TALLADEGA, Ala. – Denny Hamlin didn’t care how he won the Aaron’s 499 Sunday.
What mattered to Hamlin was simply that he won it.
Hamlin took the checkered flag at Talladega Superspeedway for the first time in his NASCAR Sprint Cup career after out-dueling Greg Biffle and holding the lead when a last-lap caution froze the field.
The win was Hamlin’s 24th, but his first of the season. It pushed him up to seventh in the Chase for the Sprint Cup grid after 10 races.
It wasn’t an easy win for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver.
Hamlin gambled on fuel mileage, not pitting under any late-race caution periods in hopes of keeping good track position. It wound up making the difference between a good finish and a victory, but Hamlin’s mind wasn’t on the Chase.
“We really just want to win races regardless of the implications this means for the Chase,” Hamlin said. “It feels good to be back in Victory Lane.”
Hamlin was one of the sport’s most successful drivers to never record a restrictor-plate win prior to Talladega. If the finish had been accident free, runner-up Greg Biffle might’ve overtaken Hamlin. Biffle, however, wasn’t convinced he had the necessary help.
“We didn’t have any teammates up there at the end,” Biffle said.
Clint Bowyer bounced back from a 43rd-place result at Richmond (Va.) Int’l Raceway to finish third. Brian Vickers and A.J. Allmendinger rounded out the top five.
Points leader Jeff Gordon was one of many big names to finish outside the top 20. Gordon was caught up in a crash and finished 39th. Still, Gordon kept the points lead, thanks to his closest competitors also having rough days.
Matt Kenseth wound up 37th after being involved in the same accident as Gordon, which Brad Keselowski triggered after losing control of his car in front of Trevor Bayne. Kyle Busch (12th), Carl Edwards (30th) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (26th) kept their positions in the top five in points despite unimpressive results. Rookie polesitter Brian Scott finished 42nd.
Unlike teammates Gordon and Jimmie Johnson – who finished 23rd – Earnhardt kept his car clean. He just didn’t have a chance to make a move when it counted.
“You wanted to have that track position at the end,” Earnhardt said.
Hamlin was the one who had it. He took advantage of it.
“I’m just proud of our day today,” Hamlin said. “We’ve come a long way. We couldn’t finish 22nd at the superspeedway races for a long time.
“It feels good to come to this type of racetrack and know you can win.”