Denny Hamlin Survives To Earn First Win At Talladega

by May 4, 2014

Photo Credit: NASCAR Via Getty Images

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Denny Hamlin visited Victory Lane for the first time at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday after he won the Aaron’s 499.

After missing last year’s Chase and overcoming a series of injuries, Denny Hamlin’s future is once again bright. With the win, Hamlin is more than likely going to make the 2014 Chase, a great sigh of relief after not only what he has overcome in the past year but also what the No. 11 FedEx Joe Gibbs Racing team has overcome. Hamlin did close out 2013 with a win at Homestead-Miami Speedway and so far this season, he won the Sprint Unlimited and his Budweiser Duel.

“You know, even though really I’ve only been healthy for however many races we’ve had this year, like he (Darian Grubb) said, when we didn’t make the Chase last year, it was pretty much — like they have in sports, we have letdown games, the last 12, 13 races were all letdown for us because we had nothing to race for.

“That part was tough, and so coming into this year I feel good, and I feel like our performance was okay. We started off at Daytona pretty well, but what concerned me the most is how we had been running on the short tracks know that that’s really my forte and what I’m particularly good at. That part is a little frustrating, but you’ve got to get better. You’ve got to go to work. You can’t just stay on top and think that you’re going to out-drive these guys week in and week out. You’ve got to work and continue to improve yourself.”

There was a lot of hype and uncertainty heading into this weekend’s Aaron’s 499. As always no one knows what to expect at Talladega Superspeedway, but this year especially with the Chase format honoring winners and with there already being seven different winners prior to Sunday’s race. The immediate urge to win was stronger than ever because at Talladega, virtually anyone can win.

The action started early on Sunday. On lap 15, Brad Keselowski pulled in front of Danica Patrick for the race lead, but he misjudged just slightly and was hooked. Keselowski slid onto the apron entering turn one, and amazingly, everyone was able to miss him. Unfortunately, that was only the start of Keselowski’s problems.

“I’m not really sure what happened,” Brad Keselowski said. “I made an aggressive move to take the lead and the next thing I knew I was spinning, so I’m not really sure. Obviously, there was some kind of contact but I don’t know what happened.”

On lap 138, the first “Big One” was ignited when Brad Keselowski got aero loose and spun coming out of turn four. In a chain reaction, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, pole sitter Brian Scott and seven more drivers were involved.

“I don’t know what happened,” Brian Scott said. “That is the part about Talladega, they start wrecking in front of you and if you are behind it you really can’t do anything. You don’t have any time to react. I just noticed that the No. 78 in front of me he slowed down real bad. So I got on it then I saw smoke and we were still kind of straight. Then it was kind of just a pinball effect. I ended up going into the inside wall me and (Tony) Stewart took a pretty good shot there, but everybody is alright.”

The same thing happened to Jimmie Johnson coming out of turn four on lap 176. His car just looped around and in the worst possible section of the track. This time, Joey Logano who led 25 laps prior to the accident was involved. The accident also took out Kurt Busch, fan favorite Austin Dillon, last year’s winner David Ragan and three others.

“We just got turned around,” Jimmie Johnson said. “I’m not really sure why. I know I had some damage to the right rear quarter panel and I had a great-driving race car with no issues and then as I was coming through Turn 3, the back end just slid out from under me. So, I don’t know where cars were around me and what could have created it, but it just took a big lazy slide and the back came around.

“I don’t know if the damage to the car played into it because I didn’t have any handling issues all day long. The car drove great.”

Four laps later, Carl Edwards spun by his self while entering turn one, however, he had a possible left rear tire going down. Edwards waved out the window to let everyone behind him know that there was an issue, but the warning came just a little too late. Edwards spun and collected Ryan Newman. Cole Whitt also received damage, as well.

The field got the green flag with only two laps to go, and immediately everyone started jockeying for positions looking for their dance partner. As Denny Hamlin took the white flag, Justin Allgaier and Alex Bowman crashed in the tri-oval. NASCAR allowed the pack to race to the backstretch before throwing the caution for a significant amount of debris on the frontstretch.

“We knew we were in a good spot to get a victory and it was a just a matter of which line was going to get the push — was it going to be the outside or inside,” Hamlin said. “I thought my best chance was to stay on the inside, but usually the outside lane gets jumbled up with guys trying to stick it three-wide. I chose the bottom and it was the right decision.”

The win marks Hamlin’s first points win and third top- 10 finish of the season. It took Hamlin 17 attempts to win at Talladega Superspeedway. Strangely enough, the win was also Hamlin’s first career restrictor plate victory. He has won four times at Daytona International Speedway in non-points events.

“I’m still a short track guy,” Hamlin said. “Those are my roots, that’s where I love racing the most, but we’ve come a long way. I said that over the radio to Darian (Grubb, crew chief). We couldn’t finish 22nd at a superspeedway race for the longest time and now it seems like when we go we know we’ve got the knowledge and car that can win. It feels good to come to these types of race tracks and know you can win.”

Greg Biffle who led 58 laps, most of any driver on Sunday finished second, followed by Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers and AJ Allmendinger. Kyle Larson was the highest finishing rookie in 9th.

Despite being taken out early, Jeff Gordon leads the points standings by three over Matt Kenseth. Kyle Busch (-4) is third, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-19), and Carl Edwards (-19).

Up next for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is the 5-hour Energy 400 at Kansas Speedway on Saturday, May 10. It’ll be the first time the Cup cars have raced underneath the lights at the speedway. The race will be live on FOX at 7:30 p.m. ET, as well as on the Motor Racing Network.

Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway Results:

1.) 11 Denny Hamlin

2.) 16 Greg Biffle

3.) 15 Clint Bowyer

4.) 55 Brian Vickers

5.) 47 AJ Allmendinger

6.) 27 Paul Menard

7.) 4 Kevin Harvick

8.) 5 Kasey Kahne

9.) 42 Kyle Larson

10.) 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

11.) 40 Landon Cassill

12.) 18 Kyle Busch

13.) 43 Aric Almirola

14.) 13 Casey Mears

15.) 3 Austin Dillon

16.) 7 Michael Annett

17.) 78 Martin Truex Jr.

18.) 31 Ryan Newman

19.) 9 Marcos Ambrose

20.) 98 Josh Wise

21.) 26 Cole Whitt

22.) 10 Danica Patrick

23.) 48 Jimmie Johnson

24.) 32 Terry Labonte

25.) 66 Michael Waltrip

26.) 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.

27.) 51 Justin Allgaier

28.) 23 Alex Bowman

29.) 1 Jamie McMurray

30.) 99 Carl Edwards

31.) 83 Ryan Truex

32.) 22 Joey Logano

33.) 41 Kurt Busch

34.) 36 Reed Sorenson

35.) 34 David Ragan

36.) 95 Michael McDowell

37.) 20 Matt Kenseth

38.) 2 Brad Keselowski

39.) 24 Jeff Gordon

40.) 38 David Gilliland

41.) 21 Trevor Bayne

42.) 33 Brian Scott

43.) 14 Tony Stewart