Hamlin Battles Back for Third Place Finish at TalladegaOctober 15, 2019
Denny Hamlin, with an assist from his FedEx team, made a textbook recovery from a lap down to finish third in Monday's rain-postponed Talladega Superspeedway race, won by Ryan Blaney.
After starting last on Sunday due to a blown engine during his qualifying attempt, Hamlin, driving the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, worked his way up to fourth in the running order before getting caught in the middle lane, slipping back to 14th as the skies opened up after 55 laps of racing. Persistent rain forced the official's to postpone the remainder of the race until Monday.
When the race resumed on Monday, Hamlin was running in the lead pack of cars when he radioed the crew that the right side hood flap was loose. The flap eventually flew off the car as the team made preparations to fix the problem. Hamlin lost the draft in the process and the #11 went a lap down. Two laps later, a multi-car accident collected Hamlin and the FedEx car sustained sheet metal damage to the left front fender.
The FedEx team made numerous pit stops to fix the damaged fender and replace the hood flap. Trapped a lap down to the leaders, Hamlin made some aggressive moves to put himself in the “Lucky Dog” position in an effort to get his lap back. The strategy worked, as a timely caution waved while Hamlin was in that position, allowing him to get back on the lead lap.
Hamlin didn't feel he had a race winning car, considering the aerodynamic disadvantage from the damaged front fender. He and crew chief Chris Gabehart decided to ride around in the back of the pack in an effort to stay out of any further trouble and aim for a top-10 finish. The strategy would pay dividends as Hamlin was able to dodge three multi-car wrecks that progressively reduced the number of cars left to race.
Hamlin lined up seventh for the final restart with two laps to go. As the drivers jockeyed for position, Hamlin tried to draft his way to the front, but ran out of racing room and crossed the line under the checkers in a photo finish, beating Aric Almirola by inches for third place.
“I was just trying to play chess out there,” said Hamlin. “I knew my odds and percentages with the wrecks. I knew once my competitors started to fall out, I knew that I had to be smart. I just knew the end of these races usually end up like a crashfest and I was just going to take all the crash positions I could get once I got back on the lead lap. Once I saw that the percentage was better for me to go race up front for the win versus just taking the end of the lead lap even if we were to crash, I knew it was in my best interest to try to go there at the end and we almost won it anyway.”
Hamlin leaves Talladega leading the NASCAR Playoff standings and only needs to start next Sunday's race at Kansas Speedway to advance to the Round of 8.