Denny Hamlin spent much of the afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway trailing the field and playing it safe because of the playoffs. But Hamlin and his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team knew when it was time to get in the mix, and turned that into a win in the YellaWood 500.
It didn’t come without NASCAR needing to take a second look, though.
Hamlin was fifth going into the final set of corners when the action became frantic in front of him. Matt DiBenedetto tried to block William Byron for the race lead, and the two nearly collided. Erik Jones and Chris Buescher almost came together behind them, and Hamlin went to the very bottom to put himself into a three-wide drag race for the win.
At the finish line, Hamlin edged DiBenedetto for the race win. NASCAR reviewed the finish, and Hamlin going below the yellow before deeming his win official.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) October 4, 2020
However, DiBenedetto was penalized for forcing Byron below the yellow line during the battle in Turn 4. He was moved from second to 21st in the finishing order, and that moved Jones into the runner-up position.
Ty Dillon finished third and Byron fourth.
“Just a lot of attrition,” said Hamlin of going from the back to the win. “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.
“This one was unexpected, to say the least, but proud of this whole FedEx 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.”
NASCAR’s vice president of competition, Scott Miller, said when the finish was reviewed officials felt DiBenedetto forced the evasive action of those around him. Both Byron and Hamlin were visibly below the yellow line in Turn 4.
“It was pretty clear cut the 21 (DiBenedetto) hung a left and drove those guys down below the line, so we had called that twice on the 22 car (Joey Logano) during the race so nothing different there,” said Miller. “On the 24 and the 11 being down there, in our judgement they were down there to avoid a wreck.”
With the 44th win of his Cup Series career, Hamlin advances into the Round of 8. It is his seventh win of the season and second at Talladega.
“They were crashing in front of us,” Hamlin said of going below the yellow line. “Obviously, I got forced down there just like the 21 (Matt DiBenedetto), and others did. There were a bunch of us that all crashed down there.”
Buescher crossed the finish line sixth but was penalized for forcing Chase Elliott below the yellow line in the tri-oval. He was moved to 22nd in the finishing order.
Elliott was credited with fifth-place over Ryan Newman sixth, Tyler Reddick seventh and John Hunter Nemechek eighth. Brennan Poole finished ninth and Ryan Preece rounded out the top 10.
The race needed three overtime attempts to be completed.
A caution on lap 185 set up the first attempt where Joey Logano led DiBenedetto and Brad Keselowski. Logano held the lead going into Turns 3 and 4 before Elliott dove to his inside for the position. Coming through the tri-oval, Reddick hit Kyle Busch to start a multicar wreck that brought the caution out before the leaders crossed under the white flag.
Elliott led DiBenedetto and John Hunter Nemechek to the second overtime attempt. Logano had been removed from contention because he was penalized for forcing Elliott below the yellow line as they battled for the lead.
Another multicar wreck halted the race to set up the third overtime. This one collected Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick, Darrell Wallace Jr., and others in Turn 4.
DiBenedetto was scored the race leader over Elliott, who had to pit for fuel. DiBenedetto lined up with Hamlin, Buescher, Ty Dillon, and Byron for the final overtime attempt.
It took 200 laps to finish the race, which was scheduled for a complete distance at 188.
There were 59 lead changes among 18 drivers and a total of 13 cautions.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) October 4, 2020