Denny Hamlin survived a wild race at Talladega to win the Aaron’s 499 on Sunday afternoon.
Hamlin led only 12 laps on his way to victory, and he had to hold off a hard charge from Greg Biffle in the closing laps.
Hamlin and Kevin Harvick raced hard over the final laps, but a caution came out to set up a green-white-checkered finish. The leaders were unsure if they would have enough fuel to make it to the end, but a caution on the final lap froze the field and gave Hamlin the victory.
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“I was going to try to get him going through the trioval and I was backing up on the backstretch to get a run at him,” said second-place finisher Biffle, who also led a race-high 58 laps. “I could have been beside him for sure had I taken the chance, but I didn’t know there was a big bumper laying on the track.”
Hamlin’s first victory of the season gives him a birth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup after missing last year’s Chase. But Hamlin said he was just focused on getting the victory and not what it means for his Chase hopes.
“We really just want to win races, regardless of what implications this means for the Chase,” Hamlin said. “Just strategically saw things were getting heavy there in the middle of the race, and just played our cards right. Proud of our day today.”
Hamlin’s victory was also his second top 5 at a restrictor-plate track this season after he finished second in the season-opening Daytona 500, which led some to wonder whether Hamlin was now a restrictor-plate guy.
“I’m still a short track guy, but we’ve come a long way. We now have the knowledge and car to win [on superspeedways].”
Rookie Brian Scott won the pole for the Aaron’s 499, but he lost the lead to Paul Menard when the green flag came out.
The first caution of the day came out on lap 14. Brad Keselowski cut down in front of Danica Patrick for the lead, and spun across the infield. He came back up on the track, but was able to avoid the entire field. Keselowski damaged the front of his car, and he fell six laps down.
Hamlin took the lead on lap 26 for the first time, but he and Joey Logano swapped the lead for a few laps before Carl Edwards took the lead on lap 36.
Over the next 100 laps, there were only two cautions for debris, but that was just the calm before the storm.
On lap 137, Keselowski got loose and spun in front of the field. The wreck collected nine other drivers, including Matt Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson.
After a lengthy clean-up, Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the lead when the race restarted on lap 144.
David Gilliland’s engine expired on lap 151 to bring out the caution again, and Harvick, Vickers and Hamlin all traded the lead when the race resumed on lap 157.
The second “Big One” of the day came out on lap 175. Johnson made contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and the wreck collected Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, David Ragan, Michael McDowell and Austin Dillon.
The race restarted with just eight laps remaining, but Edwards cut down a left-rear tire and brought out the caution to set up a green-white-checkered finish.
The race restarted with two laps to go, and Hamlin was able to get ahead of Harvick for the lead.
Coming to the white flag, Justin Allgaier spun through the trioval, but there was no caution. It wasn’t until a half-lap later that NASCAR officials noticed a piece of Allgaier’s bumper lying on the track, and they quickly called the caution to end the race and give Hamlin the victory in his 300th career Sprint Cup Series start.
Here are the unofficial results:
1. Denny Hamlin
2. Greg Biffle
3. Clint Bowyer
4. Brian Vickers
5. AJ Allmendinger
6. Paul Menard
7. Kevin Harvick
8. Kasey Kahne
9. Kyle Larson
10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
11. Landon Cassill
12. Kyle Busch
13. Aric Almirola
14. Casey Mears
15. Austin Dillon
16. Michael Annett
17. Martin Truex Jr.
18. Ryan Newman
19. Marcos Ambrose
20. Josh Wise
21. Cole Whitt
22. Danica Patrick
23. Jimmie Johnson
24. Terry Labonte
25. Michael Waltrip
26. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
27. Justin Allgaier
28. Alex Bowman
29. Jamie McMurray
30. Carl Edwards
31. Ryan Truex
32. Joey Logano
33. Kurt Busch
34. Reed Sorenson
35. David Ragan
36. Michael McDowell
37. Matt Kenseth
38. Brad Keselowski
39. Jeff Gordon
40. David Gilliland
41. Trevor Bayne
42. Brian Scott
43. Tony Stewart
Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Kansas Speedway for the first night race in the track’s history. The 5-Hour Energy 400 benefiting Special Operations Warrior Foundation can be seen next Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EST, only on FOX.
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