When the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series leaves Talladega Superspeedway, most drivers will say that they are elated to leave “The World’s Fastest Speedway.” But in reality, only one driver is truly happy when they leave the 2.66 mile roller coaster that is Talladega – the race winner.
And this weekend’s winner was Denny Hamlin.
To win at Talladega, one needs a fast car, good strategy and a lot of luck.
Hamlin was fortunate enough to have all three last weekend.
Hamlin started in 34th and was able to mix with the lead pack in a race that produced 48 lead changes amongst 23 drivers. He also used good pit work to extend the fuel in the race’s final run which helped keep him out front. It paid huge dividends as the track position allowed to Hamlin to miss two big wrecks in the final 55 laps. And in the end, Hamlin was able to get in the right lanes to not only take the lead but maintain it.
The victory now makes Hamlin a near lock into NASCAR’s playoffs come September, as only eight spots remain. In addition, this was also Hamlin’s first points paying victory at a superspeedway; he won the Sprint Unlimited in 2006 and 2014, along with a Budweiser Duel win in 2008.
A victory can do a lot to a team in terms of confidence and momentum, but how will it help in this week’s Power Rankings?
Let’s take a look:
1. Jeff Gordon — +/-0
Talk about wrong place, wrong time. That was the case for Gordon along with many other drivers last Sunday. Gordon started 11th at Talladega and led early in the race. He raced amongst the leaders with a fast car for most of the opening half of the race, but a slow pit stop nearing halfway trapped Gordon in heavy traffic, which made the 42-year-old driver rethink his strategy. Gordon dropped to the back and ran there past halfway for more than 25 laps. He was finally working his way to the front when he was caught in the middle of The Big One on lap 136. Gordon went on to finish the race in 39th place, his worst finish of the year. Despite the finish, Gordon still remains the points leader.
2. Matt Kenseth — +/-0
Like Gordon, Kenseth found himself at the wrong place at the wrong time. Caught up in The Big One killed Kenseth’s chances of competing for the victory and it relegated him to his worst finish of the season — 37th. Still, Kenseth remains second in the standings and only trails Gordon by three points as the series heads Kansas, where Kenseth has won two of the last three races there.
3. Kevin Harvick — +2
Talladega was a solid race for Harvick and crew. Harvick started in 8th spot and ran with the lead pack almost all race. He led 15 laps during the race and was running in 2nd on the final restart before getting shuffled out to 7th place in the end.
4. Joey Logano — +/-0
A 32nd place finish for Logano is no where near as indicative of how strong his car was during the race. Arguably the strongest Ford in the field, Logano started 16th and led 25 laps throughout the race. Had he not been involved in the late six-car wreck, Logano might have actually won his third race of the season.
5. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. — -2
For a while, it looked like Earnhardt, Jr. was going to back up his Daytona 500 victory with a sixth win at Talladega. But after leading 26 laps during the mid stages, Earnhardt, Jr. fell out of contention in the late laps by choosing to hang in the back in order to avoid the wrecks. Not a good strategy when you want to win a restrictor plate race.
6. Kyle Busch — +/-0
Talladega was just an OK race for Kyle Busch. After starting 19th, Busch ran towards the front of the pack and led a lap in the mid stages, but he was also briefly involved in the lap 136 wreck when he received minor right front damage when Brad Keselowski spun next to him. Busch remained on the lead lap and got the damage repaired, but was a non factor in the final laps and finished in 12th place.
7. Denny Hamlin +12
After not having a top 10 finish since Bristol, Hamlin finally broke through with a win last Sunday. Hamlin came from 34th starting spot and led 12 laps to get his first restrictor plate race win. Hamlin is a momentum driver. When he’s running well, he’s nearly unstoppable. So this victory might open the flood gates for Hamlin and crew the rest of the season.
8. Kyle Larson — +3
The phenom continues to get the job done. After starting 29th last Sunday, Larson stayed out of trouble all race and was actually in position to get his first career win in the closing laps. Larson restarted in 4th with two laps to go but got shuffled to 9th as the outside line broke up shortly after the restart. Still, a 9th place result at Talladega for a rookie is an impressive accomplishment.
9. Brian Vickers — +3
Vickers continues to impress in the No.55 car for MWR. After starting in 18th, Vickers showed to have one of the stronger Toyotas throughout the race. He led six laps and ran amongst the leaders in the final quarter of the race. The end result for Vickers was solid 4th place effort which ties his season high. Not too shabby.
10. Ryan Newman — +/-0
Considering he is the most snake-bitten driver at restrictor-plate races, an 18th place finish for Newman must feel like a victory, especially after getting involved in a late-race wreck — a crash he called just moments before it happened.
11. Jimmie Johnson — -2
The recent slump continued for Johnson at Talladega. After leading two laps and running with the leaders in the first 130 laps, Johnson was involved in two separate wrecks in the final 55 laps. Johnson was first involved in the lap 136 crash where he received minor front end damage. Johnson then helped cause a six-car crash in the final laps when he had a tire go down in turn 3. Johnson received damage to the right rear of the car and limped home to a 23rd place finish. Johnson has not finished in the top 20 in four of the last six races. Not good.
12. Carl Edwards — -4
Edwards was another late victim of the madness that is Talladega. Edwards started in 10th and led for six laps, but he had a left rear tire go down with less than seven laps to go and crashed in turn 1, collecting Newman in the process. Edwards went on to finish in 30th place. Ouch.
13. Greg Biffle — +1
The race’s dominant driver on Sunday was Biffle. Biffle backed up his strong showing at Daytona by leading 58 laps last Sunday and coming home in 2nd place. Biffle is starting to show strength lately. He’s scored three top 10s in the last four races.
14. Brad Keselowski — -7
Talladega was a disaster for Keselowski. His day first went bad when he spun after contact with Danica Patrick on lap 14 while leading the race. While there was no immediate damage to the car after Keselowski slid through the turn 1 grass, the car’s cooling system eventually failed and he lost seven laps as the team made repairs. Keselowski’s day then went horrendous when his left rear tire made slight contact with Biffle’s car entering turn 1 on lap 136 and later went down in turn 4 which caused a 14-car crash. The crash and the fact that Keselowski was six laps down at the time made many drivers and crew members irate at the 2012 champion for even racing the leaders to begin with. Momentum and respect is not on Keselowski’s side at the moment.
15. AJ Allmendinger — +3
The single-car team than can. After a terrific 6th place run at Richmond, Allmendinger backed that effort up with a 5th place effort at Talladega. This team’s alliance with RCR is really paying off as the group gets stronger after each race. And with road courses coming up, Allmendinger might surprise everyone by winning a race and making the Chase.
16. Paul Menard — +/-0
Talladega was a strong race for Menard. After starting 2nd, Menard led 10 laps throughout the day and barely dodged carnage in the late laps. With a few breaks along the way and a fast racecar, Menard was able to come home with a solid 6th place effort. Nice day for the No.27 team.
17. Austin Dillon — -0
Talladega was a quiet race for the Daytona 500 pole sitter. After starting 5th, Dillon ran mid pack for most of the race, but was able to dodge all the trouble around him. The end result was a 15th place finish for Dillon. Not a bad day in general.
18. Jamie McMurray — -3
Talladega had to be a frustrating for McMurray. McMurray’s day was pretty much over on lap 14 when he destroyed the front end of his car by running through the turn 1 grass while trying to dodge Keselowski’s spinning racecar. The damage caused the crew to make extended repairs and McMurray eventually went seven laps down as a result. He would make up six of the laps by getting the free pass on ensuing cautions, but would fall one lap short of contending for a decent finish at the end. McMurray ended his day in 29th. Tough luck for the Missouri driver.
19. Clint Bowyer — NEW
In comparison to Daytona in which everything could and would go wrong, Talladega was actually a quiet, yet strong race for Bowyer. After starting 27th, Bowyer hung in the back to avoid trouble. It worked out perfectly and Bowyer was able to make a charge to the front in the final laps of the race where he finished in 3rd. Nice recovery from that 43rd place finish last week at Richmond.
20. Tony Stewart — -7
Like many drivers, Talladega was a nightmare for Stewart. He ran in the back most of the race in order to avoid the big wrecks. The gamble did not workout as Stewart was caught up in the lap 136 Big One. Stewart’s car was too badly damaged to be repaired and he finished in 43rd place. Terrible day for the three-time champion.
Notables: Dropped Out — Kurt Busch.
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