In a controversial finish for the ages, Denny Hamlin concluded a conservative afternoon of running towards the rear of the field to emerge victorious on the final lap in the YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, October 4.
Entering the final turn, Hamlin was in fifth place. He then made a controversial move on the apron and below the double yellow line zone to avoid contact between teammate Erik Jones and Chris Buescher before he outraced Matt DiBenedetto and William Byron across the tri-oval to emerge out in front at the finish line and grab the win. The victory at Talladega all but advanced Hamlin into the Round of 8 in the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
The starting lineup was based on four statistical categories: current owner standings, the driver’s result from a previous Cup race, the team owner’s result from a previous Cup race and the fastest lap recorded from a previous Cup race. With that, Denny Hamlin started on pole position and was joined on the front row with Kurt Busch, winner of last weekend’s Playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Prior to the race, Cody Ware started at the rear of the field due to a driver change along with Brennan Poole and Timmy Hill, both due to failing pre-race technical inspection twice.
When the green flag waved and the race started, Hamlin received a push from teammate Martin Truex Jr. to jump to an early lead through the backstretch. Just as the field was entering Turn 3, the first caution of the race flew when Christopher Bell spun in the middle of the turn after cutting a left-rear tire and was hit on the left side by Tyler Reddick, who sustained front-nose damage to the front of his No. 8 Caterpillar Next Gen Dozers Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. In addition, Bubba Wallace made contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. while avoiding the wreck while Ty Dillon received little damage from the wreck. Following the wreck, all but Bell continued.
The race restarted under green on Lap 4 with Hamlin and Kurt Busch on the front row. At the start, Hamlin jumped ahead with the lead and moved in front of teammates Truex and Kyle Busch on the outside lane while also blocking both lanes with Kurt Busch leading the inside lane.
By the sixth lap, the three Joe Gibbs Racing Playoff contenders led by Hamlin and followed by Truex and Kyle Busch were leading the field followed by Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski. Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Aric Almirola and Alex Bowman were running in the top 10 with Chase Elliott running in 11th place.
The caution returned a few laps later when contact from John Hunter Nemechek sent Stenhouse sliding in Turn 4 before he backed his No. 47 Hungry Jack Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE hard into the inside wall with significant rear-end damage. The wreck was enough to end Stenhouse’s day in the garage.
Following two early cautions of the race, the race restarted under green on Lap 13 with teammates Hamlin and Truex on the front row. At the start, Hamlin moved his No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry in front of teammate Truex’s No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry on the inside lane to retain the lead while Harvick made a move beneath Kyle Busch’s No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry to move into third place, thus moving Busch in the middle lane. With the field entering the backstretch, a third lane started forming with Brad Keselowski peaking to the outside lane followed by Bowyer. Shortly after, the caution flew due to Corey LaJoie stalling his car just past the start/finish line.
The race restarted on Lap 15 with teammates Hamlin and Truex on the front row. At the start, Hamlin retained the lead and was able to block all runs from the top lane led by Harvick and the bottom lane with Truex trailing behind while continuing to lead the race when the field cycled back to the start/finish line.
On Lap 17, Joey Logano, racing in his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang, emerged with the lead following a run on the outside lane of Hamlin and receiving a push from Harvick. The following lap, the field expanded to three lanes with Hamlin leading the middle lane and Truex leading the inside lane while Logano continued to lead the race on the outside lane.
Not long after, Hamlin was able to move in front of Logano’s front nose on the outside lane in Turn 3 to reassume the lead. With that, Hamlin emerged out in front of Logano and Harvick while Keselowski and Bowyer were in the top five.
By Lap 22, names like Cole Custer, Ryan Preece, Bubba Wallace, Chris Buescher, Daniel Suarez and Matt DiBenedetto were running in the top 10 while Hamlin continued to lead Logano, Harvick and Bowyer. In addition, the field settled into racing on two lanes with a majority racing on the outside lane led by Hamlin and some racing on the inside lane led by DiBenedetto.
The following lap, the inside lane led by DiBenedetto gained a run for the lead through the tri-oval and entering Turn 4, but Hamlin moved in front of DiBenedetto to block the run. Through the following lap, Hamlin was able to block both lanes with a number of competitors charging with runs and retain the lead when the competition caution flew on Lap 25. By then, six of the remaining 12 Playoff contenders led by Hamlin were running in the top 10 while Truex and Austin Dillon were in 11th and 12th. Elliott was in 14th while Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman and Keselowski were in 21st, 22nd and 23rd.
Under the competition caution, the leaders pitted and Aric Almirola, racing in his No. 10 Smithfield Power Bites Ford Mustang, emerged with the lead after only taking fuel to his car. Logano, Bowyer, DiBenedetto, Hamlin and Blaney, all of whom also went with fuel only on their stops, followed suit. During the pit stops, Bowyer nearly made contact with Matt Kenseth while exiting his pit stall while Kenseth was trying to enter his. In addition, Kyle Busch overshot his pit stall and dropped all the way back to 15th place. Also, Chase Elliott was sent to the rear of the field due to speeding on pit road.
The race restarted under green on Lap 30 and Almirola jumped ahead with the lead while receiving a push from DiBenedetto. The following lap, four Fords were running first through fourth with Almirola leading followed by Ryan Blaney, DiBenedetto and Joey Logano.
Entering the backstretch, Hamlin dropped below the double yellow line and surrendered his track position towards the front to fall to the rear of the field and avoid the early pack racing. The following lap, Harvick dropped his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Mustang below the double yellow line and surrendered his track position towards the front to fall to the rear of the field and avoid the early pack racing.
At the front, two lanes formed with Blaney and his No. 12 Menards/Pennzoil Ford Mustang leading the outside lane and going for the lead while Almirola continued to lead from the inside lane. By then, Erik Jones moved up to third place behind Blaney while Truex, Logano, Bowyer and Kyle Busch were running inside the top 10. In addition, Jimmie Johnson started to make his move towards the top 10 while Elliott was in 12th place following his pit road speeding penalty.
On Lap 35, Jones emerged with the lead while Blaney fought back on the inside lane followed by Almirola. The following lap, Blaney returned to the lead with Almirola running behind him on the inside lane. Jones, meanwhile, continued to run on the outside lane and in front of teammates Truex and Kyle Busch while Suarez joined the party.
By Lap 40, Jones was back out front while three lanes started to form behind him. Teammates Truex and Kyle Busch were in second and third followed by Blaney and Almirola while Suarez led the middle lane in sixth place while receiving a push from Keselowski.
Two laps later, the field settled into racing by two lanes with Blaney leading a bevy of cars on the outside lane and Jones leading a bevy of cars on the inside lane. Shortly after, Blaney moved in front of teammates Keselowski and Logano to retain the lead and clear of the pack while Chris Buescher joined the party.
By Lap 50, Logano emerged with the lead as the field returned to racing between two lanes in a pack. Jones was in second followed by Blaney, Kyle Busch and Keselowski while Elliott was in sixth place. Shortly after, Jones led a lap before Elliott aggressively made his move to the front of the pack. With Elliott leading, Bubba Wallace moved into second place followed by Kyle Busch, Cole Custer and Kurt Busch while Logano fell back to sixth place. Austin Dillon moved into eighth place while Blaney and Jones fell back to ninth and 10th.
Meanwhile, Hamlin and Harvick were in 26th and 27th while Truex was in 17th, Bowman was in 15th and Keselowski was in 13th. Austin Dillon and Almirola were in 10th and 11th as the laps in the first stage were dwindling.
After leading three laps, Kurt Busch made his move for the lead before Almirola peaked below Busch’s No. 1 Gearwrench Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE and reassumed the lead.
With the laps in the first stage winding down, the pack running at the front started to fan out into three lanes with a multitude of Playoff competitors making moves towards the front. With three laps remaining in the first stage, however, the caution flew when contact from Bowman, who was being pushed by Logano, and Almirola turned Almirola sideways across the outside wall in the backstretch with both competitors pinned against one another and the outside wall. Behind, Kyle Busch was turned and his No. 18 M&M’s Toyota briefly came off the ground before he spun and made contact with Blaney. He was able to limp back to pit road and receive repairs to remain on the lead lap along with Bowman.
Returning to pit road, Almirola expressed his displeasure to Bowman on pit road before he retired from the race. The wreck and retirement from the race placed Almirola in a “must-win” scenario for next weekend’s Playoff elimination race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.
“I’m okay,” Almirola said at the infield care center on NBC. “I honestly haven’t seen the replay, so it’s hard to say, but I got hit from behind and turned in the outside fence. It’s such a shame. We had such a fast Smithfield Power Bites Ford Mustang. I’m just disappointed. We were doing everything we needed to do. We were closing in to the end of stage one and it looked like we were gonna score a lot of points there, which is exactly what we needed to do. It looks like [Bowman] got to my outside and my car started to turn to the right, so it’s unfortunate. I don’t know if he got in the back of me and hooked me or how that played out, but my car just made a hard right into the fence. It’s unfortunate.”
With the first stage concluding under caution on Lap 60, Chris Buescher emerged out in front as he claimed his first career stage victory. Logano settled in second place followed by Austin Dillon, Keselowski and Jones while Elliott, Reddick, Truex Kurt Busch and Custer settled in the top 10. Moments after, Austin Dillon, who sustained damage from the late multi-car wreck, limped to pit road with a flat left-rear tire.
Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Elliott emerged out in front following a stellar four-tire pit stop from the No. 9 NAPA crew. Keselowski exited in second place followed by Buescher, Jones and Truex. Following the pit stops, a handful of competitors, including Harvick, were penalized due to an uncontrolled tire violation.
The second stage started under green on Lap 65 and with Elliott and Keselowski on the front row. At the start, Keselowski was able to emerge out in front for the first time and lead Lap 66 with Jones and Custer tucked behind Keselowski’s No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Mustang.
A few laps later, the caution flew due to debris in Turn 2 that came off of the damaged No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry of Kyle Busch, who blew a left-front tire and was running at the rear of the field along with Logano, Harvick and Hamlin. Following repairs, Busch was able to remain on the lead lap.
Under caution, a handful of competitors, including Elliott, Truex, William Byron, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Suarez, Ty Dillon, Kurt Busch, Wallace, Nemechek, Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Harvick and Hamlin pitted while the rest led by Buescher and Keselowski remained on the track. Following the pit stops, however, Hamlin was nabbed with a pit road speeding penalty.
When the race restarted on Lap 73, Buescher jumped ahead and moved in front of Keselowski to retain the lead. Returning to the tri-oval and the start/finish line, the field at the front expanded to two lanes with Jones leading the outside lane while Buescher continued to lead on the inside lane.
Shortly after, Jones received a push from Michael McDowell to move back into the lead with Hendrick Motorsports’ teammates Elliott, Byron and Jimmie Johnson lined up on the outside lane. By then, Keselowski was the only Playoff contender running in the top 10. Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch and Bowyer were in 16th, 17th and 18th while Bowman, Logano, Hamlin, Truex, Harvick were running in 26th through 30th. Kyle Busch was back in 32nd place behind veteran Brendan Gaughan.
By Lap 80, Buescher continued to lead on the inside lane with the pack fanning out to two lanes. Keselowski was in second place followed by Reddick, Custer and Ryan Preece while Nemechek, DiBenedetto, Kenseth, Jones and Elliott. In addition, the first-place car of Buescher and the 19th-place car of Austin Dillon were separated by less than two seconds.
Two laps later, Jones returned to the lead by a nose over DiBenedetto while Elliott made his move into third place. Buescher fell back to fifth place in front of Keselowski and next to Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE.
By Lap 85, Jones continued to lead Elliott on the inside lane and a pack of cars fanning out to two lanes while William Byron was the first car running on the outside lane in fifth place.
A lap later, a bevy of Chevrolet competitors led by Elliott made a pit stop under green. The next lap, the caution flew due to Blaney making contact with the Turn 3 outside wall after cutting a tire. By then, DiBenedetto was out in front followed by Buescher, Keselowski, Logano and Bowyer, all of whom had yet to make a pit stop. Also, Kyle Busch was spared from falling a lap behind the leaders.
Under caution, a majority of lead lap competitors pitted and Harvick exited in first place after pitting for only fuel. Reddick exited in second place followed by Kenseth, Nemechek, Suarez and Truex.
The race restarted on Lap 92 with teammates Elliott and Byron occupying the front row. At the start, Elliott moved in front of Byron to retain the lead. By then, Elliott was at the front of a six-car Chevrolet group on the inside lane while Chevrolet competitor Ryan Preece was the first competitor racing on the outside lane followed by Ty Dillon and Reddick.
By Lap 95 and with the race passing its halfway mark, Elliott continued to lead followed by teammate Byron, Kurt Busch, teammate Johnson and Bubba Wallace while Kenseth, Suarez, Ty Dillon, Reddick and Bowyer were in the top 10. Meanwhile, Logano was in 13th, Austin Dillon was in 15th and Keselowski and Truex were in 19th and 20th. Bowman, Hamlin and Harvick were in 29th, 30th and 31st while Kyle Busch was in 26th.
Five laps later, on Lap 100, Elliott continued to lead followed by teammate Byron, Kurt Busch, teammate Johnson and Wallace. Kenseth, Suarez, Bowyer and Austin Dillon settled in sixth through ninth while Jones made a move beneath Ty Dillon to move into 10th place. Prior to this, Custer got loose following contact from Logano while racing in the middle of the pack, but he was able to prevent his car from spinning in the middle of the pack, though he lost his momentum and the draft towards the front.
Another five laps later, on Lap 105, Elliott retained the lead followed by teammate Byron, Kurt Busch, Wallace and Kenseth while Johnson moved up the outside lane while being pushed by Logano in a two-lane pack racing for the lead. By then, Elliott, Kurt Busch, Logano and Austin Dillon were the only Playoff contenders running in the top 10 while Bowyer, who was running near the front a few laps earlier, fell back to 17th place.
Another two laps later, Johnson, racing with a piece of tape on the front nose of his No. 48 Chevrolet, led a lap before he was shuffled back. The following lap and with the field fanning out to three-wide racing, a multi-car wreck erupted on the frontstretch that started when contact from Bowyer turned Johnson sideways as he clipped Kurt Busch, who made head-on contact into the outside wall and went airborne on top of Custer’s No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford Mustang before he came to rest on all four wheels without being turned over, but with significant damage to the No. 1 Gearwrench Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. The wreck collected a total of 13 competitors, including Bowyer, Keselowski, Preece, Austin Dillon, Suarez, Joey Gase, Brennan Poole, Kyle Busch and Brendan Gaughan, who concluded his final NASCAR career start with a wrecked car. The wreck eliminated Bowyer for the remainder of the race as he also faces a “must-win” situation next weekend at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval to retain his title hopes. Following the wreck, Johnson voiced his frustrations at Bowyer over the contact.
“You’ve got to go,” Bowyer said in the infield care center on NBC. “You’ve got to push [Johnson]…As soon as I got to him, I push him in the front and the whole rear of the car went down and I was like, ‘Oh my God,’ and before I know it he was tank swapping all over the place. I don’t know if that was how they had their cars built or whatever, but as soon as you got close to him he was all over the place. Obviously didn’t mean to wreck him, but you’re going hard and three-wide and people are behind you pushing. I was hoping he would save it, but he didn’t and we all wrecked.”
“Yeah, it was a wild ride,” Kurt Busch said. “That’s the nature of this sport. You’re on top one week with a win and everything’s fantastic. And then this week here at Talladega, we were hoping for a nice, smooth run and to gain some points. I was just doing my job as a Chevy helper running top-five and next thing you know, I’m going for one of the wildest rides I’ve ever been in.”
Following the wreck, the race was red-flagged for 10 minutes and 27 seconds. When the red flag lifted and the competitors resumed under cautious pace, some that included Hamlin, Harvick, Truex, Bowman and Blaney pitted while the rest led by Elliott and Byron remained on the track. By then, Kyle Busch, Johnson, Austin Dillon and Keselowski continued following the multi-car wreck on the frontstretch.
With seven laps remaining in the second stage, the race restarted under green as Elliott retained the lead over teammate Byron and Logano. Shortly after, Logano received a draft from DiBenedetto to return to the lead the following lap.
With five laps remaining in the second stage, Logano and his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang was still leading followed by DiBenedetto, Buescher and Truex while Elliott and Reddick battled dead even in two lanes for fifth place.
Two laps later, Truex gained a run on the outside lane to lead a lap over Logano. Entering the backstretch, DiBenedetto got forced below the double yellow line zone following contact with Logano, but he was able to blend back on the track inside the top 10 without being assessed a penalty. Shortly after, Reddick led a lap before Truex moved back into the lead followed by Elliott.
At the start of the final lap of the second stage, Truex emerged with the lead followed by Keselowski, Buescher and Elliott while Logano dropped back after being told that he was being assessed a penalty for forcing DiBenedetto below the double yellow line zone. Entering the tri-oval, Truex and Keselowski managed to pull away from the pack and then, Truex was able to roll to the second stage win on Lap 120 and claim his fifth stage victory of the season. Keselowski settled in second place followed by Buescher, Elliott and Nemechek while Byron, Blaney, Preece, Ty Dillon and Wallace settled in the top 10.
Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Truex retained the lead after exiting pit road in first place. Keselowski exited in second place followed by Jones, Reddick, Quin Houff, Bowman and Elliott. By then, Austin Dillon took his No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE to the garage for repairs. Once he returned, he was two laps behind the leaders.
With 63 laps remaining, the final stage commenced under green with Truex and Keselowski occupying the front row. At the start, Truex jumped ahead until Keselowski gained a huge run on the backstretch to move back into the lead. With Keselowski in the lead, Truex settled behind him in second place and in front of teammate Jones while Reddick started to form a line on the outside lane and a run towards the front followed by Bowman, Kenseth and Wallace.
Three laps later, with 60 laps remaining, Keselowski was still ahead of Reddick as the pack towards the front fanned out to three-wide racing. On the backstretch, Wallace started to challenge Keselowski for the lead while Elliott bailed out of the lead pack.
With 55 laps remaining and most of the competitors at the front settling into single-file racing, Wallace continued to lead followed by Bowman, who was continuing to run strong despite a patched-up front nose and following 11 pit stops. Kenseth was in third place followed by Buescher, Preece, Keselowski, Nemechek, Reddick, Jones and Blaney. By then, Blaney formed a pack running on the outside lane before Keselowski and Buescher moved in front of him to gain a draft and run for the lead over Wallace.
Another five laps later, with 50 laps remaining, Logano was back at the front followed by Byron and Ty Dillon while Keselowski was dead even with Jones for fourth place. By then, Wallace was back in 10th, Bowman was in 13th and Truex was in 20th while Blaney and Harvick moved up to seventh and eighth. In addition, Kyle Busch was in 22nd, Hamlin was in 25th and Austin Dillon was in 27th, two laps behind. Johnson was in 28th, 10 laps behind the leaders.
Down to the final 45 laps of the race and the entire pack running in a single-file line on the outside lane, Logano continued to lead followed by Byron, Ty Dillon, Jones and Preece while Harvick, Keselowski, Wallace, Kenseth and Blaney were scored in the top 10. By then, Logano, Harvick and Keselowski were the only Playoff contenders running inside the top 10. Teammates Elliott and Bowman were in 12th and 13th, Truex was in 18th and Kyle Busch was in 21st. Hamlin was still in 25th while Austin Dillon was still mired in 27th.
With 40 laps remaining, the caution flew due to debris coming off of Jimmie Johnson’s damaged No. 48 Chevrolet. Under caution, the leaders pitted and Logano retained the lead over Harvick, Jones, Byron and Kenseth upon exiting pit road. Prior to the restart, some like Elliott, Hamlin, DiBenedetto, Newman, Reddick, Bowman, Kyle Busch and Wallace pitted again for fuel.
The race restarted under green with 36 laps remaining. At the start, Logano cleared and moved in front of Harvick to retain the lead while Byron was the first competitor racing on the outside lane followed by Preece and Keselowski. Behind, Hamlin bailed out of the heavy pack racing for the lead once again.
At the front, Byron assumed the lead followed by Preece while Logano and Keselowski were back in third and fourth. The following lap, with 35 laps remaining, Logano moved back into the lead followed by Preece and Keselowski. Behind, Brennan Poole moved into fourth place followed by Buescher and DiBenedetto. Shortly after, Poole was shuffled out of the lead pack along with Byron while Logano, who was racing on fumes and who was uncertain about having enough fuel to make it to the finish, led a bevy of competitors racing in a single-file lane on the outside lane.
With 30 laps remaining, Logano continued to lead followed by Preece, Keselowski, Buescher and DiBenedetto while Elliott started to gain a run as the first car to lead the inside lane. By then, Cody Ware made an appearance in the top 10 while Wallace was in 12th in front of Newman, Blaney and Nemechek. Five laps later, with 25 laps remaining, the field fanned out into two-wide racing as Logano and Wallace battled for the lead.
Down to the final 20 laps of the race, Elliott emerged back out in front while Logano started to fight back for the lead on the outside lane. Byron was in third place followed by Keselowski and Harvick while Preece, Wallace, Kenseth, Ty Dillon and Buescher were scored in the top 10 ahead of Truex.
With 15 laps remaining, Logano was leading followed by teammate Keselowski, Preece, Wallace and Buescher. Meanwhile, Truex, Elliott and Bowman were in the top 10 while Kyle Busch was in 15th. Harvick was in 17th while Hamlin was in 23rd.
With 10 laps remaining, Logano received a push from Keselowski to retain the lead over Wallace with Preece and Buescher in the top five. Logano continued to lead the outside pack while Wallace was the first car on the inside lane in front of Elliott and Byron. A lap later, Keselowski got shuffled out as Wallace made another bid for the lead over Logano.
Down to the final seven laps of the race, Wallace, racing in his No. 43 World Wide Technology Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, continued to lead on the outside lane in front of Logano while DiBenedetto made a bid on the inside lane, thus shoving Elliott out of the draft. A lap later, a bump from Preece sent Wallace scraping the backstretch outside wall as he fell out of contention for the lead with damage on the right side of the No. 43 Chevrolet.
Shortly after and just as Wallace was coming to pit road for service, the caution flew due to a spin involving James Davison in Turn 4. Under caution, some like Truex, Hamlin and Jones pitted while the rest led by Logano, DiBenedetto and Keselowski remained on the track.
The race was sent into overtime and with Logano and DiBenedetto on the front row. At the start, Logano retrained the lead over teammate Keselowski and DiBenedetto. Entering Turns 3 and 4, however, Elliott gained a huge run and made a bold crossover move beneath Logano to retain the lead despite Logano making contact and barely forcing Elliott below the double yellow line. In addition, Byron made a move on the outside lane while Logano was shuffled back in the middle lane.
Just as Elliott and Byron were approaching the start/finish line to start the final lap, the caution flew for a multi-car wreck on the tri-oval that started when Reddick turned Kyle Busch into Logano as the carnage involved Harvick, Truex, Bowman and Newman. The wreck ended the long afternoon for Kyle Busch, who emerged uninjured out of his battered No. 18 M&M’s Toyota and made the trip to the infield care center.
“The car was just real slow due to all of the damage, obviously, so I’m just holding up the line,” Kyle Busch said on NBC. “I was trying to draft off the guys in front of me and I’m pushing too much backwards on the guys that are trying to push me forwards and it creates a wreck. Oh, well. The M&M’s Camry guys did a great job and just wish there was more for it.”
The race was red flagged for nearly 11 minutes following the second multi-car wreck that collected a number of Playoff contenders. When the red flag lifted and the field resumed under cautious pace, some like Byron, Keselowski, Newman, Blaney, Jones, Bowman, Truex and Harvick pitted while the rest led by Elliott and DiBenedetto remained on the track. Following his involvement in the wreck, Logano was penalized a second time for forcing Elliott below the double yellow line zone. He, however, was unable to re-fire from the red flag period and was pushed by a wrecker back to the garage, where his race concluded.
With the race restarting under green on a second overtime attempt, Elliott, who reported fuel concerns, jumped out with the lead, but was placed in a three-wide situation on the backstretch in between Preece and DiBenedetto. Entering Turns 3 and 4, Wallace gained a run on the outside lane, but he turned across the front nose of Preece’s No. 37 Kroger Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. The contact sent Wallace into the outside wall with heavy front nose damage, where Blaney was also collected along with Kenseth, Bowman and Austin Dillon, who had just worked his way back on the lead lap, as the caution flew and sent the race into a third overtime attempt. The wreck was enough to end Wallace’s run following a strong late charge towards the front and after leading a career-high 10 laps.
Under caution, Elliott pitted along with Nemechek, Timmy Hill, Keselowski, Preece and Austin Dillon while the rest led by DiBenedetto and Denny Hamlin remained on the track. By then, Buescher, Ty Dillon and Byron were in the top five followed by Newman, Cody Ware, Quin Houff, Erik Jones and Reddick.
In the third overtime attempt, DiBenedetto, in pursuit of his first Cup career win, peaked ahead over Hamlin and cleared the field entering the backstretch and with Buescher pushing him. DiBenedetto retained the lead for a full cycle around the track with Buescher and Byron behind.
When he started the final lap, however, DiBenedetto was being pressured by Byron, Buescher and Jones for the lead. In Turns 1 and 2 and through the backstretch, Jones pushed DiBenedetto out with the lead as Buescher and Byron were gaining a run on the front two for the lead.
With Cody Ware wrecking behind, Buescher and Jones made contact entering Turns 3 and 4 on the outside lane. Their contact allowed Byron to gain a run at DiBenedetto for the lead on the inside lane. Then, DiBenedetto drove all the way down to the bottom and made contact with Byron, forcing Byron below the double yellow line.
Out of the blue, Hamlin, who was in fifth entering the turns and drove on the apron and below the double yellow line zone to avoid the contact ensuing between Jones and Buescher, stormed to the front and challenged for the lead in a three-wide battle with Byron and DiBenedetto as Keselowski spun behind following contact with Reddick. Through the tri-oval and coming back to the finish line, Hamlin was able to emerge out in front of DiBenedetto to win in a photo finish while Byron was shuffled back to a top-five result.
Though the finish went under review following the race’s conclusion, NASCAR declared Hamlin as the official winner and his move beneath the double yellow line legal since he was trying to avoid contact and a potential wreck ensuing in front of him.
With his unprecedented seventh victory of the season, second at Talladega and the 44th of his NASCAR Cup Series career, which moved him into a tie with childhood hero and Hall of Famer Bill Elliott for 18th place on the all-time Cup wins list, Hamlin locked himself into the Round of 8 in the Playoffs as he continues his pursuit for his first Cup championship. Following his celebratory burnout and salute to the fans, Hamlin dedicated the win to J.J. Damato, an executive and VP/Marketing Services at Joe Gibbs Racing who died a day ago at age 48.
“Just a lot of attrition,” Hamlin said on NBC. “We just played the strategy and the numbers game to run in the back until we were locked in. Just things worked out. We finally got one back. This one was unexpected to say the least, but proud of this whole FedEx team, Toyota and everyone at JGR for bringing great race cars…Really excited about this win. This was unexpected for sure. They were crashing in front of us. Obviously, I got forced down there just like [DiBenedetto] and others did. There were a bunch of us that all crashed down there…Just an amazing day.”
DiBenedetto, who initially settled in second place for the third time this season, was left with tears of disappointment in coming up short in delivering his first victory and the historic 100th win for the Wood Brothers Racing team as he has yet to announce his racing plans for next season.
“It’s just a crazy finish,” DiBenedetto said on NBC. “I haven’t been able to really process it. I just really want to get this thing in Victory Lane. This Tuscany Faucets team. 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. Our alliance with Team Penske, Ford — I appreciate them putting me in this car. It’s so much fun to drive and have a shot to win. Denny did a great job. Deja vu. Holy cow. 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, Doug, did a great job. This is tough…My windshield was filthy from all the speedy dry. I was having trouble seeing to block. I was blocking everyone’s lane. I mean, that was pure desperation, but that’s how I drive every race. Every time I step foot in a race car. I’m appreciative for the challenges I’ve faced. That’s what it teaches you when you have those shots…Wild finish. That’s Talladega. I’m glad the fans got a great show. I just hope to win races. I know we can do it.”
Following the race, however, DiBenedetto was penalized for forcing Byron below the double yellow line that involved contact. With that, DiBenedetto was credited with a 21st-place result.
Chase Elliott was also penalized for going below the double yellow line through the tri-oval and was originally scored back to 22nd place. Following the race, however, NASCAR rescinded the penalty on Elliott after it was discovered that Elliott was forced beneath the yellow line by Buescher. With that, Buescher was penalized all the way back to 22nd place while Elliott retained fifth place on the track.
Following DiBenedetto’s penalty, Erik Jones was scored in second place followed by Ty Dillon, who notched a career-best result. Byron settled in fourth place in front of teammate Elliott. Newman, Reddick, Nemechek, Poole and Preece rounded out the top 10 on the track.
Austin Dillon limped home in 12th place, two spots ahead of Bowman, while Keselowski fell all the way back in 18th place. Harvick settled in 20th place while Truex ended his run in 23rd place. Jimmie Johnson finished in 29th place in his 38th and final run at Talladega.
There were 58 lead changes for 18 different leaders. The race featured a record 13 cautions for 54 laps.
1. Denny Hamlin, 26 laps led
2. Erik Jones, 13 laps led
3. Ty Dillon
4. William Byron, one lap led
5. Chase Elliott, 41 laps led
6. Ryan Newman
7. Tyler Reddick, two laps led
8. John Hunter Nemechek
9. Brennan Poole
10. Ryan Preece
11. Justin Haley
12. Austin Dillon
13. Quin Houff
14. Alex Bowman
15. Timmy Hill, one lap led
16. Matt Kenseth
17. Joey Gase
18. Brad Keselowski, six laps led
19. Cody Ware, one lap led
20. Kevin Harvick, two laps led
21. Matt DiBenedetto, 10 laps led
22. Chris Buescher, 15 laps led, Stage 1 winner
23. Martin Truex Jr., two laps down, six laps led, Stage 2 winner
24. Bubba Wallace – OUT, Accident, 10 laps led
25. Ryan Blaney – OUT, Accident, 10 laps led
26. Joey Logano – OUT, Accident, 45 laps led
27. Kyle Busch – OUT, Accident
28. Corey LaJoie, 12 laps down
29. Jimmie Johnson – OUT, Accident, one lap led
30. James Davison, 82 laps down
31. Cole Custer – OUT, Accident
32. Kurt Busch – OUT, Accident
33. Clint Bowyer – OUT, Accident
34. Daniel Suarez – OUT, Accident
35. Brendan Gaughan – OUT, Accident
36. Michael McDowell – OUT, one lap led
37. Aric Almirola – OUT, Accident, nine laps led
38. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – OUT, Accident
39. Christopher Bell – OUT, Accident
1. Denny Hamlin – Advanced
2. Kurt Busch – Advanced
3. Kevin Harvick +68
4. Chase Elliott +44
5. Brad Keselowski +41
6. Martin Truex Jr. +32
7. Alex Bowman +22
8. Joey Logano +21
9. Kyle Busch -21
10. Austin Dillon -21
11. Clint Bowyer -38
12. Aric Almirola -48
With the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs reaching its halfway point, the series will travel to the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course for the Bank of America ROVAL 400 and the final Playoff event in the Round of 12. The race will occur on Sunday, October 11, at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC.