Denny Hamlin avoided a lot of the wrecks Sunday by riding in the back of the field but ended up front when it counted, taking his seventh victory of the 2020 season.
Exiting Turn 4 of the third overtime at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, Matt DiBenedetto remained out front but Buescher came down on Hamlin, sending him below the double yellow line.
As Hamlin came back up the apron, he was lined up in a three-wide battle for the lead with DiBenedetto and Ty Dillon. In a drag race to the finish, Hamlin grabbed the victory in a photo-finish over DiBenedetto.
As it turned out, however, DiBenedetto was penalized for shoving William Byron below the yellow line on the final lap and relegated to 21st place.
The win is Hamlin’s seventh of the 2020 season and he becomes locked into the Round of 8 of the playoffs regardless of his performance at the Charlotte Roval next weekend. It’s also the 44th win of his career.
“Just a lot of attrition. We just played the strategy and the numbers game to run in the back until we were locked in. Just things worked out. We finally got one back,” Hamlin said after the race. “This one was unexpected to say the least, but proud of this whole team, Toyota and everyone at JGR for bringing great race cars. Today we’re obviously thinking about JJ Damato (JGR executive) and his two kids. Really excited about this win. This was unexpected for sure.”
“I don’t know if (DiBenedetto) was running out of gas, but they obviously got shuffled there. They were crashing up top. I think (Erik Jones) hit the wall and then started coming back down, which forced I think me and (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.”
Asked if he was aware he went bellow the yellow line at one point on the final lap, Hamlin said: “They were crashing in front of us. Obviously, I got forced down there just like (DiBenedetto) and others did. There were a bunch of us that all crashed down there.”
Asked about if his strategy to run in the back of the field for a while was by design, Hamlin said: “I hate to say it, but you have to play the game. You have to get to the next round. 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.”
Erik Jones was credited with the second-place finish, Ty Dillon third, Byron fourth and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-five.
Heading into next weekend’s race at the Roval, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola are the four drivers in greatest danger of being eliminated from further title contention.
Following the break between Stages 2 and 3, a handful of drivers pit but Martin Truex Jr. remained on the track and in the lead on the restart on Lap 126.
Brad Keselowski powered into the lead shortly after the restart
On Lap 129, Bubba Wallace grabbed the lead off Turn 4 and before entering the tri-oval.
Keselowski reclaimed the lead on Lap 136 as Joey Logano ran second and fellow teammate Ryan Blaney ran third. Logano took over the top spot on Lap 137.
On Lap 149, NASCAR displayed a caution for debris which appeared to come from the No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson. All the lead-lap cars pit with Logano the first off pit road. Chase Elliott, Hamlin and DiBenedetto all pit twice to top off with fuel.
On the restart on Lap 153, Logano led the way followed by Kevin Harvick, Jones, Byron and Matt Kenseth.
With a push from Ryan Preece, Byron took over the lead on Lap 154. Logano reclaimed the lead on Lap 155.
Elliott moved ahead on Lap 161 to reclaim the lead. Truex gave Wallace a shove to put him in the lead on Lap 162.
Keselowski and Logano worked together to get Logano back out front on Lap 164.
With 21 laps remaining, Elliott got a shove from Byron and reclaimed the lead.
On Lap 170, Logano reclaimed the top spot on the high lane with Keselowski behind him.
On Lap 180, Keselowski got hung out to dry while Wallace moved back into the lead.
Wallace gets tagged by Preece with six laps to go and bounced off the outside wall. Right after that, James Davison wrecked off Turn 4 on Lap 183 to bring out a caution.
A handful of cars pit for fuel and tires on the caution but Logano stayed out and in the lead. The race returned to green with the start of overtime with Logano followed by DiBenedetto, Keselowski, Harvick and Preece.
Just before Elliott took the white flag, another multi-car accident erupted entering the tri-oval sending the race into double overtime. This one collected Harvick, Logano, Kyle Busch and Truex.
Logano, who would have to pit for damage anyway, was penalized by NASCAR for pushing Elliott below the yellow line before the accident took place.
At the start of double overtime, Elliott led the way followed by DiBenedetto, Preece, John Hunter Nemechek, Buescher and Hamlin.
Once again as the cars exited Turn 4, Preece got into Wallace to trigger another multi-car wreck that sent the race into a third overtime. DiBenedetto was scored as the leader when the caution was displayed.
At the start of the third overtime, DiBenedetto led the way followed by Hamlin, Buescher, Ty Dillon, Byron. Elliott, who pit for fuel, restarted 13th.
Truex held off a wild charge from Keselowski to take the victory in the crash-filled Stage 2.
Buescher was third, Elliott fourth and Nemechek rounded out the top-five.
Following the break between Stages 1 and 2, many of the lead-lap cars elected to pit and Elliott took over the lead when the race returned to green on Lap 66.
Harvick was assessed an uncontrolled tire penalty and Wallace an improper fueling penalty so both drivers had to restart from the rear of the field.
Keselowski grabbed the lead exiting Turn 4 to take the lead for the first time.
On Lap 67, Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota, still damaged from the previous wreck, had another tire go down and tore into his hood, which brought out a caution.
Most drivers stayed on the track but Kyle Busch continued with more repairs and Hamlin was penalized for speeding on pit road and had to restart from the rear of the field.
Buescher remained out front when the race returned to green on Lap 74.
A shove from Elliott put Jones back to the lead on Lap 82.
On Lap 86, a large group of Chevrolet drivers, led by Elliott, made their green-flag pit stop for new tires and fuel to make it to the end of the stage.
On Lap 87, Blaney wrecked off Turn 4 and dropped debris on the track to bring out a caution. Most of the lead-lap cars elected to pit but since the Chevys had already made their pit stop, Elliott inherited the lead.
On the restart on Lap 93, Elliott was followed by Byron and Kurt Busch.
With 15 laps remaining in the second stage, Elliott continued to lead a single-line train of Chevrolets followed by Byron, Kurt Busch, Wallace and Kenseth.
Johnson moved into the lead on Lap 107, only to see Elliott reclaim it on Lap 108.
Entering the tri-oval on Lap 109, Bowyer got into the back of Johnson, who then turned Kurt Busch, whose No. 1 Chevrolet briefly got airborne as Cole Custer’s No. 41 went underneath it.
Brendan Gaughan, Daniel Suarez, Keselowski, Preece and Kyle Busch were also collected in the incident. The race was placed under a red flag for nearly 11 minutes to clean the track of debris.
“That was a wild ride. It’s the nature of this sport. You’re on top one week and then you’re at Talladega,” Kurt Busch said. “That was one of the wildest rides I’ve ever been in.”
When the race returned to green on Lap 114, Elliott still led the way followed by Byron and Logano.
With a push from DiBenedetto, Logano moved back into the lead in Turn 4 following the restart.
Truex got a push into the lead on Lap 117 from Tyler Reddick.
Logano was black-flagged for forcing a competitor below the double yellow line.
Buescher took the Stage 1 win under caution when a multi-car wreck erupted at the front of the field with two laps to go.
Logano ended up second, Keselowski third, Elliott fourth and Jones rounded out the top-five.
Hamlin, who started on the pole, got off to a quick start but in Turn 3, Christopher Bell appeared to blow a tire and hit Reddick to bring out a caution. Both cars appeared to suffer significant damage.
Most of the lead-lap cars remained on track and Hamlin continued to lead the way on the restart on Lap 5.
On Lap 8, Nemechek got into the back of Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who went down the track and crashed into the infield retaining wall.
“That’s two weeks in a row he’s gotten us,” Stenhouse said over his team radio.
A handful of cars pit but most stayed out and Hamlin again led the field on the restart on Lap 13.
The caution quickly came back out on restart lap when Corey LaJoie’s No. 32 car stalled on the track in Turn 1 and could not get restarted.
The race returned to green on Lap 16 with Hamlin still in command.
Logano got around Hamlin on the high side coming off Turn 4 on Lap 17 to take the lead for the first time.
Hamlin changed lanes and got in front of Logano to reclaim the lead on Lap 19.
On Lap 26, NASCAR displayed a competition caution to allow teams to check on tire wear. All the lead-lap cars pit with Almirola the first off pit road. Elliott was penalized for speeding on pit road during his stop and had to restart from the rear of the field.
On the restart on Lap 31, Almirola was followed by Logano and Clint Bowyer.
Blaney got around Almirola to take the lead for the first time on Lap 34. Jones moved into the top spot on Lap 36 with Blaney reclaiming it on Lap 37.
Jones, with a push from Truex, moved out front again on Lap 38.
On Lap 42, Blaney reclaimed the lead with some help from Suarez. On Lap 50, Blaney’s teammate, Logano, dropped in front of him to take over the top spot.
With help from Kyle Busch, Jones got a push to the lead on Lap 51.
Elliott, with a push from Wallace, grabbed the lead on Lap 52.
With five laps remaining in the stage, Almirola had moved into the lead again followed by Keselowski and Buescher.
A chain reaction incident at the front of the field exiting Turn 4 on Lap 58 collected several playoff drivers including Almirola, who was leading at the time, Kyle Busch and Alex Bowman. Blaney was also involved.
|8||38||John Hunter Nemechek||Ford||200||4:06’15.330||1.033||0.477|
|23||19||Martin Truex Jr.||Toyota||198||4:05’52.543||2 Laps||2 Laps||6|
|24||43||Bubba Wallace||Chevrolet||192||3:51’56.762||8 Laps||6 Laps||10|
|25||12||Ryan Blaney||Ford||192||3:51’57.340||8 Laps||0.578||10|
|26||22||Joey Logano||Ford||188||3:40’39.824||12 Laps||4 Laps||45|
|27||18||Kyle Busch||Toyota||188||3:40’40.454||12 Laps||0.630|
|28||32||Corey Lajoie||Ford||188||4:06’28.010||12 Laps||25’47.556|
|29||48||Jimmie Johnson||Chevrolet||133||2:58’47.275||67 Laps||55 Laps||1|
|30||53||James Davison||Chevrolet||118||4:06’39.411||82 Laps||15 Laps|
|31||41||Cole Custer||Ford||108||2:09’19.173||92 Laps||10 Laps|
|32||1||Kurt Busch||Chevrolet||108||2:09’19.174||92 Laps||0.001|
|33||14||Clint Bowyer||Ford||108||2:09’19.219||92 Laps||0.045|
|34||96||Daniel Suarez||Toyota||108||2:09’19.498||92 Laps||0.279|
|35||62||Brendan Gaughan||Chevrolet||108||2:09’21.423||92 Laps||1.925|
|36||34||Michael McDowell||Ford||79||1:39’28.099||121 Laps||29 Laps||1|
|37||10||Aric Almirola||Ford||57||1:04’30.805||143 Laps||22 Laps||9|
|38||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Chevrolet||8||10’56.099||192 Laps||49 Laps|
|39||95||Christopher Bell||Toyota||1||7’10.703||199 Laps||7 Laps|
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