Denny Hamlin wins Thriller at Talladega in Photo Finish

Talladega Superspeedway, Lincoln, AL — October 4, 2020

When the 2020 NASCAR playoff schedule was announced, one date stood out as the biggest wild card. The 2nd race in the 2nd round of the playoffs is set for today at Talladega Superspeedway. Of the 12 drivers remaining in the postseason, some are looking forward to today’s race as an opportunity to pull off a surprise win and advance to the Round of 8. Others are dreading the uncertainty of the “big one” and getting caught up in an incident, not of their own making. The race could very well scramble the playoff standings heading into next week’s elimination race at The Roval from Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The YellaWood 500 is 188 laps around the 2.66 mile Talladega Superspeedway. Stages are 60/60/68 laps and Ryan Blaney is the defending champion. Blaney also won the 1st race at Talladega this year but was eliminated from the playoffs after Round 1. He starts 14th today. Denny Hamlin and, last week’s winner, Kurt Busch will start on the front row today. With Martin Truex Jr. and Alex Bowman lining up behind them on row 2. Last year’s race had 110 green flag passes for the lead, expect nothing less today.


NASCAR announced the 2021 Cup Series Schedule this week. The June Michigan International Speedway Cup race was eliminated. Three new tracks were added to the schedule, and the number of road races increased from 3 to 6 events. Bristol Motor Speedway’s spring race will be run on dirt trucked into the World’s Fastest Half-Mile. The playoff schedule for 2021 remains the same as this year, with the exception of Texas and Kansas swapping weekends.

The Playoff Battle

Despite strong runs in the recent weeks, Kyle Busch remains winless in 2020. He starts in the 6th position today. While Busch is more concerned with keeping his annual win streak alive, he is 9 points below the bubble and faces the possibility of playoff elimination. Kyle’s brother Kurt Busch is on to the next round by virtue of his Las Vegas win, Harvick and Hamlin are almost certain to advance on points. Among the other 9 drivers, anyone could grab one of the 5 remaining spots in the next round.

Rank Driver Points Status
1 Kurt Busch 3041 Advances-Win
2 Kevin Harvick* 3104 +61
3 Denny Hamlin 3101 +58
4 Brad Keselowski* 3059 +16
5 Martin Truex Jr. 3058 +15
6 Joey Logano* 3054 +11
7 Chase Elliott 3053 +10
8 Alex Bowman 3052 +9
Round 2 Cut Line
9 Kyle Busch 3043 -9
10 Clint Bowyer* 3032 -20
11 Aric Almirola* 3025 -27
12 Austin Dillon 3025 -27

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Stage 1

Trouble began before the 1st lap was complete as Christopher Bell(95) spun in Turn 3 and collected Tyler Reddick(8). Bell’s car was forced to the garage with damage to the rear axle, Reddick’s crew was able to tape up the nose of his car so he could return to the race.

Eight laps later Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(47) spun off the bumper of John Hunter Nemechek(38) destroying the car when it hit the wall just past the end of the pit road. On the restart, Corey LaJoie(32) lost fuel pressure and coasted to a stop entering Turn 1. The yellow displayed again to push LaJoie’s car back to the pits.

The race restarted again with just a few laps to go before NASCAR’s competition caution after Lap 25 will bring the field under caution again. Hamlin had led the race from the start by switching lanes to lead the fastest line top and bottom. Aggressive driving split the field into 3-wide lines and Joey Logano(22) was able to make a run to the front.

Hamlin regained the lead until the competition came out on Lap 26 and everyone came to pit road. Aric Almirola(10) came off pit road with the lead, followed Logano, Clint Bowyer(14), and Matt DiBenedetto(21). Ryan Blaney(12) joined the battle as the lead swapped several times among the Ford Mustang drivers.

Michigan’s Erik Jones(20) took the lead briefly, a past winner at Daytona Erik knows how to navigate the superspeedways, a win by Jones would go a long way to enticing an owner to offer him a spot for 2021. Interestingly, as the competition for the top spot got intense early, points leaders Harvick and Hamlin chose to go to the rear of the field and ride out some laps. Content to let the pack race three-wide vying for stage points, Harvick and Hamlin just want to be there at the finish.

With 9 laps to go, Chase Elliott(9) got a push from Bubba Wallace(43) and drove to the top spot. Racing four-wide, Almirola went to the lead as the Fords worked together to move forward. Then, what everyone expected, happened. The first of what is likely too many big wrecks occurred.

Logano, pushing Alex Bowman(88), right behind Almirola, looked like they were going to make a run to the outside. Bowman got loose and tapped Almirola sending him sideways and airborne at the front of the pack. Kyle Busch did the same thing, fortunately, both cars landed on all four tires. Unfortunately, the carnage was on.

Also included in the incident were Logano, Blaney, Austin Dillon(3), and others with minor damage. Almirola’s car suffered the most damage hitting the outside wall and was sent to the garage. The rest of the damage to contenders was mostly cosmetic and crews performed repairs to keep the others involved in the race. Almirola faces a must-win at The Roval for his playoff aspirations continue into Round 3.

Aric Almirola goes out early at Talladega / NASCAR Photo

The Stage ended under caution with Chris Buescher(17) out front.

Stage 1 Results

Position Car Driver Points
1 17 Chris Buescher* 10
2 22 Joey Logano (P)* 9
3 3 Austin Dillon (P) 8
4 2 Brad Keselowski (P)* 7
5 9 Chase Elliott (P) 6
6 20 Erik Jones 5
7 19 Martin Truex Jr. (P) 4
8 8 Tyler Reddick 3
9 1 Kurt Busch (P) 2
10 43 Bubba Wallace 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Tyler Reddick recovered from his 1st lap incident to finish 8th, Austin Dillon(3), needing points badly, was able to finish 3rd and gain 8 Stage points.

Stage 2

Buescher continued to lead after the restart. Kyle Busch reported his steering wheel was knocked off-center and on Lap 67 his left front tire exploded ripping off the fender. His crew serviced the car and kept him on the lead lap, but was it something in the suspension the crew could not see that caused the tire to fail. If Busch cannot work through the issues he will be forced into a must-win situation next week at The Roval if the defending Cup Champion is going to continue into the next round of the playoffs.

DiBenedetto led briefly and then Jones resumed the lead as positions began to swap at the front of the pack. Green flag pit stops began with 35 laps to go in Stage 2. Just after the first bunch of cars hit pit road, Blaney cut a right front tire, plowed into the outside wall in Turn 3, and the yellow flag was shown to the field.

Elliott was the leader when the race resumed and three-wide racing was again the norm. When the rest of the fast cars caught up to Elliott, Jimmy Johnson(48) was pushed to the lead by Logano. Joey promptly dropped Johnson to try and take the lead back himself. As the leaders shuffled for position, Bowyer pushing on Johnson got the 48 car loose and the 2nd big wreck was on. Johnson collided with Kurt Busch who hit the wall and got airborne coming down on top of Cole Custer(41), and Bowyer. Also involved were Keselowski, Austin Dillon, Brennan Poole(15), Kyle Busch, Ryan Preece(37), Daniel Suarez(96), and Brendan Gaughan(62). NASCAR was forced to put out the red flag for over 10 minutes to clean up the cars and debris on the track.

Kurt Busch, Bowyer, Custer, Suarez, and Gaughan were unable to continue. Busch was already into the next round with last weeks win, Bowyer will join the must-win group heading to Charlotte.

The race restarted with seven laps to go in Stage 2 and Elliott in the lead. Logano picked up a push from DiBenedetto and Buescher and the three Fords surged to the front. Four to go and Truex goes to the lead with Reddick on his bumper. In the battle for positions, Logano forced DiBenetto below the double yellow line and was penalized by being disqualified for Stage points.

Truex held on for the Stage win followed by Keselowski and another solid Stage performance by Buescher. Logano’s mistake likely cost him nine bonus points as he was dropped from the 2nd position at the time of the penalty.

Stage 2 Results

Position Car Driver Points
1 19 Martin Truex Jr. (P) 10
2 2 Brad Keselowski (P) 9
3 17 Chris Buescher 8
4 9 Chase Elliott (P) 7
5 38 John Hunter Nemechek 6
6 24 William Byron 5
7 12 Ryan Blaney 4
8 37 Ryan Preece 3
9 13 Ty Dillon 2
10 43 Bubba Wallace 1

The Final Stage

All that aggression for Stage points and now the race for the win takes place. Expect the intensity to ratchet up another notch. Truex and Keselowski led the field back to green, Brad eased out from and then the three-wide racing began to mix things up.

Tyler Reddick, involved in the 1st lap incident, took the lead. Then it was back to Keselowski. Bubba Wallace drafted to the front with Bowman pushing without the left front fender on his #88 car.

Alex Bowman with severe damage to race car / NASCAR Photo

Buescher was pushed to the lead by Keselowski who then took back the lead easily with Blaney and DiBenedetto in line behind. Logano was back in front with help from William Byron(24), Ty Dillon(13), and Jones drafting bumper to bumper. The race turned into a single file train with 50 laps to go as everyone appeared ready to sit and ride it out for a while.

Jimmy Johnson, riding with heavy damage to the rear of his car, was caught by the long draft and as the field passed the turbulence of the cars tore the tape job on his bumper to shreds. Dropping debris on the track and the potential for green flag pit stops disappeared as the caution waved for 11th time.

The race restarted with 36 laps to go with Logano in the lead, followed by Harvick, Jones, Byron, and Matt Kenseth(42). The aggression of the leaders put Byron out front briefly, until Logano resumed the lead and everyone dropped into line.

That did not last long, as Elliott dropped to the bottom of the track and an inside line formed. Bubba Wallace went high and it was back to three-wide racing and he took the top spot. Truex, Logano, and Wallace ran three abreast for the lead.

Keselowski found the bumper of Logano and the Team Penske drivers moved to the front with 25 laps to go. The 3rd line merged in and Elliott led the cars on the bottom back to the front followed by Byron. Logano and Keselowski pulled dead even with 19 laps to go and edged out front at the flag stand. Six cars moved away from the pack as three lines began to form again with 16 laps to go.

After dropping to 11th, Elliott again led the formation of the bottom line and started inching their way back to the front. Wallace dropped to the bottom of the track in front of Elliott and drove up beside Logano. Keselowski, driving up under the rear bumper of Logano, pushed the pair out several car lengths. Then Brad got shuffled out of line and dropped low breaking the momentum of the lower line, Wallace moved to the top and slipped up in front of Logano.

Joey took advantage of the move and dropped down to pass Wallace for the lead. Preece, with a tattered front bumper, pulled up to give Bubba a shove and ended up pushing him into the outside wall. Everyone avoided the #43 car and Logano pulled out to a big lead as the Preece car had so much damage to be able to contend for the lead.

With 6 laps to go, James Davison running 81 laps down lost control, crashed, and brought out the caution sending the race to overtime. The Ford Mustangs of Logano, DiBenedetto, Keselowski, and Harvick comprise the front two rows when the green flag waves.

The Finish

Logano jumps to a big lead with the help of Keselowski. Elliott gets a big run down the backstretch and pulls several cars to the front. Coming to the white flag Logano again forces Elliott below the double yellow line, but cannot stop the #9 car from taking the lead. As Logano drops back he gets tapped by Kyle Bush spinning off the bumper of Reddick and the “Big One” number 3 occurs just before the white flag makes the race official.

Overtime Number 2

Logano is informed he will be penalized a 2nd time for forcing a driver below the double yellow line. That may not be an issue as it’s not certain Logano will be able to continue. The red flag has everyone parked while the track crews clean up the mess.

Back under the yellow gasoline now becomes the concern with everyone running close to their fuel window. Keselowski pits for fear of running out of gas. Logano is pushed to the garage, Harvick, Ryan Newman(6), Reddick, Kyle Busch, and Truex were involved in the mess.

Elliott, DiBenedetto, Nemechek, Preece, and Buescher lead the field into the 2nd overtime. Elliott builds the lead into Turn 1 but DiBenedetto closes down the backstretch. Wallace gets a big run into Turn 3 but spins when pushed by Preece and takes out Blaney eliminating both cars from the race. It’s on to Overtime #3.

Overtime Number 3

DiBenedetto is the new leader. Followed by Hamlin, Buescher, Ty Dillon, and Byron. Buescher pushes DiBenedetto to the white flag and then it seems 2nd place changes every few hundred yards. DiBenedetto blocks runs by Jones and Byron. Jones pushes Matty D down the backstretch until Buescher tries to pass, Jones and Buescher hit the wall and their chance at the win goes away. DiBenedetto, Byron, and Hamlin race three-wide through the triangle with Hamlin eeking out the photo-finish win at the line.

DiBenedetto was originally credited with the 2nd place finish, NASCAR penalized Matty D and Chris Buescher for forcing racers below the double yellow line on the hectic last lap. They were scored in 21st and 22nd place respectively. The penalty elevated Erik Jones into 2nd place.

Race Highlights

Playoff Standings

The playoff picture cleared considerably with Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, and Kevin Harvick on to the next round. Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski are likely safe and barring a disaster Martin Truex Jr. should also advance. Alex Bowman and Joey Logano will battle Austin Dillon and Kyle Busch for the final two spots. While the bubble is 21 points to the good, it’s The Roval and who knows how things will shake out on the road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Rank Driver Points Status
1 Denny Hamlin 3141 Advances-Win
2 Kurt Busch 3048 Advances-Win
3 Kevin Harvick 3121 Advances-Pts
4 Chase Elliott 3097 +44
5 Brad Keselowski 3094 +41
6 Martin Truex Jr. 3085 +32
7 Alex Bowman 3075 +22
8 Joey Logano 3074 +21
9 Austin Dillon 3053 -21
10 Kyle Busch 3053 -21
11 Clint Bowyer 3036 -38
12 Aric Almirola 3026 -48


Results of the YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

Position Car Driver Behind Laps
1 11 Denny Hamlin (P) 200
2 20 Erik Jones 0.086 200
3 13 Ty Dillon 0.102 200
4 24 William Byron 0.122 200
5 9 Chase Elliott (P) 0.166 200
6 6 Ryan Newman 0.172 200
7 8 Tyler Reddick 0.556 200
8 38 John Hunter Nemechek 1.033 200
9 15 Brennan Poole 1.224 200
10 37 Ryan Preece 1.352 200
11 77 Justin Haley 1.508 200
12 3 Austin Dillon (P) 1.616 200
13 0 Quin Houff 2.412 200
14 88 Alex Bowman (P) 5.504 200
15 66 Timmy Hill 5.865 200
16 42 Matt Kenseth 9.691 200
17 51 Joey Gase 13.418 200
18 2 Brad Keselowski (P) 13.905 200
19 27 Cody Ware 34.609 200
20 4 Kevin Harvick (P) 38.678 200
21 21 Matt DiBenedetto Penalty 200
22 17 Chris Buescher Penalty 200
23 19 Martin Truex Jr. (P) -2 198
24 43 Bubba Wallace -8 192
25 12 Ryan Blaney -8 192
26 22 Joey Logano (P) -12 188
27 18 Kyle Busch (P) -12 188
28 32 Corey LaJoie -12 188
29 48 Jimmie Johnson -67 133
30 53 James Davison -82 118
31 41 Cole Custer -92 108
32 1 Kurt Busch (P) -92 108
33 14 Clint Bowyer (P) -92 108
34 96 Daniel Suarez -92 108
35 62 Brendan Gaughan -92 108
36 34 Michael McDowell -121 79
37 10 Aric Almirola (P) -143 57
38 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -192 8
39 95 Christopher Bell -199 1