Hamlin finally gets trophy in wild Talladega win
The Scoop: The Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway was a madhouse for most of its 188 laps. Denny Hamlin took his No. 11 FedEx Toyota to Victory Lane for the first time this season, as he was in front when NASCAR threw caution for a large chunk of debris from Justin Allgaier's (finished 27th) wreck on the penultimate lap. Hamlin's win is his first in a points-paying restrictor plate race, though he has won the Bud Shootout/Sprint Unlimited before at Daytona. It's also only his 9th top 10 in 34 plate races. This was his 300th career Cup race. His lack of plate prowess is something he alluded to on his team radio after the race, despite his runner-up finish in this year's Daytona 500. The race started with Paul Menard (6th) taking the lead from pole-sitter and Richard Childress Racing teammate Brian Scott (42nd), who claimed his first-career pole in NASCAR's first try at plate racing qualifying in the Sprint Cup Series' new time trials format. Danica Patrick (22nd) snagged the lead on lap 6 and the large crowd on hand roared with approval. She, Jeff Gordon (39th), and Menard traded the lead back and forth with Brad Keselowski (38th), before Patrick got into Keselowski's left-rear and spin him down into the skid pad. Keselowski kept it off of the inside wall and slid back up onto the track, just missing Trevor Bayne (41st), and then slid into the grass and damaged the No. 2's water system. He lost six laps in the pits and Jamie McMurray (29th) also got damaged in the wreck and lost laps, thoughhe did get six free passes andstill finished a lap down. The race went green, with interruptions for debris cautions on laps 51 and 107. The lead switched hands quite a bit amongst several drivers. Last week's Richmond winner Joey Logano (32nd) emerged and led 25 laps, but the big dog of the day was Greg Biffle (2nd), who led 58 laps total, more than anyone else, and couldn't make his move on Hamlin at the end because of the race-ending yellow. The field was three-wide most of the race and the pack was very hectic. The consequences shown on lap 138, when the laps-down machine of Keselowski decided to race aggressively in the pack. As he changed lanes and side-drafted, the air pushed and wobbled his Miller Lite Ford loose, sending him spinning around and collecting 13 others, including Bayne, Gordon, Tony Stewart (43rd), Menard, Kyle Busch (12th), Matt Kenseth (37th), Scott, and several more. Stewart, Bayne, and Scott were done for the day. Kenseth, Keselowski, and Gordon went many laps down in the garage for repairs. Some others continued and finished. Kenseth and Gordon both heavily criticized Keselowski, who has been known to lecture others on their driving habits, for being so aggressive when he was six laps down. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (26th) drove into the lead multiple times and was at the point on lap 151, when David Gilliland's (40th) damaged car blew an engine and brought out the yellow. The leaders had a questionable amount of fuel left and Earnhardt Jr. pitted. He had led 25 laps before, but would not lead again, as he never could drive through the madness back to the front. The field simply stayed too bunched up. The same kind of spin that got Keselowski happened for Jimmie Johnson (23rd) with 12 laps to go, as the air pushed his No. 48 around and collected Logano, David Ragan (35th), Reed Sorenson (34th), Kurt Busch (33rd), Michael McDowell (36th), and a couple of others who continued on. As Biffle, Hamlin, and Kevin Harvick (7th) held court at the front of the pack, the field accordioned between two and three-wide most of the rest of the laps. As his teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (10th) switched lanes and passed him to the outside, Carl Edwards (30th) spun without contact and got nailed and then pushed into the wall by Ryan Newman (18th). Cole Whitt (21st) also received damage in that lap 184 scrum. This set up a two-lap shootout to the end, with Harvick leading the field to green. Hamlin would pass him and hold off the other hungry leaders to win. Lap 187 saw Allgaier and fellow rookie Alex Bowman (28th) mix it up, but the race stayed green, as officials tried to let it finish that way, but the front end of Allgaier fell onto the track and forced the yellow flag. The top 10 finishers were Hamlin, Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers, A.J. Allmendinger, Menard, Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson, and Stenhouse Jr. Jeff Gordon holds onto the points lead by three over Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch is four back in 3rd. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Carl Edwards are each 19 points from the lead in 4th. The fans might not have gotten the finish they wanted, but all 188 laps were action-packed.
RaceTweet: Denny Hamlin wins Talladega under yellow. Field was frenzied all race. Keselowski has less friends now.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Greg Biffle - Biffle led 58 laps Sunday, by far his biggest total in the only four races he's led in 2014. The No. 16 team has been quiet and not quick this season, but getting some camera time up front was good for the Roush Fenway Racing unit. Biffle may have won the race, had the caution not flown on that final lap.
North Korean Missile Dud of the Race: Jimmie Johnson - Mr. Six-Time has had a mixed bag in his restrictor plate career, but anyone of the pedigree of a multi-time champ and plate race winner is expected to be a factor before the end. Johnson led only two laps and spun out by himself, collecting a wad of good racecars. The spin wasn't his fault, but finishing 23rd certainly was disappointing. Johnson also spun by himself in the Sprint Unlimited race at Daytona in February. He still has yet to win this season.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Brian Vickers - Vickers started his sponsor's race in 18th, fell to the back a couple of times, and even got mad at team owner Michael Waltrip for side-drafting him and causing him to lose the draft. But Vickers clawed his No. 55 Toyota back into contention and clocked out a respectable 4th, through a pack that was hard to pass because it was so bunched up. He sits 10th in points.
Wheel of Misfortune: Jeff Gordon - Gordon's 2014 campaign has been winless, but consistent, with his worst finishes having been 12th and 13th. But Sunday wasn't his day. The Keselowski-triggered wreck swept up Gordon's fast No. 24 and doomed him to 39th. Gordon hasn't won a points-paying plate race since sweeping the Talladega races in 2007.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Landon Cassill - Hillman Racing and Cassill rarely have much to smile about, but Talladega brought forth a grin. Cassill piloted the No. 40 Chevy to as high as 6th in the blosing laps. He got a good run on lap 187 on the outside line, but just didn't have the speed to ride a push from Kyle Busch to the front. They settled for 11th, his best-career finish in 125 Cup races. Cassill also finished 8th in Saturday's Nationwide Series race for J.D. Motorsports. They finished 12th at Daytona in February.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Driver 88 pitted from the lead on lap 151 and never flashed his teeth again. Just like in the Daytona 500, Earnhardt Jr. was fast and seemed a contender to win. But losing the track position prompted the 39-year-old to play it safe in the back of the pack. As the drivers had at it, Earnhardt Jr. hung around 30th and seemed to be waiting to pounce. But drivers really couldn't slice through the pack like in past years, because there was just nowhere to go. So Earnhardt Jr., not wanted to do somethig stupid and wreck, placed 26th. He seemed as satisfied as a 26th-place finisher could be with his finish, saying he really just didn't want to tear up the car. Maybe he is saving that bullet for the Talladega Chase race, since he is almost guaranteed to make the playoffs. Conservative planning could be a by product of the new points format.
Georgia On My Mind: Talladega race weekend was not a great one for the Georgia gang, but some drivers got solid finishes. David Ragan got plenty of publicity, as he won the Cup race a year ago. He had the KFC Go Cup as a sponsor, an in-car cam, and plenty of interviews and mentions from the media, things that are few and far between for a team like Front Row Motorsports. Ragan's win a year ago yielded a lot financially and exposure-wise this weekend. He looked strong and even led a lap, but the Johnson wreck ended his day in 35th. Reed Sorenson also looked strong in qualifying and in the race, running as high as 12th, but that same wreck crashed the No. 36 Golden Corral Chevy to 34th. Ragan did show strong for Biagi-DenBeste Racing in the No. 98 Ford in Saturday's Nationwide race, finishing 4th behind winner Elliott Sadler. He almost had a shot to win. In that same race, Chase Elliott got a piece of a wreck that saw Brian Scott get spun by Trevor Bayne. Elliott continued and finished 19th, holding onto his points lead by one over Sadler and by three over race runner-up and teammate Regan Smith. Ryan Sieg was caught up in the same wreck and finished 20th. John Wes Townley finished 13th in the NNS race for Venturini Motorsports in the No. 25 and placed runner-up in that morning's ARCA race, which Tom Hessert won.
NNS RaceTweet: Elliott Sadler is first of two JGR No. 11 cars to win at Talladega this weekend. Crazy finish.