TALLADEGA, Ala – Denny Hamlin has been searching for any kind of solid momentum again for his No. 11 Toyota team. Following a late summer stretch that saw the Joe Gibbs Racing driver earn six straight top five finishes, he came to the Talladega Superspeedway this weekend with just two top five results in his last six tries.
He wasn’t as competitive as he’d like to have been.
But, with how Monday’s rain delayed 1000Bulbs.com 500 ended up, the Virginia native may have found the mojo that it’s going to take to go on a championship run.
Hamlin, started off with troubles as he and his JGR teammate of Martin Truex Jr. were speeding on pit lane on Lap 91. That cost them dearly as they’d lose the draft after serving their pass through penalties.
Then, they fell a lap down on Lap 105. The pack caught them with five laps remaining in Stage 2. As luck may have it, the first “Big One” occurred one lap later, while both were running right in the middle of the lead draft.
The crash couldn’t have happened one lap earlier.
Hamlin, suffered damage to his car as a result, but not bad enough to park it. He’d score zero stage points in the race too and be running outside the top 25.
But, following two more big crashes, Hamlin found himself in the lead group for the final three lap shootout. He hooked bumpers with Ryan Newman and pushed him to the lead on the final lap. Ryan Blaney fought back though to take the win, but Hamlin finished a respective third.
He did so without much help from Toyota when this race was a big one with manufacturer support.
“(Our agenda) changed with every caution,” Hamlin said. ” It changed with every car that fell out. I mean, just a game of chess all day. Sure, we could have got up there and raced, got in the middle, but we would have been in all those wrecks. Didn’t make sense to me. I knew the statistics, the odds, the chances. I looked at how many cars were on the lead lap if we were to crash at that point in the race. It just wasn’t worth the risk. There wasn’t enough to gain with cars still crashing. We waited till the bulk of them got out, then went up there and tried to win. We almost did.”
He’s now the top non race winner in the playoff standings (+56) and all but assured his path to the Round of 8. This was his third top five in his last four starts now, as Hamlin may have luck on his side to make it to Homestead with a shot at the championship.