Hamlin Wins Thriller In Talladega
In his 300th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start, Denny Hamlin overtook Kevin Harvick coming to the white flag to win the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.
The 45th annual spring event at the 2.66-mile superspeedway finished under caution, as a multicar incident initiated behind the leaders as the white flag waved. As the final lap continued, debris sat on the frontstretch forcing NASCAR to throw the yellow and halt Hamlin's challengers.
The win awarded the 33-year-old driver his first points-paying triumph at a restrictor-plate track and virtually ensured him a berth into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
"We really just want to win races -- regardless of what implications this means for the Chase," Hamlin said. "It feels good to be back in Victory Lane. (We) just strategically saw that things were getting a little heavy there in the middle part of the race … and we were able to avoid (a wreck) and just play our cards right and make the right strategy."
Greg Biffle stormed to a second-place finish behind Hamlin, with Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers and AJ Allmendinger rounding out the top five.
Brian Scott earned his first career Coors Light Pole Award in the Cup Series on Saturday, but never led a lap as Paul Menard, who started second, grabbed the lead for the first five laps before Danica Patrick in her No. 10 Chevrolet roared from her seventh starting spot to lead for two laps.
Brad Keselowski would eventually pass Patrick, but his time at the front would be short-lived as he made contact with Patrick racing for the lead, sending his No. 2 Miller Lite Ford for a wild slide before coming back onto the track in Turn 1, yielding the first caution on Lap 15.
The race was incident-free through a long stretch in the middle, but that simply set up a dramatic conclusion.
While leading late, Dale Earnhardt Jr. decided to pit on Lap 152 and never contended again. Meanwhile, Biffle had one of his strongest runs of the year to lead the field back to green ahead of Harvick and Kyle Larson.
"The last few restarts were actually really good for us," said Biffle, who exits Talladega eighth in the driver standings.
The second "Big One" of the afternoon came on Lap 175 when Jimmie Johnson lost control of his Chevrolet in Turn 4 and collected seven cars, Austin Dillon and Joey Logano among them.
On the restart, Hamlin and Harvick put on a show utilizing help from their peers, exchanging control of the race for the next two laps before Carl Edwards spun, collecting Ryan Newman and Cole Whitt to bring out the yellow yet again on Lap 184.
Hamlin, though, with help from Biffle and Bowyer, would execute his move on leader Harvick on the restart. With Biffle and Bowyer in-toe, Hamlin came to the white flag when a crash started from behind. The field remained under green, but when debris landed in the racing groove near the start/finish line, the eighth caution of the race was flown, immediately freezing the field and earning Hamlin his 24th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.
"These cars are just so hard to pass believe it or not that you get bottled up, you get where you can't make any moves," Hamlin said. "You have to be in those top two lines to do anything. I knew once we were in the top three in those last 20 laps that we were going to be in good shape."
Menard finished sixth, Harvick wound up seventh, Kasey Kahne was eighth, Larson ninth and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. comprised the top-10.