After four-plus hours of NASCAR Cup Series racing, more than 58 lead changes, and two red flags, Denny Hamlin emerged with a controversial victory in the YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday (Oct. 4).
With the race having already gone into overtime, William Byron and Matt DiBenedetto made contact while racing for the lead. Hamlin went low to avoid them, going onto the apron and below the yellow line, and was able to use that opening to take the race victory.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) October 4, 2020
To make matters worse for DiBenedetto, he was penalized by NASCAR for forcing Hamlin below the yellow line and was credited 21st position. NASCAR also handed Chris Buescher a penalty for forcing Chase Elliott beneath the yellow line, reversing an initial call to penalize Elliott for passing below the line and placing Buescher 22nd, the final car on the lead lap.
Scott Miller describes the yellow-line calls on the final lap, penalizing Matt DiBenedetto and Chase Elliott and no penalty for race winner Denny Hamlin. Plus his thoughts on eliminating the rule: pic.twitter.com/DzZwE6wfax
— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) October 4, 2020
Virtually every driver in the NASCAR playoffs was involved in a caution flag on Sunday. As a result, Clint Bowyer, Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch, and Aric Almirola are below the cutoff line heading to next weekend at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, which will set the field for the Round of 8.
One of the biggest initial calamities of the day struck on the race’s 109th lap with 12 remaining in the second stage, when contact between Clint Bowyer and the rear of Jimmie Johnson‘s car triggered a 10-car melee that included Kurt Busch going airborne. Of the drivers included, five were in the playoffs.
“It was wild, that’s just the nature of this sport,” said Kurt Busch, a winner last week at Las Vegas. “You’re on top one week and everything is fantastic and now you’re here at Talladega. It’s just Talladega, the wild rides continue.”
It wouldn’t be the final time for playoff contenders to have their fortunes altered.
With six laps to go, Bubba Wallace, who had moved into the lead with less than 10 to go, made contact with the wall after getting together with Preece just before the caution flew for debris from James Davison‘s blown tire, bunching up the field. The ensuing restart led to Reddick getting into Kyle Busch coming to the white flag, ending Busch’s day and also involving Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, and Martin Truex Jr.
After Bristol, Kyle Busch told reporters he'd be eliminated in the next round.
— #NASCARPlayoffs on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) October 4, 2020
Hopes of just one overtime restart were dashed when Wallace and Preece washed into each other, an incident that also involved the cars of Keselowski and Ryan Blaney.
“I think I came down on the 37 [Preece] there and started that whole deal, that’s on me,” Wallace said. “It was a really good day for us. We have a lot of really good stuff to review. Hats off to my guys for a really good effort.”
It also resulted in race leader Chase Elliott pitting to avoid running out of fuel with the caution flag forcing overtime, stretching the fuel mileage of some of the frontrunners.
That put DiBenedetto in a position to win. But much like Bristol last summer, Hamlin played the role of the heartbreaker.
“I was blocking every which way, it was pure desperation,” DiBennedetto said while fighting back emotions. “That’s the way I drive.”
The NASCAR Cup Series returns in the Bank of America ROVAL 400 next Sunday at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC.