race that ended with only eight cars running to the checkered flag at Daytona International Speedway.

Half the 18-car field was knocked out of Saturday night's race during a nine-car accident during the second of three segments.

It was a bizarre kickoff to Speedweeks as Danica Patrick's race was ended when boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr. slammed into her car during the melee, and the Chevrolet pace car later caught on fire.

A 75-lap race split over three segments, this version had a heavy fan involvement as sponsor Sprint allowed fans to vote for various aspects of the race. Among them was the starting order, how the segments were split and how the cars lined up in the final segment.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.