TALLADEGA, Ala. – Denny Hamlin came out on top of a controversial and zany triple-overtime thriller to win his seventh NASCAR Cup Series race of the season Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway.
Hamlin led four times for 27 laps, but laid well out of the lead pack for most of the day as attrition whittled the list of contenders through multiple multi-car accidents.
In the end, the strategy paid off in the most unexpected of fashions.
A James Davison spin in turn four with six laps left set up the first of three extra-distance restarts, with Joey Logano leading the field to green on lap 188 and holding that position through the first half lap of the first overtime before getting shuffled coming off turn four and falling back into the snarling pack.
As Chase Elliott darted low to grab the top spot, Kyle Busch got tipped around into the middle of the pack, came down into Logano and sparked a six-car melee that led to a 10 minute, 52 second red flag.
Logano would have had to pit for damage anyway, but was penalized by NASCAR for forcing a competitor below the double yellow out-of-bounds line, taking him out of contention at the front.
Meanwhile, Elliott led the way over DiBenedetto for the start of double overtime following the red-flag period, but it was less than a lap before contact between Ryan Preece and Bubba Wallace hooked Wallace into the outside wall in turn three to bring the caution out for a track-record 15th time.
DiBenedetto was scored as the leader when the caution waved, placing him in front for the final restart of the race ahead of Hamlin, Chris Buescher, Ty Dillon and William Byron.
Elliott pitted for fuel and restarted 13th.
When the green flag waved for the third overtime, DiBenedetto shot out to the lead with a big shove from Buescher, but Hamlin remained lurking even as his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate – Erik Jones – snuck all the way up to second at the white flag.
But Jones faded back shortly after on the outside, while Hamlin muscled his way up the inside as DiBenedetto tried to block a last-gasp charge toward the inside by Byron coming through turn four.
That move, in NASCAR’s eyes, forced Byron below the yellow line as the pair battled for the win.
Meanwhile, Hamlin dived below the yellow line as well when Buescher came down the banking from third, eventually ending up three-wide below Byron and DiBenedetto as the trio raced into the tri-oval.
Side-drafting off one another coming to the finish line, Hamlin edged out DiBenedetto by .023 seconds, with Jones sneaking into the picture just .086 seconds short of the victory at the checkered flag.
After a five-minute video review, Hamlin was confirmed as the winner, while DiBenedetto was penalized for his act of forcing Byron below the out-of-bounds line in turn four on the last lap.
An additional review tacked a penalty onto Buescher for forcing Elliott underneath the double yellow line coming to the finish, relegating the Roush Fenway Racing driver out of a top-five finish as well.
That left Hamlin as the winner by .086 seconds over Jones, with Ty Dillon third, Byron fourth and Elliott fifth.
In his winner’s interview, Hamlin noted that he planned to ride for most of the day before charging late.
“(That was) just a lot of attrition,” said Hamlin. “We just played the strategy and the numbers game to run in the back until we were locked in. Things worked out. We finally got one back. This one was unexpected to say the least, but I’m proud of this whole FedEx team, Toyota and everyone at JGR for bringing great race cars.”
Hamlin also dedicated the win – the 44th his career, tying him with Bill Elliott for 18th all-time – to the family of late Joe Gibbs Racing executive JJ Damato, who passed away unexpectedly over the weekend.
“Today we’re obviously thinking about JJ Damato (JGR executive) and his two kids,” Hamlin said. “I’m really excited about this win. This was unexpected, for sure.”
With the yellow-line infraction applied, DiBenedetto was officially scored 21st, at the tail end of the lead-lap cars. It didn’t stop his emotions from flowing after the race, however, as he thought about what nearly was – the 100th win for Wood Brothers Racing.
“It was just a crazy finish. I haven’t been able to really process it,” DiBenedetto said. “I just really want to get this thing in victory lane. … I feel like this is the same story a lot of times, just heartbreak. My wife and I have had a stressful week again just with the uncertainty – always fighting for my life – but I’m so appreciative of this team. The Wood Brothers, I want this 100th win for the Woods so bad.
“Denny did a great job. It’s just déjà vu. Holy cow,” he continued. “Denny deserves all the support in the world. He’s an incredible racer. He was my biggest threat. I tried to block all I could. My spotter did a great job. This is tough.”
Prior to the triple-overtime conclusion, a lap-109 caution – the eighth of the day – saw Kurt Busch get airborne in a wild, 10-car accident one week after winning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to advance to the third round of the playoffs.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.