By Price Mason/Talladega Superspeedway
A year ago, Denny Hamlin did not feel healthy enough to finish the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. On Sunday (May 4), Hamlin couldn’t have felt better.
Hamlin, who needed a relief driver in this race last season because of the lingering effects of a back injury, pulled away on a late restart and took the checkered flag in the Aaron’s 499 for his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory at Talladega Superspeedway.
Before Sunday, Hamlin had managed only five top-10 finishes in 16 starts at Talladega. He had not fared any better at NASCAR’s other restrictor-plate track, Daytona International Speedway, where he had managed only two top-fives in 16 Sprint Cup races prior to this season. But Hamlin was the runner-up to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in this year’s Daytona 500, and he followed that superspeedway performance with Sunday’s victory in the Aaron’s 499.
“We’ve come a long way in these types of races,” said Hamlin, who was making his 300th career Sprint Cup start. “We couldn’t even finish 22nd in superspeedway races for the longest time. But I drive these races a lot differently than I used to, for sure. I try to be more patient. That’s why I think our success has started to ramp up on superspeedways. We’ve really kind of come into our own.
“When you drive as aggressively as I drove early in my career on superspeedways, I was either wrecking or finishing in the top three, and it was usually wrecking. I think the way I’m doing things now lends itself to being a little bit more consistent on these types of racetracks. Early in my career I was always the one trying to make holes (in the pack), and that got me in trouble.”
Greg Biffle, who also was seeking his first Talladega victory, finished second after leading 58 of the 188 laps.
“It’s sort of bittersweet for us,” Biffle said. “It sure would have been nice to get a win. But I’m extremely happy to finish second.”
Two-time Talladega winner Clint Bowyer finished third, followed by Brian Vickers in fourth, AJ Allmendinger fifth, Paul Menard sixth, Kevin Harvick seventh, Kasey Kahne eighth, Sprint Cup rookie Kyle Larson ninth and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 10th.
There were 188 green-flag passes for the lead in the race, an average of exactly one pass per lap. That is the third-highest total at Talladega since NASCAR began keeping the stat in 2005. All the passing came as a result of consistent three-wide racing that kept the drivers moving back and forth throughout the pack. Or as Earnhardt said, “The track was three-wide forever.”
The style of racing impressed Allmendinger, who was making his ninth career start at Talladega.
“I kept waiting for everybody to kind of calm down and single file out, and it never happened,” Allmendinger said. “So I was like, ‘All right, I guess it’s time to get crazy with everybody.
“I hope the fans enjoyed it. It was awesome to see all the fans come out and how packed the grandstands were here at Talladega. It’s like the old Talladega again, so thanks for everybody coming out. I hope it was a great show.”
Sadler wins Aaron’s 312 Nationwide Race
Less than a week after turning 39 years old, Elliott Sadler gave himself a long-awaited birthday present by winning at Talladega Superspeedway for the first time in his career.
Sadler outraced Chris Buescher over the final three laps and led a tight pack of 16 cars across the finish line to win the Aaron’s 312 NASCAR Nationwide Series race on May 3. It was Sadler’s first victory at Talladega Superspeedway in 29 attempts (six in the Nationwide Series and 23 Sprint Cup Series races), even though he has had fast enough cars to start on the pole at the track five times.
“This means a lot to me, especially to do it at Talladega,” said Sadler, who now trails leader Chase Elliott by only one point in the Nationwide Series standings. “We finally won one here. I’ve run upfront a lot in the last couple of laps here, but I’ve never put myself in the right situation to win.
“(Before the final restart) I was thinking about how many races I’ve lost here by not making the right decision. I played 20 different scenarios through my head on what I thought I needed to do and what position I needed to be in and who I needed to watch out for. I just took all that experience of me messing up so many times here in the past and tried to put it to good use.”
There were 86 green-flag passes for the lead in the race. That is the second-most passes in the Nationwide Series over the past seven years, and the third-most over the past 10 years. Buescher tried to add one more pass to that total near the end, but was unable to muscle his way past Sadler and had to settle for second place.
“The battle at the end was incredible,” Buescher said. “I’ve never been at one of these restrictor-plate races where you could make contact like that. We were really bumping a lot out there. It was absolutely crazy.”
Regan Smith finished third, followed by David Ragan in fourth, pole-sitter Sam Hornish Jr. fifth, Joe Nemechek sixth, J.J. Yeley seventh, Landon Cassill eighth, David Starr ninth and Trevor Bayne 10th.
Hessert wins IMHOF 200 ARCA race
The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards enjoyed breakfast at Talladega Superspeedway on May 3, with an emphasis on fast.
It took barely 75 minutes to complete the International Motorsports Hall of Fame 200, with Tom Hessert zipping around the 2.66-mile trioval at an average speed of 160.515 mph to take the checkered flag before 11:20 a.m.
Hessert emerged from a breakaway pack of 15 cars that raced three-wide and even four-wide over the final seven laps. Jon Wes Townley and Bobby Gerhart swapped the lead before Hessert made a three-wide pass on the high side coming through the trioval with three laps to go. With teammate Austin Wayne Self pushing him, Hessert maintained the lead the rest of the way for the fourth victory of his seven-season ARCA career, and his first win on a superspeedway.
“I didn’t really know how it would play out,” Hessert said. “Bobby was good all day, like he always is here. I don’t know how, but we snuck by him on the outside and it worked out for us. I have to thank Austin. He was all over our back bumper, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him. It was a great day.”
Townley finished second, Self was third, followed by Mason Mitchell in fourth, Spencer Gallagher fifth, Derrick Lancaster sixth, Gerhart seventh and defending race winner Frank Kimmel eighth.
Polesitter Grant Enfinger, who was attempting to become the first driver in ARCA history to win the first four races of the season, was penalized for speeding on pit road and finished ninth.
Justin Allison, grandson of Donnie Allison, finished 19th. Mobile native Thomas Praytor was 22nd and fellow Alabama driver Joey Gattina of Pelham finished 31st.