The 2.66 mile Superspeedway of Talladega invites tight racing and high speeds leaving all involved to hold their breath in hoping to avoid the big accidents.
For most of the day Joe Gibbs Racing was able to avoid any major incidents, but as is often the cause at Talladega the accidents grew in number as the number of laps remaining dwindled. Unfortunately Hamlin and Logano were unable to steer clear of the trouble, while teammate Kyle Busch was able to survive all the carnage for a strong second-place finish.
Busch started the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota 21st and would spend much of the day content racing inside the top ten. He would lead one lap in the process to gain the bonus point that comes with doing so and Busch would restart sixth with nine laps remaining. He managed to avoid another accident with seven laps to go allowing him to line up fourth with four to go. Another big accident on the restart would occur just behind Busch to set up a green white checkered finish. Busch would be third on the final restart and paired with Brad Keselowski for a two-car tandem over the final two laps. In the end, Busch would help push the No. 2 car to the lead, but then dropped off his rear bumper around the final turn leaving him unable to make a final pass. He still managed to bring his M&Ms Camry home with an impressive second-place run.
Hamlin started the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota in 22nd and was running well through the first half of the race. An extended green flag pit stop around the midpoint of the race was caused by a jammed left front tire and resulted in Hamlin being unable to blend back into the pack. Once you lose the pack at Talladega it can be difficult to make up any ground. With no cautions Hamlin would fall one lap off the pace, but he then managed to race with the leaders and thus earned his way back to the lead lap courtesy of the lucky dog when a caution came out on lap 143. It didn’t take long for Hamlin to establish himself as one of the top cars on the track once back on the lead lap as he shot to the front of the field to lead seven laps. When the day’s third caution came out on lap 175, crew chief Darian Grubb decided to bring Hamlin down pit road to ensure his Camry would have enough fuel to make it to the end. He would restart 15th with nine laps remaining and when an accident brought out another caution with seven laps remaining he was able to restart eighth with four to go. Unfortunately shortly after the restart the 22 car would come down the track and into Hamlin causing him to turn up the track and directly into the path of Tony Stewart in the No. 14. Although the FedEx crew attempted to make repairs to his Camry, a rear tire would give way under the caution causing further damage. He would have to settle for a 23rd-place finish.
Logano, who won the Nationwide Series race at Talladega Saturday, qualified the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota 30th and was mostly content riding toward the back of the field in hopes of avoiding a major accident. The plan was working well through two-thirds of the race, but trouble can be difficult to avoid at Talladega no matter where you choose to race on the large track. That trouble would find Logano on lap 143 when an accident in front of him left him no place to go. He still managed to avoid major damage but the front end of the Dollar General Toyota would need some repairs. Fortunately the Dollar General crew would be able to work on the car on pit road to keep Logano on the lead lap. Unfortunately the damage made the temperatures on his engine run high and limited his ability to ride in the pack which is so essential at Talladega. The result forced him to hang just off the pack over the final laps and he would get caught up in another accident with just four laps to go that would send him to the garage. He would end up with a battle-worn 26th-place finish.
Keselowski would get the victory in front of Busch, with Matt was third, Kasey Kahne fourth, and Greg Biffle rounded out the top five. There were five cautions for a total of 24 laps with 35 lead changes among 17 different drivers.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Darlington next Saturday night with live broadcast coverage by Fox starting at 7 PM ET (race begins at 7:15 PM ET). Sirius NASCAR radio channel 90 and MRN Radio will also provide live coverage. You can also keep track of all the action by following @joegibbsracing on twitter.