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Monday October 26th, 2020 3:57AM

Denny Hamlin survives to win Talladega in last lap fracas

By Brandon Reed Reporter
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It took 200 laps, 13 caution flags, two red flags, a multitude of damaged cars, three overtimes and a last lap pass to decide the winner of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway.

And it was still in doubt with one turn to go.

Denny Hamlin made the final pass for the lead coming off turn four as leaders Matt DiBenedetto and William Byron tangled coming to the checkered flag. After being forced below the double-yellow line by Chris Buescher when the leaders got together in front of them, Hamlin passed the leaders and held the lead to the finish line.

“Just a lot of attrition. We just played the strategy and the numbers game to run in the back until we were locked in.” said Hamlin. “Just things worked out. We finally got one back. This one was unexpected to say the least, but proud of this whole FedEx team, Toyota and everyone at JGR for bringing great race cars.”

After running near the back of the field most of the day, Hamlin played the numbers game, letting attrition help him move his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota forward. When leader Chase Elliott had to pit before the start of the final overtime period for fuel, Hamlin found himself in second place alongside leader DiBenedetto.

DiBenedetto had the lead going into the final turn on the final lap, with William Byron challenging for the win. The two made contact in turn four, bottling up the top four and giving Hamlin the chance to make the pass.

But the race wasn’t over immediately, as NASCAR had to review Hamlin going “out of bounds” to make the pass. Officials determined Hamlin was forced below the line, and ruled that the pass and the win would stand.

“A lot of stuff happened for sure,” said Hamlin. “I don’t know if the 21 (Matt DiBenedetto) was running out of gas, but they obviously got shuffled there. They were crashing up top. I think the 20 (Erik Jones) hit the wall and then started coming back down, which forced I think me and the 24 (William Byron) down to the apron. Just was able to overcome. This is one of those that you don’t plan on winning, but we got away with one today.”

Hamlin joins Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch in being locked into the Round of 8 going into next weekend’s Playoff cutoff race at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s infield road course.

“I hate to say it, but you have to play the game. You have to get to the next round,” Hamlin said. “To win the championship, you have to win the last race and you have to get to the last race. For us, we played the strategy to play the numbers to make sure we got locked in and then win the race.”

It marks Hamlin’s seventh win of the season, and his 44th career NASCAR Cup Series victory, tying him with NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott for 18th on the all-time win list.

“He (Bill Elliott) was my childhood hero growing up,” Hamlin said. “That’s why I’ve always been No. 11 to be honest is because of the days when he was running for Junior Johnson. Just an amazing day.”

The win came on a day that Joe Gibbs Racing remembered team executive J.J. Damato, who passed away Saturday at the age of 48. Each JGR car ran a memorial decal on their car during Sunday’s race.

“J.J. Damato was a great friend of ours at JGR,” said Hamlin. “Just really thinking of his two kids right now. It’s really, really sad what happened to unexpectedly lose him. We’re all thinking about him.”

While Hamlin celebrated the win and locking into the Round of 8, most his fellow Playoff contenders wondered about what could have been, as Hamlin and Chase Elliott were the only Playoff drivers to finish in the top 10.

It was a race of survival, as the race was red flagged twice and there were no fewer than four multi-car crashes that left several top competitors with damaged and destroyed race cars.

The first occurred on lap 57, when leader Playoff driver Aric Almirola was turned into the outside wall on the frontstretch by fellow Playoff driver Alex Bowman. Another Playoff contender, Kyle Busch, was gathered up, as was defending race winner Ryan Blaney. Busch’s car climbed into the air momentarily, but came down on all four tires.

While Almirola’s day was over, Bowman and Busch were able to continue.

But Kyle Busch’s problems were compounded when a cut left front tire shredded his fender, leaving his car with severe damage on lap 68.

The first “big one” of the day occurred on lap 109, when Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet was turned after contact from Clint Bowyer’s Ford, sending Johnson’s car into Kurt Busch’s car, sending it into the air and setting off a 12-car melee on the frontstretch.

The crash eliminated Playoff hopeful Bowyer, along with Playoff driver Kurt Busch, who is locked into the next round thanks to last week’s win at Las Vegas.

Playoff driver Brad Keselowski was also involved, but was able to continue, along with Kyle Busch, who spun to avoid another car, but was hit solidly in the passenger’s side door by Brendan Gaughan, who was making his final career series start. Kyle Busch was left with more damage, but was able to continue.

Playoff driver Austin Dillon was also involved. He would have to go behind the wall to make repairs, but was able to return two laps down.

The race was put under the first red flag of the day to allow for track clean up and repairs to the SAFER barrier on the outside retaining wall.

As the race progressed into the final segment, the racing up front was fast and furious, as Joey Logano, Elliott, DiBenedetto, Keselowski, Ryan Preece and Bubba Wallace all battled for the lead.

The race would be sent into overtime for a five car crash with two laps to go that was triggered when Kyle Busch’s car spun after contact from Tyler Reddick in the tri-oval, gathering up Logano, Martin Truex, Jr. and Ryan Newman in the process.

It proved to be the final blow to Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota, as his car was finally unable to continue.

Elliott was the leader when the crash occurred, but had not taken the white flag, setting up the first overtime.

After the second red flag of the race to allow for cleanup, several drivers pitted for fuel, including Keselowski, Erik Jones and Bowman.

On the restart, Elliott pulled to the lead with a push from Preece, with DiBenedetto moving into second.

The caution flew again moments later when Wallace’s No. 43 Chevy was turned into the outside wall after he pulled down into Preece, sending both cars spinning and gathering up Bowman and Austin Dillon. Under caution, Elliott came to pit road for fuel, while DiBenedetto stayed out to inherit the lead.

That set up the final overtime run and the wild run to the checkered flag.

Hamlin, Harvick, who finished 20th on Sunday, and Kurt Busch, who finished 32nd, leave Talladega locked into the next Playoff round, while Elliott’s fifth place finish puts him on solid ground. Keselowski, who crashed coming to the finish line, finished 18th, seems to be in good shape going to Charlotte, along with Bowman (14th place finish), Truex, Jr. (23rd), and Logano (26TH) seem on safe ground points wise to make the cut.

Defending series champion Kyle Busch (32nd) and Austin Dillon (12th) are tied in the first spot below the cutline. While they still mathematically have a chance to make the next round, it’s likely they will need a win on the Charlotte infield road course to advance. Bowyer (33rd) and Almirola (37th) go into Charlotte with a victory being their only hope of making the Round of 12.

DiBenedetto was flagged in second place on Sunday, but he was penalized for forcing the car of Byron below the double yellow line on the final lap. He was credited with a 21st place finish.

The same call was made on Chris Buescher, who was penalized for forcing a car below the double yellow line on the final laps. After crossing the finish line eighth, the penalty dropped Buescher to a 22nd place finish.

With the penalties, Erik Jones was moved to second, with Ty Dillon in third, Byron in fourth and Elliott in fifth.

Newman, Reddick, John Hunter Nemechek, Brennan Poole and Preece rounded out the top 10.

NASCAR Cup Series
Talladega Superspeedway – Talladega, AL
YellaWood 500 – October 4, 2020

1. (1) Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, 200.
2. (16) Erik Jones, Toyota, 200.
3. (28) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 200.
4. (21) William Byron, Chevrolet, 200.
5. (10) Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 200.
6. (19) Ryan Newman, Ford, 200.
7. (30) Tyler Reddick #, Chevrolet, 200.
8. (23) John Hunter Nemechek #, Ford, 200.
9. (32) Brennan Poole #, Chevrolet, 200.
10. (25) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 200.
11. (35) Justin Haley(i), Chevrolet, 200.
12. (12) Austin Dillon (P), Chevrolet, 200.
13. (33) Quin Houff #, Chevrolet, 200.
14. (4) Alex Bowman (P), Chevrolet, 200.
15. (37) Timmy Hill(i), Ford, 200.
16. (20) Matt Kenseth, Chevrolet, 200.
17. (36) Joey Gase(i), Ford, 200.
18. (7) Brad Keselowski (P), Ford, 200.
19. (34) Cody Ware, Chevrolet, 200.
20. (5) Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 200.
21. (13) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 200.
22. (15) Chris Buescher, Ford, 200.
23. (3) Martin Truex, Jr. (P), Toyota, 198.
24. (27) Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, Accident, 192.
25. (14) Ryan Blaney, Ford, Accident, 192.
26. (8) Joey Logano (P), Ford, Accident, 188.
27. (6) Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, Accident, 188.
28. (29) Corey LaJoie, Ford, 188.
29. (17) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, Accident, 133.
30. (38) James Davison, Chevrolet, 118.
31. (18) Cole Custer #, Ford, Accident, 108.
32. (2) Kurt Busch (P), Chevrolet, Accident, 108.
33. (9) Clint Bowyer (P), Ford, Accident, 108.
34. (31) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, Accident, 108.
35. (39) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, Accident, 108.
36. (24) Michael McDowell, Ford, Overheating, 79.
37. (11) Aric Almirola (P), Ford, Accident, 57.
38. (26) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Chevrolet, Accident, 8.
39. (22) Christopher Bell #, Toyota, Accident, 1.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 129.774 mph.

Time of Race: 4 Hrs, 5 Mins, 58 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.086 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 13 for 54 laps.

Lead Changes: 58 among 18 drivers.

Lap Leaders: D. Hamlin (P) 0;D. Hamlin (P) 1-16;J. Logano (P) 17-18;D. Hamlin (P) 19-26;M. McDowell 27;A. Almirola (P) 28-32;R. Blaney 33;A. Almirola (P) 34;E. Jones 35;R. Blaney 36;E. Jones 37-41;R. Blaney 42-49;J. Logano (P) 50;E. Jones 51;C. Elliott (P) 52-54;A. Almirola (P) 55-57;C. Buescher 58-61;K. Harvick (P) 62;C. Elliott (P) 63-65;B. Keselowski (P) 66-67;C. Elliott (P) 68-69;C. Buescher 70-74;E. Jones 75;C. Buescher 76-81;E. Jones 82-86;M. DiBenedetto 87-88;C. Ware 89;C. Elliott (P) 90-106;J. Johnson 107;C. Elliott (P) 108-113;J. Logano (P) 114-116;M. Truex Jr. (P) 117;T. Reddick # 118;M. Truex Jr. (P) 119-121;K. Harvick (P) 122;D. Hamlin (P) 123;M. Truex Jr. (P) 124-125;B. Keselowski (P) 126;T. Reddick # 127;B. Keselowski (P) 128;B. Wallace 129-134;B. Keselowski (P) 135-136;J. Logano (P) 137-148;*. Hill(i) 149;J. Logano (P) 150-152;W. Byron 153;J. Logano (P) 154-158;C. Elliott (P) 159;J. Logano (P) 160;C. Elliott (P) 161;B. Wallace 162;J. Logano (P) 163-166;C. Elliott (P) 167-169;J. Logano (P) 170-179;B. Wallace 180-182;J. Logano (P) 183-186;M. DiBenedetto 187;C. Elliott (P) 188-192;M. DiBenedetto 193-199;D. Hamlin (P) 200.

Leaders Summary: (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led) Joey Logano (P) 10 times for 45 laps; Chase Elliott (P) 9 times for 41 laps; Denny Hamlin (P) 4 times for 26 laps; Chris Buescher 3 times for 15 laps; Erik Jones 5 times for 13 laps; Matt DiBenedetto 3 times for 10 laps; Bubba Wallace 3 times for 10 laps; Ryan Blaney 3 times for 10 laps; Aric Almirola (P) 3 times for 9 laps; Martin Truex Jr. (P) 3 times for 6 laps; Brad Keselowski (P) 4 times for 6 laps; Kevin Harvick (P) 2 times for 2 laps; Tyler Reddick # 2 times for 2 laps; Jimmie Johnson 1 time for 1 lap; * Timmy Hill(i) 1 time for 1 lap; William Byron 1 time for 1 lap; Cody Ware 1 time for 1 lap; Michael McDowell 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 17,22,3,2,20,9,8,19,1,41

Stage #2 Top Ten: 19,2,17,9,38,24,12,37,13,43

Top 12 in Points: 1. Denny Hamlin* – 3141 (7 Wins); 2. Kevin Harvick* – 3121 (9 Wins); 3. Chase Elliott – 3097 (2 Wins); 4. Brad Keselowski – 3094 (4 Wins); 5. Martin Truex, Jr. – 3085 (1 Win); 6. Alex Bowman – 3075 (1 Win); 7. Joey Logano – 3074 (2 Wins); 8. Kyle Busch – 3053; 9. Austin Dillon – 3053 (1 Win); 10. Kurt Busch* – 3048 (1 Win); 11. Clint Bowyer – 3036; 12. Aric Almirola – 3026.

*Locked into the Round of 8

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