Talladega win 'is a big relief for us'
Denny Hamlin captured his first points-paying victory of the 2014 season in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in his 300th-career start in the #11 FedEx Express Toyota. Hamlin was in front when the white flag waved before a wreck deeper in the pack brought out the caution to freeze the field for the finish, giving Hamlin his first-career regular season restrictor plate win and 24th victory of his career, moving him into 30th on the all-time wins list. Hamlin led six times for a total of 12 laps at Talladega, and ran among the leaders throughout the 188-lap event.
He passed Kevin Harvick for the lead on Lap 183 just prior to a multi-car incident brought out the yellow, which set up a two-lap shootout to the checkered flag. Hamlin won the drag race Turn 1 on the restart, and used drafting help from behind to pull ahead of the field before a crash on the fronstretch after the white flag had been displayed ended the race under caution. Hamlin now has three wins and a runner-up result in four restrictor plate races in 2014, including wins at Talladega and in the preseason exhibition Sprint Unlimited and Budweiser Duel qualifying races at Daytona, as well as a second-place finish in the Daytona 500. The victory effectively clinched a Chase for the Sprint Cup championship berth for the #11 FedEx Racing team. Hamlin has made the Chase in seven of the last eight years, missing for the first time in 2013 after a back injury forced him to miss four full races.
The Series heads to Kansas Speedway for the 1.5-mile track’s first night race. Hamlin was victorious the last time he competed in a spring event at Kansas, in 2012, missing the race last year due to injury. In 11 Kansas starts, Hamlin has three top-five finishes and has led a total of 68 laps, including 32 in April 2012 en route to victory lane. Hamlin has started in the top-10 in each of his last four Kansas races, and finished 23rd at the track last October.
Hamlin said the win was critically important to the team. “Obviously, a win relatively early in the season is a great momentum-builder for our entire FedEx team. Our program on intermediate and short tracks isn’t quite where we need it to be, but this win gives us the opportunity to spend the next couple months getting ready for September and the Chase, when the playoffs start. We had been a top-10 car the last few weeks, but haven’t gotten the finishes we should’ve, which was disappointing for me and the team guys. To run up front and win Talladega, after a strong SpeedWeeks in Daytona, is a big relief for us. We weren’t exactly panicking about getting a win, but it was a tough balance trying to work on our cars while also looking at the new Chase format, especially with me missing a race. This win was huge for the 11 team and comes at a great time with some good tracks coming up for us.”
Joe Gibbs Racing