By: Roger Holtsclaw (Talladega, AL)- Each time the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travels to Talladega Superspeedway, the conversation is the same – “The big one”. This weekend’s Aarons 499 did end under yellow, fortunately, it wasn’t the big one. The yellow was thrown for a bumper!
As the field made their way through the tri-oval headed towards the white flag, Ryan Newman got into the rear of rookie driver, Alex Bowman. Bowman then bounced of Jimmie Johnson and shot back across the track into the outside retaining wall. As drivers checked up, Justin Allgaier and Cole Whitt got together. As Allgaier’s front end hit the grass, debris from his car littered the track. A large piece of a bumper cover came to rest in the middle of the track, just before the start/finish line. NASCAR, at first, did not throw the yellow, leading everyone, including the television announcers, to believe the field would race back to the line.
As the leaders worked their way down the backstretch, however, the yellow was thrown and the field was frozen giving the win to Joe Gibbs Racing driver, Denny Hamlin. The win was Denny Hamlin’s 24th career win and first win at Talladega. Hamlin led a total of 12 laps and held off a charge from Roush-Fenway driver, Greg Biffle on the last lap to secure victory. When asked if he was now a restrictor plate driver, Hamlin responded, “I’m still a short track guy. Those are my roots, that’s where I love racing the most, but we’ve come a long way. I said that over the radio to Darian (Grubb, crew chief). We couldn’t finish 22nd at a superspeedway race for the longest time and now it seems like when we go we know we’ve got the knowledge and car that can win. It feels good to come to these types of race tracks and know you can win.”
Biffle, who led a race high 58 laps, had his best performance of the season. Though he started 35th, he managed to find the lead on lap 57 and ended up second to Hamlin at the end. Biffle stated he had a plan and thought he had a shot at Hamlin if the caution had not came out.
Biffle’s Roush-Fenway teammates, Carl Edwards and Ricky Stenhouse, also ran well today. Edwards led six laps, but ended up 30th when he dropped out of the race on lap 182, due to a cut tire on his No.99 Fastenal Ford. Stenhouse scored his third top-10 of the season in his No. 17 Zest Ford.
Though, “the big one”, did not come at the end of the race, there was a significant crash with 50 laps to go. Brad Keselowski appeared to get loose in the middle of the corner while running in the middle of the pack. Keselowski collected several cars as additional cars crashed while trying to avoid the melee. When it was all said and done, there were 14 cars involved including Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, and Matt Kenseth.
The race was slowed for a total of eight times for 31 laps and had a total of 48 lead changes, the most in any race this season. Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers, and AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top-5.
Bowyer was asked about the yellow on the last lap, he responded, “NASCAR did the right thing when you got cars crashing, sitting there at the start and finish line you got to make that call.” Social media lit up after the race with some complaining that the caution was thrown, and others upset that another race finished under yellow. This is the third time in the last four races at Talladega to finish under yellow.
Many have the opinion that the race should be given a green-white-checkered even of the yellow is thrown on the last lap. The current rule is that if the leader has taken the white and a yellow comes out, the race is over and the field frozen. This will surely spark much debate this week. Jeff Gordon maintains the series points lead, followed by Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Carl Edwards.
The series now travels to Kansas Speedway on May 10 for 11th race of the season.