Hamlin takes victory
TALLADEGA, Ala.—Denny Hamlin refused to worry about earning a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship—even as driver after driver won a race to theoretically claim one of the 16 berths.
Under the new “win and you’re in” format, the pressure is on for drivers to reach Victory Lane during the regular season.
Hamlin became the eighth different winner this season with his victory yesterday at Talladega Superspeedway.
Through 10 races, only Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano have multiple wins while former series champs Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, and Tony Stewart still are seeking their first victories.
“I wasn’t ever worried but you get a little bit more panicked when it’s ‘Win a race and you’re in the ‘Chase,’” Hamlin admitted.
“You see all these guys logging wins, wins, wins and the next thing you know, they’re running out of ‘Chase’ spots,” he added.
“Now we can be a little bit more relaxed.”
The victory was the first points win of Hamlin’s career at a restrictor-plate track. He’d won four exhibition races at Daytona but never when it counted.
He earned yesterday’s win by beating Harvick in a drag race after a restart with two laps to go, and still was out front when NASCAR froze the field on the last lap because of debris on the track.
“We really just want to win races, regardless of the implications of what this means for the ‘Chase,’” Hamlin stressed.
“It feels so good to be back in Victory Lane in a points-paying event. It feels great,” he enthused.
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. thrilled the crowd by leading three different times for 26 laps yesterday.
But when it was time to race for the victory, he was nowhere to be found.
NASCAR’s most popular driver chose to lay back in the field after stopping for gas with 36 laps to go, and he never ran higher than 13th the rest of the day.
He finished a disappointing 26th.
Meanwhile, for the first time in her career, Danica Patrick led laps at a track other than Daytona.
The crowd gave a thunderous cheer when she drove to the front in the opening laps of the race, and she stayed there for six trips around Talladega.
She’d entered the race with only two laps led on the season—both in the Daytona 500 (a race she also led last year).
She finished 22nd.
“It was good out front,” Patrick remarked.
“I wish I could have stayed there.”