TALLADEGA, Ala. — Denny Hamlin has dealt with a run of circumstantial bad luck over the last year.
He got tangled up with Joey Logano last year at Fontana, breaking a vertebra in his lower back, which forced him to miss four races. A sinus infection took him out of the Fontana race this season.
So consider Sunday's victory in the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway a bit of cosmic payback. He hit the lottery by avoiding the usual crashfest at Talladega.
"A win like this makes you forget about all these things," Hamlin said.
He won under a last-lap caution thrown for an incident behind the lead pack. Justin Allgaier's car lost a piece of its bumper in a spin just before the start-finish line. That cut short a two-lap restart as the white flag had already been shown.
Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer lost a chance to make a run at Hamlin on the final lap.
"It's frustrating because of the simple fact that we both felt we had the opportunity to pounce," Bowyer said. "NASCAR did the right thing. You can't put people in danger."
Biffle, who finished second, and third-place Bowyer hung tight when they saw smoke in their rear-view mirror, both figuring it was too early to make a run at Hamlin. It's easy to get bounced back in a hurry if you go at the wrong time.
"I didn't want to pass too early. I was going to be the lone soldier on the outside lane," Biffle said. "I was setting up to go by him and I never got the chance."
This was Hamlin's first victory in a points race at a restrictor-plate track and virtually assures him a spot in the Chase for the Championship. He's the eighth driver to win this season, most likely filling half of the 16-driver field in the 10-race playoff.
The rules for the new format state that drivers must try to qualify for each race "except in rare instances" — for instance, the medical exemption Hamlin was granted for missing Fontana.
"He needed it so bad," said J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing. "We were really happy for him to win the race."
There was also a dubious decision by Brad Keselowski to drive aggressively within the leading pack late in the race when he was six laps down. Keselowski got loose with 51 laps left, triggering a 14-car accident that took out a number of prominent drivers, including Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon.
Keselowski said he was trying to get some laps back under the premise that a number of cautions would allow him to crawl his way to the lead pack again under the "lucky dog" rule.
Nobody was buying that.
"I wasn't sure exactly what he was doing. It looked like he just spun out in front of us and had nowhere to go," Kenseth said. "I don't think you're going to get six laps back. If it was the other way around, we'd be getting lectured, I know that."
"I don't know what he was doing," Gordon said, "obviously thinking that was going to be the way to get his lap back. All that it did was get a bunch of other cars wrecked."
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