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article imageNASCAR: Hamlin plays his 'cards right' for first win at Talladega

By John Duarte     May 5, 2014 in Sports
Talladega - Denny Hamlin had his eyes on the white flag waving overhead when a track incident left a piece of a bumper near the start/finish line. The cars kept racing another half a lap when NASCAR put the Aaron's 499 under caution.
Hamlin was all smiles in Victory Lane. He had just won for the 24th time in his career and for the first time at the Talladega Superspeedway.
“We were able to avoid (a wreck) and just play our cards right and make the right strategy,” Hamlin said after the race. “We really just want to win races—regardless of what implications this mean for the Chase.”
The impact of the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup is quite simple. Hamlin became the eighth different winner in 10 races to this point in the Sprint Cup Series. Under the new ranking format instituted by NASCAR this season, individual wins outweigh overall points. Race winners go to the top of the leaderboard when it comes time to select the 16 drivers who will be in the Chase. Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick are the only repeat winners in the series this year.
Hamlin admitted it has not been an easy year so far. He said while the car has been running decently, frustration starts to set in when the results fail to show up.
“We've had some bad luck—between Darlington and Richmond and Texas. We were in Top 10 contention, Top 5 contention and I made some pretty bad mistakes,” said Hamlin. “It feels good to be back in Victory Lane.”
He added that he hopes this week's win is a way to put the string of bad luck behind him and focus on the remainder of the year.
“This is a good moment for us, it definitely is.” Hamlin said. “We don't have to hit the panic button at this point. Now, we can focus on our program, doing whatever it takes to get ourselves in contention where we're a Top 5 car every week, because that's what it's going to take to win the championship.”
The Aaron's 499 was plagued by a number of crashes and on track incidents. The major one came with 51 laps left in the race. Brad Keselowski's spin triggered a massive wreck that collected 14 cars. But, perhaps, the most tense one for Hamlin came as the cars were about to enter the final lap of the race. Hamlin was leading the field to the white flag, signalling the final lap of the race, when an incident behind him left debris on the track. NASCAR officials considered finishing the race under green-flag conditions, but the piece of a car near the finish fine forced the final caution of the race. Hamlin said he had only one thing on his mind.
“My goal was just to get to that white flag,” he said. He also commended race control for not bringing out the caution flag too soon. “I think NASCAR did, actually, a really good job of letting the race play out as long as they possibly could and still keep everyone safe. They knew that there was debris at the start/finish line, so we weren't going to be able to race all the way back no matter what, but at least gave everyone a half lap to do whatever you could do to make your positions and improve your positions.”
Greg Biffle finished the Aaron's 499 in second and Clint Bowyer was third. Both drivers voiced their frustration at finishing a race under yellow-flag conditions, but were happy with the overall result.
“It's sort of bittersweet for us,” Biffle said. “I was extremely happy with the speed of my car. Really happy with it.”
“It's just frustrating because of the simple fact that we both thought we had an opportunity to pounce and make a move for the win.” Bowyer added that the decision to bring out the caution was the right one. “NASCAR did the right thing there. You can't put people in danger right there.”
Other than adding another name to the list of 2014 winners, little changes atop the Sprint Cup Series drivers standings. Jeff Gordon is three points ahead of Matt Kenseth, but both drivers have yet to win in 2014.
It's back under the lights for NASCAR drivers as the schedule takes them to Kansas Speedway for the 5-Hour Energy 400 on May 10, 2014.
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