Denny Hamlin became the next name to book a provisional spot in the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup, taking victory from Kevin Harvick on the final lap of the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Hamlin, competing in his 300th Sprint Cup start, passed Harvick coming to the white flag before a big wreck ensued behind the leaders, with NASCAR being forced to throw a caution on the final lap of the race and give the victory to the driver of the #11.
“We really just want to win races — regardless of what implications this means for the Chase,” said Hamlin, who scored his first points-paying victory at a restrictor plate track. “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.”
The top five positions were completed by Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers and AJ Allmendinger.
The early portion of the race saw the fans going wild as Danica Patrick took the #10 Chevrolet to the lead, resulting in levels of crowd noise usually only reserved for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Her time at the top was short lived however, leading for just two laps before making contact with Brad Keselowski and sending the #2 Ford into a spin, amazingly missing everyone as he rejoined the track.
Uncharacteristically for Talladega, the middle of the race was incident-free, which set up a dramatic conclusion. Lap 175 saw the traditional Talladega ‘Big One’, with Jimmie Johnson losing control in turn 4, collecting seven cars in the process. As is often the case, cautions then bred cautions, with Carl Edwards spinning and collecting Ryan Newman and Cole Whitt just two laps after the green flag had flown again.
From the restart, Hamlin got the jump on Harvick with help from Biffle and Bowyer. The trio led across the line for the white flag when the field began wrecking behind them, yet the race stayed green. The caution flag eventually flew, however, when debris landed on the racing line, freezing the field and handing Hamlin his first win of 2014.
“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,” concluded Hamlin. “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.”