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Talladega Chase race to be called Hellmann's 500
RELATED: Buy tickets for Talladega TALLADEGA, AL – Hellmann's mayonnaise, which has been a staple in American kitchens for generations, and NASCAR's Most Competitive Track – Talladega Superspeedway - announced today that Sunday’s (Oct. 23) much anticipated elimination race in the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup will now be known as the Hellmann's 500 . Hellmann's, a brand of Unilever, has been involved in the sport of NASCAR since 2004 and has a reputation for delivering fans with quality, delicious products. In addition to the new Talladega Superspeedway y (TSS) partnership, the Hellmann’s brand has a long-time relationship with six-time TSS winner Dale Earnhardt Jr . and JR Motorsports. NASCAR fans have embraced many of the attributes that resonate with the Hellmann's family of products – plain and simple, they are the real deal. Hellmann's flagship product, Hellmann's Real Mayonnaise, is the best-selling mayonnaise in the United States. "In honor of our long-standing partnership with NASCAR, Hellmann's is thrilled to show our dedication to the race car community by becoming the exclusive, title sponsor of the Talladega race," said Hellmann's Marketing Director Russel Lilly. "We've been a staple on the speedway for years, getting to know Dale Jr. and establishing his No. 88 Hellmann’s Chevrolet as the car to beat. Whether on the track or cheering from the stands, Hellmann's is a life-time fan of the sport of racing and we’re honored to be a part of such an iconic race." "Hellmann's is an incredible nationally known product that fits in perfectly with our facility and the fans who attend the events here," said Talladega Superspeedway Chairman Grant Lynch. "We have an incredible fan base who are here all week and love to cook up a variety of tasty dishes to eat while they are enjoying the best racing in the world. Take a walk on our property and you will see campers and tailgaters using a host of Hellmann’s spreads. We are glad to welcome them to our Talladega family with the Hellmann's 500 ." Sunday’s Hellmann's 500 at the mammoth 2.66-mile, 33-degree banked layout, will be the pivotal third and final race in the Round of 12 in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . When the checkered flag falls in the pressure-packed event, the field of title contenders will be reduced from 12 drivers to eight. While he won’t be competing in the Hellmann's 500 , Earnhardt Jr. will be at Talladega and will be interacting with fans as part of the Fan Question & Answer session at the start-finish line as part of the track’s " Pre-Race Pit Pass Upgrade ." Weekend preparations for the Hellmann's 500 get underway Friday (Oct. 21) with two different practice sessions (1:00-1:55 p.m. CDT & 3:30-4:25 p.m. CDT). Foodland/Food Giant Qualifying, which will determine the starting lineup for the Hellmann's 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, is set for Saturday (Oct. 22) at 3:00 p.m. CDT. A ticket to the Hellmann's 500 also gets fans into the traditional Saturday Night Infield Concert, which will feature country star Jerrod Niemann, Tim Dugger and DJ Michaelis. The Hellmann's 500 is set for a 1:00 p.m. (CDT) start Sunday (Oct. 23).
Staff picks for Talladega Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race
RELATED: See all the cars lined up for Sunday's race Denny Hamlin : The Daytona 500 winner has experience in getting to Victory Lane at restrictor-plate tracks. If his tendency for sour luck in the Chase -- see last year's odd roof flap issue in this race -- doesn't bite him, Hamlin has a strong shot at advancing with a Talladega win. -- Zack Albert Brad Keselowski : He was backed against a wall in 2014 and came through with a dramatic win to advance in the Chase, and he'll do it again on the heels of winning at Talladega this spring. -- George Winkler Brad Keselowski : Seems like an obvious pick because of Keselowski's two restrictor-plate wins this season coming into Talladega. But the former Cup champ is so good at this form of racing, particularly at Talladega where he got his first career Cup win and three more including this spring. And most importantly ... he needs a good showing to advance in the Chase. This is his race. -- Holly Cain Jimmie Johnson : The man who doesn't need the win -- thanks to his Charlotte victory -- gets the W to lock some strong competition out of the Round of 8. -- RJ Kraft Joey Logano : The talented Team Penske driver hasn't had exceptional results this season, but he's been lurking. We saw what he can do in this round last year, and I think he turns it on when it counts and takes Talladega for the second year in a row. -- Pat DeCola Matt Kenseth : One year after a Round of 12 he'd rather forget, the Joe Gibbs Racing veteran leaves no doubt and secures his second career win at Talladega. -- Brad Norman Make your picks in Streak to the Finish !
The Rundown: Talladega driver grades
RELATED: Full race results " Series standings " Chase Grid Breaking down the full field for the Hellmann's 500 at Talladega Superspeedway : 1. Joey Logano , No. 22 Ford, Team Penske . Not even dragging his jack around for one lap could keep Logano out of Victory Lane. Logano grabbed the lead five laps after the engine of teammate Brad Keselowski 's dominant No. 2 car expired and he didn't let it go, leading the final 45 laps. Grade: A 2. Brian Scott , No. 44 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . In his 49th start, Scott snagged the best finish of his career -- and first top 10 -- with a brilliant run. It also was the best finish for RPM since Marcos Ambrose placed second at Watkins Glen more than two years ago . Grade: A+ 3. Denny Hamlin , No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Hamlin was penalized for speeding on pit road (again) and advanced to the next round of the Chase by the slimmest of margins (about two feet). Hamlin didn't make it easy on himself, but he's moving on -- and his No. 1 track, Martinsville, is up next. Grade: A 4. Kurt Busch , No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Steady Busch flew under the radar into the Round of 8. Well, until his postrace dust-up with teammate Kevin Harvick . Grade: A 5. Ricky Stenhouse Jr ., No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Stenhouse's fourth top 10 in seven starts at Talladega is also his sixth this season, a personal best. In addition, it was his fourth top five this season, one more than in his previous three full-time seasons combined. Grade: A 6. Kyle Larson , No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing . Larson posted his best finish at Talladega since finishing ninth in his first race there in May 2014. Grade: A 7. Kevin Harvick , No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Harvick was running behind Joey Logano on Logano's "jack lap" and caught a huge break when the jack remained attached to Logano's car and didn't fly into him. Grade: A 8. Aric Almirola , No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports . Finally! Almirola's streak of starts without a top-10 finish ends at a career-high 32. Grade: A 9. Austin Dillon , No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . How close was Dillon to advancing in the Chase? The difference was the one point Denny Hamlin earned by finishing .006 seconds ahead of Kurt Busch . Grade: A 10. AJ Allmendinger , No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing . Allmendinger posts back-to-back top-10 finishes for the third time this season despite having an average running position Sunday of 25.8. Grade: A- 11. Ryan Blaney , No. 21 Ford, Wood Brothers Racing . Blaney ran with the leaders all afternoon, and his 7.6 average running position was third best. He also led laps for the second time this season. Grade: A 12. Chase Elliott , No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Elliott needed a win to advance in the Chase and did everything he could -- his average running position of 7.3 was second to Kurt Busch 's 6.9 -- but he was hemmed in at the end and couldn't challenge the front-runners. Grade: A 13. Paul Menard , No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Menard posted his best finish since his last top 10, in July at Indianapolis. Grade: B 14. Ryan Newman , No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing . Newman, whose average running position of 27.3 was highest among drivers finishing in the top 20, ran one lap in the top 15 -- his last. Grade: B- 15. Greg Biffle , No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Biffle was strong early and led 13 laps, but his day took a negative turn when he brought out the second caution on Lap 114. A coming-together with Jeffrey Earnhardt and Casey Mears sent all three cars into the inside wall. Grade: C 16. Michael McDowell , No. 95 Chevrolet, Circle Sport- Leavine Family Racing . Three of McDowell's five best finishes this season have been on restrictor-plate tracks (10th and 15th at Daytona). Grade: A 17. Trevor Bayne , No. 6 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Bayne was two cars behind Kasey Kahne when Kahne spun on Lap 182. Bayne was able to check up and avoid running into the back of Jamie McMurray . Grade: B- 18. Clint Bowyer , No. 15 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . In a season of small victories, Bowyer posted his 10th top-20 finish of the season. Grade: B- 19. Jamie McMurray , No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing . McMurray's day was saved when he didn't plow into Kasey Kahne 's spinning car immediately in front of him on Lap 182. Grade: B- 20. Danica Patrick , No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Patrick now has finished 20th to 24th in half of this year's races (16 of 32). Grade: C 21. Landon Cassill , No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . Cassill made a great save with 20 laps to go when his car went veering down the track after he tried to fill a gap in front of David Ragan and received a nudge from behind. Grade: B 22. Chris Buescher , No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports . That Buescher finished the race is the story here. He had DNFs for crashes in the season's first three restrictor-plate races. Grade: B 23. Jimmie Johnson , No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Johnson did his best to help teammate Chase Elliott , but in the end, wherever the No. 48 finished was never an issue. Johnson's ticket into the next round of the Chase was punched two weeks ago. Grade: S (for Smart, Safe and Satisfactory) 24. David Ragan , No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing . Ragan posted his best finish at Talladega since finishing sixth in the fall race three years ago. Grade: C 25. Regan Smith , No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing . Smith posted his second-best finish in restrictor-plate races this season. He finished eighth in the Daytona 500 . Grade: C 26. Ryan Reed , No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing . Nice Sprint Cup debut for the 23-year-old. Grade: B- 27. Matt DiBenedetto , No. 93 Toyota, BK Racing . Great effort by DiBenedetto, who raced even though he was in the throes of food poisoning. Grade: C+ 28. Matt Kenseth , No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . If you are going to be critical of what Gibbs drivers Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch did Sunday -- playing it safe by driving together in the back of the field -- would you have been critical of any of the three if they had mixed it up in the peloton, crashed and failed to advance in the Chase? You can't have it both ways. Grade: S (as in See Jimmie Johnson ) 29. Carl Edwards , No. 19 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Ibid. Grade: S 30. Kyle Busch , No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing . Op cit. Grade: S 31. Bobby Labonte , No. 32 Ford, GO FAS Racing. Our TBJT (Throw Back to Junior Theme) Latin bibliography references end with Labonte, who completed his four-race, restrictor-plate run for the second consecutive year the same way he began the season – with a 31st-place finish. Grade: C- 32. Tony Stewart , No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing . Driver Tony's 70th superspeedway restrictor-plate race finished quietly. Can't say the same for Owner Tony. Grade: D 33. Michael Annett , No. 46 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports . Annett stayed out during green-flag pit stops and led six laps, one fewer than he led in his first 101 Sprint Cup starts. Grade: C+ 34. Jeffrey Earnhardt , No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing . Earnhardt's Lap 114 tangle with Greg Biffle also collected Casey Mears . Despite significant damage, Earnhardt posted the first lead-lap finish of his career (20 starts). Grade: C 35. Kasey Kahne , No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Kahne went for a spin on Lap 182, and his run of good finishes -- six top 10s in his previous seven races -- spun out, too. Grade: D 36. Alex Bowman , No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports . Bowman's tweet said it all: "3rd with 5 to go and we finish 36th ... damn speedway racing." Grade: D 37. Reed Sorenson , No. 55 Chevrolet, Premium Motorsports. Sorenson finished 13 laps off the pace in his first start at Talladega in two years. Grade: F 38. Brad Keselowski , No. 2 Ford, Team Penske . Keselowski had the dominant car and led a race-high 90 laps, but he held the point for too long after debris blocked part of his grill. A slick, orchestrated move with Ryan Blaney removed the debris, but it was too late. Moments later, his engine started smoking and his day, and championship hopes, came to an end on Lap 145. Grade: F 39. Casey Mears , No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing . Racing can be so cruel. For the second time in three weeks, something bad happened to Mears for no other reason than he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. This time, he was two lanes below Greg Biffle and having a beautiful day when Biffle turned into Jeffrey Earnhardt and also collected Mears. The three slammed into the inside wall, but only Mears could not continue and was gone after 113 laps. Two weeks ago, Mears received a "U" grade for Unfortunate. This week? Based on his grade at Charlotte -- and if you caught all four clues -- you know the answer. Grade: U2 40. Martin Truex Jr ., No. 78 Toyota, Furniture Row Racing . When Truex's engine blew on Lap 42, his championship hopes ended as well. It's a shame Truex won't be able to contend for the championship, but we haven't heard the last of Truex this season. Finishing with the most victories would be huge. Grade: F
Hamlin survives by extremely small margin -- sound familiar?
RELATED: Full race results " Standings " Chase Grid SHOP: Chase gear Denny Hamlin got the nose of his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota out just in front of Kurt Busch 's No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet for a third-place finish in Sunday's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Round of 12 finale -- by a mere 0.006 seconds. Had he finished behind Busch, Hamlin would've been eliminated from the Chase -- and his day would've been much, much worse. "It was tough all day," Hamlin said after the race. "Really the first true, good Chase fortune I've had in 11 years. … I felt this was the best-case scenario for us." How close was @dennyhamlin to not advancing in #TheChase ? 0.006 at the stripe! https://t.co/gaKsWBxPaH — NASCAR (@NASCAR) October 23, 2016 Anybody else got a case of deja vu right now? Hamlin opened the season with a very similar finish -- for the win, too -- when he edged out Furniture Row Racing driver Martin Truex Jr . at the finish line of the Daytona 500 by 0.010 seconds. RELATED: Hamlin wins thrilling Daytona 500 Talladega and Daytona: two similar finishes, two afternoons that could've been drastically different for Hamlin had the game of inches not fallen in his favor.
Harvick, Kurt Busch have post-race skirmish at Talladega
RELATED: Race results " Chase Grid TALLADEGA, Ala. -- A misunderstanding between Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch ended with a confrontation on Talladega Superspeedway pit road following Sunday's Hellmann's 500 . Busch finished fourth and Harvick finished seventh. After they parked their cars on pit road, Harvick walked over to Busch, who was still sitting in his race car, leaned inside and had words with his teammate after delivering a jab inside the window. "He [Busch] cleaned the side of our car out after the checkered flag," Harvick said afterward. "I don't understand that." Harvick said his car "didn't have a scratch on it" until the cool-down lap contact with Busch. Asked if Busch gave Harvick an explanation for the incident, Harvick said only, "Not really." Busch was also asked his view of the situation during a pit-road interview with NBCSN later. "He has a misunderstanding of the call at the end of the race," Busch said. "He'll understand it and I'm sure he'll clear it up in his interview. For us, we're great teammates, we're doing good together and we have to work together to beat all these other teams out there. And he knows that." &lt;/p&gt;
Blown engine ends Truex Jr.'s Chase hopes prematurely
RELATED: Race results " Chase Grid TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Martin Truex Jr .'s Sprint Cup Series championship hopes ended abruptly only 41 laps into Sunday's Hellmann's 500 at Talladega Superspeedway . His pole-winning No. 78 Bass Pro Shops Toyota suddenly lost power while running on the high banks, leaving the title hopeful to slowly create a smoke trail through the track garage, where his Furniture Row Racing team awaited to start analyzing the problem. It was the team's first engine failure in two years. As the team surveyed the car, one crew member picked up Truex's helmet and slowly walked it back to the team trailer, essentially spelling the end of his day and his 2016 title hopes. "It's definitely disappointing; what else can you say?" Truex said. "We had a team capable of competing for the championship. And unfortunately we aren't going to be able to show that. I guess there's still a chance of a miracle, but I don't see it happening. We'll just have to wait and see how it all plays out today." RELATED: No. 78 team works on car, more Talladega photos Truex, who is in the midst of a career-best, four-win season -- including two victories in the opening round of Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup -- will instead now be watching others vie for the title many figured Truex might well hoist. As his Denver-based team hurried around the Talladega garage area examining his car, he looked over his shoulder, obviously feeling badly for them as well. "I'm sure they're devastated," Truex said. "They've worked so hard this year to put us in a position to challenge for a championship. You know, we felt like we could do it. But this sport is tough. "We didn't perform at Kansas and Charlotte the way we are capable of and had some issues that bit us and put us in the hole. We could have gone there and done better and gotten a win and we wouldn't be talking about this right now. "At the end of the day, we didn't get the job done. But we've got a great team. We've got four more races to try and win and I know we could win all four of them." RELATED: How Furniture Row was built in Colorado For all the disappointment Truex felt and displayed, he still spoke to reporters, demonstrating great perspective and promising a solid end to the year. Just not the end he and his team had hoped. "It's part of life, it's part of racing," Truex said. "You take it one week at a time. Enjoy the good days and try to get past the bad ones, that's what you do no matter where you're at. "Just, damn. It just hurts to go out like that. We could have raced all day and gotten in a big wreck and still not made it, so there's no telling. But it sure would have been nice to have at least found out, played the whole game so to speak and see what happened instead of barely making it to the first pit stop. That stings. But all in all, we can't hang our heads. We've got a lot to be proud of," said Truex. "This will make us stronger.''
Bruce: JGR's 'Dega strategy understood, but not agreed with
Editor's note: The views expressed in this column are solely those of the author. RELATED: Results " Chase Grid " NASCAR: JGR didn't violate 100 percent rule TALLADEGA, Ala. -- NASCAR held a Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway , but somebody forgot to tell three of the four teams for Joe Gibbs Racing . For Kyle Busch , Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth , this wasn't a race. It was an inconvenience. The Hellmann's 500 featured a 40-car starting field. Only 37 rolled off with hopes of a win or at least a good showing. The JGR trio had absolutely no intentions of trying to win. Or run up front. I understand why it was done, but I don't agree with it. I understand they were thinking big picture, as in championship. RELATED: O'Donnell discusses JGR and 100 percent rule
Logano lands victory in Talladega overtime
RELATED: Race results " Standings " Chase Grid SHOP: Logano gear " Chase gear TALLADEGA, Ala. -- If Joey Logano 's victory in Sunday's Hellman's 500 at Talladega Superspeedway was decisive -- in relative terms -- the race between Denny Hamlin and Austin Dillon for the final spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup 's Round of 8 was anything but. In an overtime race that went four laps past its scheduled distance, Logano surged ahead after a restart on Lap 191 at the 2.66-mile track and beat runner-up Brian Scott to the finish line by .124 seconds. Hamlin's margin over Dillon for the eighth spot in the Round of 8 was much smaller. At the end of 510.72 miles, Hamlin outraced Kurt Busch for third place by .006 seconds -- roughly two feet -- to score the exact number of points he needed to eliminate Dillon from the Chase on a tiebreaker. Logano, who won for the second time this season, the second time at Talladega and the 16th time in his career, entered the race on the Chase bubble but settled the issue by leading the final 45 of 192 laps -- after Chase hopefuls Martin Truex Jr . and Brad Keselowski fell out with blown engines and failed to survive the Round of 12. "It's never a layup here at Talladega," Logano said. "It's always close. You never get a big lead. (Crew chief) Todd (Gordon) made some good adjustments during the race and found some speed in the car, so that was pretty neat to see some of that. "We got that track position and just hung onto it. I was able to stay on the bottom and try to run the bottom and keep everyone in line, and that worked out really well." Hamlin's success completed a perfect round for Joe Gibbs Racing , which placed all four of its drivers in the Round of 8. Matt Kenseth , Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch spent all 192 laps riding around at the back of the field and finished 28th, 29th and 30th, respectively, but had sufficient margins entering the race to afford the luxury of a strategy that could be summed up in two words -- "Don't wreck." "We needed some things to fall our way if we didn't win the race," Hamlin said. "Today things fell our way. The last lap, we went out and earned it. I think back all the years that I've been doing this, honestly, 11 years. "For me, I really truly believe this is the first really great fortune that we had in a Chase in my 11-year career. Things just happened well for us. We went out there and we did our jobs. It was very tough to be able to run against guys that had a lot of teammates up front. I knew that was going to be a problem for us all day. But we were able to have just enough there at the end to get past the 41 ( Kurt Busch ) and get in." Seventh-place finisher Kevin Harvick and 23rd-place Jimmie Johnson already had secured spots in the Round of eight, thanks to their respective victories at Kansas and Charlotte. Kurt Busch completed the Round of 8 field comfortably with his fourth-place result. Joining Dillon, Truex and Keselowski on the sidelines was Chase Elliott , who came to Talladega 25 points below the cut line and finished 12th after leading nine laps. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
NBCSN, NASCAR Productions Present 'NASCAR Seasons: 2001'
RELATED: Oral history of first race after 9-11 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Immediately following this Sunday's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup coverage at Martinsville Speedway , NBCSN presents "NASCAR Seasons: 2001," a new 60-minute documentary that chronicles a NASCAR season and a year that will never be forgotten. Unfolding through Dale Earnhardt's tragic death at the 2001 Daytona 500 , the enormous outpouring of emotions that followed, and Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s stirring victory at the July Daytona race, "NASCAR Seasons: 2001" also covers the sport's passionate reaction to the tragic events of the September 11th attacks. The story of this unforgettable year illustrates how NASCAR's legion of supporters came together at times of sorrow and jubilation to exhibit a tremendous sense of unity, and how the experiences of 2001 generated several advancements in safety that continue to evolve today. Produced in partnership with NASCAR Productions, the documentary candidly presents the events through rarely seen archival footage and new interviews with those who experienced the season firsthand. "NASCAR Seasons: 2001" premieres Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Dale Earnhardt Jr . contributes, openly discussing his memories from the year he lost his father and NASCAR lost a racing icon. The special features interviews with winner of the 2001 Sprint Cup Championship, Jeff Gordon , and fellow drivers Dale Jarrett, Jeff Burton , Kyle Petty, Tony Stewart and Elliott Sadler . In addition, the documentary includes interviews with former NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol, and longtime NASCAR senior executive Mike Helton, as they recall the challenges, healing and ultimately the pride that surrounded the sport and its millions of fans. Below are excerpts from "NASCAR Seasons: 2001": Dale Earnhardt Jr . on his father's impact: "When mainstream media was covering the death of my dad, how much attention that got kind of blew me away. Because I don't even know if dad had an idea of what he was to the world, or what he was to this country." Kyle Petty on Dale Jr. returning to Daytona in July for the first race after his father's passing: "The way he handled himself and didn't shy away from it. 'It is part of who I am and who I am going to be for the rest of my life.' He became, in a lot of ways, a leader in the garage that day." Mike Helton on delaying the first race after September 11, 2001: "Sports and entertainment are good complements to a healing process. But there is a time and a place. I think we landed on you simply have to be aware of the fact that the magnitude of that day was one that deserved peace and quiet." Tune-in to watch the Goody's Fast Relief 500 this Sunday, Oct. 30, at 1 p.m. ET on NBCSN, or listen live on MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Fans can also purchase tickets to catch all the on-track action in person by visiting www.nascar.com/tickets .
Hamlin edges in, bold Talladega strategy pays off for JGR
RELATED: Full race results " Standings " Chase Grid SHOP: Chase gear TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Denny Hamlin stood by his No. 11 FedEx Toyota on Talladega Superspeedway pit road Sunday afternoon looking as relieved as he did happy with his third-place finish. It was among the most important third-place finishes this year's Daytona 500 winner has ever secured – and a mere .006 seconds ahead of fourth-place Kurt Busch . It was the difference in Hamlin advancing to the next round of the Chase -- and he secured the playoff pass by virtue of winning a tiebreaker with Richard Childress Racing 's Austin Dillon . "We had something go our way," Hamlin said smiling. "One time something went our way and we battled at the line with the 41 ( Kurt Busch ). I'm just so happy. I just never really had good Chase fortune to be honest with you. I've been doing this 11 years and very, very few times has the dice fallen well for us. Today was one of those times. "Today, we didn't back in with a 15th- place finish. We had to root and gouge against guys absolutely committed to each other. That's what I'm most proud of -- getting a good finish when the odds were really stacked against us." Although Hamlin ran among the front half of the field for much of the race, his three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, Carl Edwards , Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch , spent the vast majority of the race in a three-car nose-to-tail draft at the back of the 40-car field. In fact, they finished 28th (Kenseth), 29th (Edwards) and 30th (Busch). Hamlin was left very much a man on his own mission. "There's a certain level of strategy and being smart that goes with any race," Edwards said. "And this is not the most fun way to race. But our mission is simple here. If it required that we go up to the front and try to win the race, we would do that. You have to balance everything. This is not my first time here. I'm really proud of my group. "This is the format and we have to do what it takes to get there. ... It would have been a lot more fun to have won that race in Kansas and then go up there and push Denny to the win all day. That would have been a lot of fun. But this is a really tough format. And don't mistake what we did today as being simple or easy. That's really tough to do and actually, at the end we were at a very high risk." Team owner Joe Gibbs said following the race that there was some confusion after the checkered flag and he briefly -- albeit mistakenly -- thought that Dillon had advanced instead of Hamlin. "It was nerve-wracking for us, and at the end, it flipped the other way on our board and I thought we came in ninth," Gibbs said. "I about panicked until I knew what the tiebreaker was. We lost two of our cars in this round last year. The farther you go in this format, everybody’s geared up. You've got to try to win a race." And, Gibbs reiterated, he was fully committed to the team's strategy Sunday. "Everybody talked it over, crew chiefs and everything," Gibbs said. "I think it was just a strategy we needed to start off with and really depended on how it would go. "Denny is a great restrictor-plate racer and he got everything he could out of it today." Hamlin certainly proved that in his dramatic Daytona 500 victory to start the season. After sub-par showings at Charlotte (30th place) and Kansas (15th place) in this elimination round of NASCAR's playoffs, he came to Talladega absolutely needing a top-shelf finish. For much of the day, the points difference between Hamlin and Dillon was negligible. And after all the tough and tight racing, it still was decided on a tiebreaker. "You know, it's heartbreaking obviously," said Dillon, who finished ninth. "You need a spot, and it comes down to three one‑thousandths I think between (us) and the (eighth place) 43-car ( Aric Almirola ). "I'm just proud of this team. We made it a full 'nother round. Thought we were going to make it another one, but it didn't work out for us. ... I don't think we had it today to really mix it up up front. Might have waited a little too long. We tried to get track position one time, but it didn't work out. I put my car in the places I thought it would work the best in that last lap and a half. My teammates stuck with me. I'm proud and thankful for them. Just missed it by a spot." Hamlin, meanwhile, heads to next week's race in Martinsville feeling like a very real contender to hoist the season trophy. He's won five times on the Martinsville short track, including last spring. He was third in the 2015 Chase race there. He has a pair of wins at Texas, sweeping the 2010 season there. And Hamlin has a win (2012) and two pole-position starts at Phoenix, with a third place effort there this spring. Should he be among the four drivers deciding the Sprint Cup in the Homestead-Miami Speedway season finale, he also goes there with an enviable record. He was the polesitter there last November and is a two-time winner (2009 and 2013). He has finished among the top 10 in four of the last five races. "We all know that Martinsville is where I've made my career for the most part," Hamlin said, sizing up his championship chances. "I feel very confident we can go there and do great things. My teammates are all going to be strong there. They were in the spring. "So, it's new life for us. We're on house money at this point. Honestly, the cards were stacked against us before we entered the day, but now we're moving on and we have a clean slate."