In one of the wildest NASCAR races of the year thus far, Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 car took the checkered flag and won the 2014 Aaron's 499 Sprint Cup Series race at the always unpredictable Talladega Superspeedway.
Hamlin had raced at the front of the field all day (led 12 laps) and managed to steal the show by jumping in the right line to the lead on the final restart. The caution waived on the last lap, but he had already earned his spot as the winner.
As for the rest of the top five, Greg Biffle finished second, Clint Bowyer was third, Brian Vickers finished fourth and AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top finishers.
Here is the entire finishing order for Sunday’s race at Talladega.
|5||A J Allmendinger|
|10||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.|
|17||Martin Truex Jr.|
|26||Dale Earnhardt Jr.|
Race weekend kicked off with NASCAR’s new style of qualifying that featured a group of Richard Childress Racing drivers and affiliate cars running together. The group’s approach to the knockout qualifying format resulted in the first three rows being comprised of RCR-affiliated cars.
As with every Talladega race, the lead didn’t last long and the track soon began shuffling drivers continuously. Whether it was Joey Logano and the No. 22 car, Biffle and the No. 16 or one of the other top drivers who managed to string together a few consecutive laps led, the restrictor-plate race managed to even the playing field.
There were few cautions through the first 100 laps (Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 car did bring out the yellow flag early, but it was a one-car accident), and that resulted in several rounds of green-flag pitstops.
Through the first 100 laps, there were 25 lead changes.
We as a team, I think, improved our emphasis on our plate cars to be able to improve their performance. I think that started to show in the last 12-16 months. When [crew chief] Steve [Letarte] and I first started working together our focus was more on improving ourselves as a whole.
We really didn’t focus on the plate stuff as much as we needed to improve everywhere. We had to kind of put our emphasis on the plate tracks on hold for a while to try to get our team in the right direction. I think that started to happen to where we were running well enough everywhere [that] we could start to put a little more care and preparation into our plate track cars. That is definitely showing the results.
The race remained relatively calm—a term scarcely used at Talladega—for another long green-flag stretch, but on Lap 135, chaos broke loose. After Keselowski got loose in front of the field, he collected 11 other cars in a huge accident.
Gordon commented on the crash during the Fox broadcast, via GordonOnline.com:
Jeff Gordon on lap 136 crash: "We'll get it fixed.. but we're going to get a terrible Talladega finish. There's no fixing that" #NASCAR— Jeff Gordon Online (@JGinfo) May 4, 2014
The race once again heated up as the laps began ticking away. On Lap 176, Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 car were involved in another big crash that included defending race champion David Ragan, Kurt Busch, Logano and others.
WWE legend Shawn Michaels talked about Sunday's race:
The late caution brought the field back together and made for an exciting run to the checkered flag. Another crash with just six laps left (the seventh yellow flag of the day) once again reshuffled the field and opened the door for Hamlin's win.
2014 NASCAR Sprint Series Standings
|4||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||328||19|
*Updated as they become official.
After another great race at Talladega Superspeedway, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule moves on as drivers and their teams head to Kansas Speedway next week for the 5-Hour Energy 400 Benefiting Special Operations Warrior Foundation.
The next race will take place on Saturday, May 10, at 7:30 p.m. ET and will be televised on Fox.
Matt Kenseth was the 2013 spring race champion and also won the pole for that event.
Hamlin will be traveling to Kansas this week with momentum on his side. Despite struggles early in the season, he drives stronger as the season progresses and will do the same as the Sprint Cup Series hits its summer stretch.
With fewer cautions expected at next week’s race, look for drivers like Johnson, Gordon, Earnhardt Jr. and Biffle to contend for a victory at Kansas under the lights Saturday night.
*All stats via NASCAR.com.