TALLADEGA, Ala. - Denny Hamlin, winner of other races at Daytona that didn't count, finally has a points-paying victory at a restrictor-plate track.
Hamlin, who opened the season with a pair of wins in Daytona exhibition races only to finish second in the Daytona 500, was again sitting second in the closing laps yesterday at Talladega Superspeedway. But he won a drag race with leader Kevin Harvick on a restart with two laps remaining, and was out front when NASCAR froze the field because of debris from an accident.
Hamlin let out a deep sigh when the yellow flag waved.
"Superspeedway win," he said on his radio. "With points! With points!"
Hamlin became the eighth winner in 10 races this season as drivers jockey to grab the 16 spots available in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. A victory conceivably gives a driver an automatic berth, and Joe Gibbs Racing now has both Hamlin and Kyle Busch eligible for the Chase.
It didn't appear that Hamlin had enough to beat Harvick, already a two-time winner this season, until the final restart. Harvick didn't get the help he needed from behind, was hung out without any drafting partners, and Hamlin pulled out to a comfortable lead. Then an accident deep in the pack scattered debris, and NASCAR was forced to throw the caution when a bumper was seen laying on the surface.
The yellow prevented Greg Biffle from pulling out of line in an attempt to grab the victory away from Hamlin.
Clint Bowyer finished third and was followed by Michael Waltrip Racing teammate Brian Vickers as Toyota took the victory and three of the top four spots.
AJ Allmendinger finished fifth in a Chevrolet, followed by Paul Menard and then Harvick, who faded to seventh. Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rounded out the top 10.
Danica Patrick led two times for six laps, and the crowd roared its approval when she drove to the front early in the race.