Denny Hamlin had something many others in the field didn’t have at Talladega Superspeedway Sunday, a relatively clean racecar.
Hamlin used a “back of the field” strategy and survived a triple overtime to win his seventh race of the 2020 season by .086 of a second over Matt DiBenedetto.
In a race that featured 13 cautions, six of which were for multicar crashes, two red flag periods, and 12 extra laps Hamlin dropped from his pole position start early in the race and ran in the back of field missing most of the carnage the swept up many drivers, including half the Playoff drivers.
“We just played the strategy and the numbers game to run in the back until we were locked in,” Hamlin said. “Just things worked out. We finally got one back. This one was unexpected to say the least.”
DiBenedetto needing a win to secure a contract extension with Wood Brothers Racing, crossed the line second but was given a penalty for forcing William Byron below the double-yellow out-of-bounds line coming out of turn 4 on the final lap which dropped him in the finishing order to 21st. The penalty moved Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Erik Jones to second place in the final finishing order.
“It’s just a crazy finish,” an emotional DiBenedetto said. “I haven’t been able to really process it. I just really want to get this thing in Victory Lane.”
Ty Dillon scored a career-best third place with Byron fourth and Chase Elliott completing the top five.
The crashes started early with the first coming on only the second lap when Christopher Bell’s car blew a tire going into turn 3. The crash swept up Tyler Reddick, Bubba Wallace and Ty Dillon all of whom escaped with only minor damage.
With just three laps left in Stage 1, the cars of playoff contenders Alex Bowman and Aric Almirola tangled while racing for the lead with Bowman pushing Almirola nose first into the wall. The cars of Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney were also involved. All but Almirola were able to continue.
Then on lap 110, just prior to the end of Stage 2, Jimmie Johnson got a huge shove from Clint Bowyer toward the front of the field on the frontstretch. The push got Johnson’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet loose, causing Johnson to lose control and slide into Kurt Busch’s No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet in the tri-oval. That contact sent Busch’s car head-on into the outside wall where it went airborne and over the top of Cole Custer’s No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.
“It was a wild ride,” Busch, who won at Vegas last week, said. “That’s the nature of this sport. You’re on top one week with a win and everything’s fantastic. And then this week here at Talladega, we were hoping for a nice, smooth run and to gain some points. I was just doing my job as a Chevy helper running top-five and next thing you know; I’m going for one of the wildest rides I’ve ever been in.”
The ensuing carnage collected a total of 12 drivers in addition to Busch including playoff drivers Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Austin Dillon and Kyle Busch, yet again. The cleanup forced a red flag for just over 10 minutes. Bowyer was among those not able to finish the day, and his final finishing spot of 33 puts him, like Almirola, in a must-win spot for next weekend’s Round of 12 finale.
“As soon as I got to him I push him in the front and the whole rear of the car went down and I was like, ‘Oh my God,’” Bowyer said. “Before I know it he was tank swapping all over the place. I don’t know if that was how they had their cars built or whatever, but as soon as you got close to him he was all over the place. Obviously didn’t mean to wreck him, but you’re going hard and three-wide and people are behind you pushing. I was hoping he would save it, but he didn’t and we all wrecked.”
A spin by James Davison in the closing laps setup an overtime finish. On the restart, Tyler Reddick got into Kyle Busch in a crash that swept up four others, including Logano who led the most laps on the day was second in Stage 1. Logano however was penalized twice forcing others below the yellow line and the final crash, which led to the second red flag again just over 10 minutes saw his Ford being pushed by a wrecker and to the garage.
Chase Elliott who was leading at the time, was 300 yards from taking the white flag which would have ended the race.
Elliott, already on his reserve fuel, needed to pit for fuel when the caution came back out while DiBenedetto and his Wood Brothers crew rolled the dice and kept him out in the lead. DiBenedetto had pitted during the same round of stops Elliott had earlier.
On the final lap of the third overtime, DiBenedetto was leading thanks to a push from Chris Buescher. Erik Jones took the second spot from Buescher on the white flag lap and a three wide battle broke out behind DiBenedetto who led entering turn 4, between Hamlin, Buescher and William Byron. DiBenedetto went down to block Byron sending him below the yellow out of bounds line as well as Hamlin.
Hamlin crossed the line ahead of DiBenedetto who was initially scored second. NASCAR called for a review of the finish and nearly five minutes after the review call issued DiBenedetto a penalty for forcing William Byron below the yellow line on the last lap. DiBenedetto went from second to 21st.
“I feel like this is the same story a lot of times, just heartbreak,” DiBenedetto said. “My wife and I have had a stressful week again just with the uncertainty — always fighting for my life — but I’m so appreciative of this team.
“Denny did a great job. Deja vu. Holy cow. Denny deserves all the support in the world. He’s an incredible racer. He was my biggest threat. I tried to block all I could. My spotter, Doug, did a great job. This is tough.”
Buescher, who won Stage 1, was scored sixth initially, but later penalized for forcing Elliott below the yellow line and scored 22nd. That move Ryan Newman to sixth with Reddick, John Hunter Nemechek, Brennan Poole and Ryan Preece rounding out the top 10.
With their DNF’s Kyle Busch, Bowyer and Almirola leave Talladega below the cutoff line. Austin Dillon managed a 12th place finish, but he too is below the cutline as the Cup Series heads to its next race, the Bank of America Roval 400, scheduled next Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Road Course. Four drivers will be eliminated from postseason contention after that race, the sixth of 10 races on the playoff schedule.
NASCAR Cup Series Race Results YellaWood 500
Sunday, 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
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