Denny Hamlin went 3-for-3 in Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega but whiffed at the chance for the victory.
Hamlin managed to avoid all three multi-car wrecks that resulted in red flags in Sunday’s Alabama 500. In fact he, race winner Brad Keselowski and Ryan Newman, were the only drivers who weren’t involved in any of the race’s 11 cautions.
That helped put Hamlin in position late in the race for a chance at the win, but he came up short and ended up sixth.
“The three big wrecks that happened, they all started in front of us and somehow we got through every time so it was quite amazing,” Hamlin said. “Still a good day overall, but I wish we had a little more.”
Hamlin lined up fourth on the final restart with three of 188 laps remaining. At the green flag, he gave Newman – who lined up second – a strong push, which helped him to the lead.
Hamlin came close to clearing Newman himself, but ended up falling back as Keselowski and Team Penske teammate Joey Logano teamed up for a strong run themselves that shot Keselowski to the lead and eventually the victory.
“I maybe should’ve pushed (Newman) a little bit longer. I tried to pass him in a different spot, just a flick shy of clearing him there and I knew if I could clear him then the runs were going to be very small because there were very few cars out there,” Hamlin said.
“I did what I wanted to do. I pushed him out there to the lead, stay attached and then make a move, but I just didn’t do a very good job there those last two laps. There were so few race cars out there, my chances were pretty good to win this thing especially given the circumstances we were the only ones with no damage.
“Just did everything I wanted to do for one lap, it’s just the last two I didn’t.”
Still, Hamlin ended up the second-highest finishing driver in the Cup series playoffs and remains fifth in the series standings entering next weekend’s Round 2 elimination race at Kansas Speedway.
He holds a 14-point advantage over Jimmie Johnson, who currently occupies eighth-place, the final cutoff spot. A victory, though, would have locked him into Round 3, where one of his best tracks – Martinsville – awaits.
“It certainly could’ve been worse. There were guys around us that got caught up in wrecks and so that part of it was good for us,” Hamlin said. “You just want to have a shot to win and we had a shot to win and just didn’t quite have all everything just right.
“It was just there was so much battling going on with just a few cars. If you lost a run it would just take forever to try and get it back so we finished kind of back of the pack there.”