TALLADEGA, Ala. – A year ago, Denny Hamlin did not feel healthy enough to finish the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. On Sunday, Hamlin couldn’t have felt better.
Hamlin, who needed a relief driver in this race last season because of the lingering effects of a back injury, pulled away on a late restart Sunday and took the checkered flag in the Aaron’s 499 for his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory at Talladega Superspeedway.
Before Sunday, Hamlin had managed only five top-10 finishes in 16 starts at Talladega. He had not fared any better at NASCAR’s other restrictor-plate track, Daytona International Speedway, where he had managed only two top-fives in 16 Sprint Cup races prior to this season. But Hamlin was the runner-up to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in this year’s Daytona 500, and he followed that superspeedway performance with Sunday’s victory in the Aaron’s 499.
“We’ve come a long way in these types of races,” said Hamlin, who was making his 300th career Sprint Cup start on Sunday. “We couldn’t even finish 22nd in superspeedway races for the longest time. But I drive these races a lot differently than I used to, for sure. I try to be more patient. That’s why I think our success has started to ramp up on superspeedways. We’ve really kind of come into our own.
“When you drive as aggressively as I drove early in my career on superspeedways, I was either wrecking or finishing in the top three, and it was usually wrecking. I think the way I’m doing things now lends itself to being a little bit more consistent on these types of race tracks. Early in my career I was always the one trying to make holes (in the pack), and that got me in trouble.”
Greg Biffle, who also was seeking his first Talladega victory, finished second after leading 58 of the 188 laps. “It’s sort of bittersweet for us,” Biffle said. “It sure would have been nice to get a win. But I’m extremely happy to finish second.”
Two-time Talladega winner Clint Bowyer finished third, followed by Brian Vickers in fourth, A.J. Allmendinger fifth, Paul Menard sixth, Kevin Harvick seventh, Kasey Kahne eighth, Sprint Cup rookie Kyle Larson ninth and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 10th.
There were 188 green-flag passes for the lead in the race, an average of exactly one pass per lap. That is the third-highest total at Talladega since NASCAR began keeping the stat in 2005. All the passing came as a result of consistent three-wide racing that kept the drivers moving back and forth throughout the pack. Or as Earnhardt said, “The track was three-wide forever.”
The style of racing impressed Allmendinger, who was making his ninth career start at Talladega. “I kept waiting for everybody to kind of calm down and single file out, and it never happened,” Allmendinger said. “So I was like, ‘All right, I guess it’s time to get crazy with everybody.
“I hope the fans enjoyed it. It was awesome to see all the fans come out and how packed the grandstands were here at Talladega. It’s like the old Talladega again, so thanks for everybody coming out. I hope it was a great show.”