Hamlin Strategizes Way To 3 OT Victory At Talladega

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 5 2020

Denny Hamlin emerged victorious after Sunday’s Cup Series race at Talladega. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Chris Owens)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Risk versus reward. It’s a simple philosophy, but it always dictates the way a driver races at Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway.

In Sunday’s Yellawood 500 at Talladega, it governed the strategy implemented by Denny Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing team; one that paid off with the team’s seventh victory this season in a wild, triple overtime finish at the 2.66-mile track. Hamlin’s 44th career victory tied him with NASCAR Hall of Fame member Bill Elliott for 18th on NASCAR’s all-time win list.

“Tying a guy that I considered the best, a guy that I idolized, it’s very surreal for me,” Hamlin said. “I’ve been No. 11 my whole life and a lot of it is because when I got into go-kart racing when I was a kid it was because Bill Elliott was running the Junior Johnson No. 11.” 

 Even though Hamlin edged Matt DiBenedetto at the finish by 0.086 second, there was a brief delay by NASCAR in declaring Hamlin the winner. Officials questioned whether his pass below the double-yellow line in turns three and four on the final laps was legal. However, Hamlin never thought NASCAR would penalize him for the move. 

“You can’t as a leader, wherever you are, use the yellow line as a defense,” Hamlin said in reference to DiBenedetto, who was leading at the time. 

“You have to play within the boundaries that they set. They set the precedence early so you know you weren’t going to get away with it.”

Earlier in the race, NASCAR penalized Joey Logano on two separate occasions for forcing cars below the double-yellow line.

“I wouldn’t say I would have done anything different if I was Matt,” Hamlin said about DiBenedetto’s move on the final lap. “I’m not a huge blocking guy. I don’t always think you have to block to win.” 

 Once Hamlin was declared the winner, NASCAR began looking at other drivers’ actions that occurred at the same time. Initially, NASCAR penalized DiBenedetto and Chase Elliott, moving DiBenedetto and Elliott from their second- and sixth-place finishes to 21st– and 22nd, respectively. NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller said he thought the rulings were “pretty clear-cut.”

  “The 21 (DiBenedetto) hung a left, drove those guys down below the line,” Miller said. “We called that twice on the 22 car (Logano) during the race, so nothing different there.

“On the 24 (William Byron) and the 11 (Hamlin) being down there, I mean, in our judgment they were down there to avoid a wreck.  On the 9 (Elliott), I mean, he obviously just pulled out and passed underneath the yellow line.”

NASCAR later rescinded Elliott’s penalty, saying Chris Buescher forced him below the double-yellow line. Elliott was returned to fifth and Buescher sent from sixth to 22nd

Ironically, Hamlin didn’t expect a Talladega victory even though he’s viewed as a title contender. He led twice for 24 laps in Stage 1. Then he dropped to the back, electing not to participate in the wild racing at the front. He didn’t lead any laps in Stage 2 and only two in the final stage of the race that had 59 lead changes among 18 drivers and two red flags.

  For me, it’s about managing my risk,” Hamlin said. “When I’m leading I feel pretty good about staying up here. The moment we lost track position, (crew chief) Chris (Gabehart) knew that I was going to bail. I got out of there. I think I was running fifth or something like that. This isn’t the right place for me, right time. I think they crashed like six laps later.

  “You just got to play the odds, look at statistics and try to figure out when the cautions come. I try to put myself in statistically the best spot to succeed at these tracks.”

Gabehart admitted that if the event hadn’t been a playoff race the team might not have possessed the patience it needed to implement its strategy. 

  The goal wouldn’t have been near as obvious as it was given our points position, with the ROVAL next week being the definite end of another round,” Gabehart said. “Certainly in the situation we were in, at the drop of every caution where a new scenario arose, there was just never a time where the reward was worth the risk. We just rolled around at the back until it was time to roll the dice.”

One’s odds aren’t great at Talladega and Daytona, Gabehart said, but “getting through a race unscathed, Denny’s instincts produce odds that, in my view, are better than anyone else’s … if he simply pays attention to his instincts and doesn’t let the stress of the situation alter his instincts.”

“In our points’ scenario, my message to him was to do what you normally do at these plate races and we will statistically have the best shot of getting to the end of it with a chance to perform,” Gabehart explained. “Lo and behold, that’s what happened.”

Gabehart notes Hamlin is extremely smart on superspeedways.

“His consistent ability to measure risk versus reward on a second-by-second basis over the course of three- and four-hour races is something,” Gabehart continued. “It’s happening at 200 miles an hour. There are no timeouts. You’re in this little cocoon with limited information, so to be able to measure risk versus reward as well as he does at these places for that long is very, very difficult to do.”

Hamlin’s victory guarantees him a spot in the playoffs’ Round of Eight. Four drivers will be eliminated from the playoffs after Sunday’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s ROVAL. Entering the season’s final road course race, the four drivers below the cutline are Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer. 


NASCAR Cup Series Race – 52nd Annual YellaWood 500
Talladega Superspeedway
Talladega, Alabama
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



| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 5 2020
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