Denny Hamlin knew he had a fast car and once he figured that out, he went to the rear of the field and let all the wrecks happen in front of him. And they did, beginning on lap 1.
Now, the first few wrecks weren’t major but did start to create some damage to championship contenders. It was an interesting race to see some veterans like Hamlin, safe in championship points, go to the rear and let other drivers tangle up front and battle for Stage wins and, well, pride. But as we often see at Talladega, that doesn’t always work out to well. One of the biggest wrecks of the day came late and saw last week’s winner, Kurt Busch, get airborne and on land top of another car. Fortunately, all the drivers caught up in that and other melees went home a little more sore than when they showed up, but all in all healthy.
If you wanted tandem passing, you saw that. If you wanted battles for the lead, you saw that. If you wanted to see a variety of drivers in the lead, you saw that too. Just about whatever appetite for racing you have for restrictor plate racing, this Talladega race produced it in ginormous quantities.
Once the dust settled and the final restart got underway, it was an epic battle right to the end with an edge of your seat finish. Denny Hamlin just squeaked by Matt DiBenedetto for the win, reminding us all of the Bristol race where Denny made a last second pass on Matty D for the win.
There were a lot of boos raining down on Hamlin after the win. A lot of fans were rooting for Matty D and it looked like Hamlin may have passed cars below the yellow line during the wild blocking and maneuvering that was going on in the final laps. NASCAR ruled Hamlin to be within the rules but then took DiBenedetto to task and penalized him for forcing another car below the double yellow. While Hamlin was kind of forced low he also seemed to improve his position, something the rulebook says you can’t do.
All in all, a great day for Hamlin and another heartbreaker for DiBenedetto, but not as bad as if he had won and then lost that due to the double yellow infraction. That would have been a real knife in the gut.
With all the cars that were wrecked, some drivers had career making finishes. Erik Jones wound up 2nd as he is still working on a ride for 2021. Tyler Preece proved to be a force all day as he wound up 10th. Tyler Reddick (7), John H. Nemecheck (8), and Brennan Poole (9) all had a good finish. Just outside the Top 10 saw Justin Haley (11) Quin Houff (13) and Timmy Hill (15) finishing strong. Bubba Wallace (24) had a great late race and was contending for the win before he was turned into the wall by aggressive pushing.
Of course, all this came with a cost to drivers like Kyle Busch, Martin Truex, Jr., Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola finishing outside the Top 20.
That means the Roval race will be a must win situation for Almirola, Bowyer, Austin Dillon and Kyle Busch. Just 22 points separate Joey Logano from Kyle Busch and Dillon, so that spot will be critical for all three drivers.
Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney have won the first two Roval races and Alex Bowman and Clint Bowyer have two Top 5 finishes. A repeat of that would help Bowman but does nothing for Bowyer, he has to win.
This could be the end of the road for Kyle Busch title run. He has two bad finishes at the Roval and anything short of a win will not be satisfactory for him. Not only does he need it to move on, he needs it for his mental health.
I think Chase Elliott has a good chance at winning at the Roval again but look out for Alex Bowman, he could steal this one.
Image courtesy of NASCAR Media.