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Race Report: Talladega

October 21, 2014

Denny Hamlin finished 18th in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega, clinching one of the eight spots in the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Brad Keselowski was the race winner with Matt Kenseth second and Clint Bowyer third.

A flurry of cautions toward the end of the event kept the field bunched up requiring two green-white-checker restarts, with Denny lining up 22nd for the final one. In the scramble to the checkers, Hamlin methodically picked off four competitors resulting in the 18th place finish, preserving his chance to continue racing for his first championship.

"That was close," said Hamlin. "We were tied for eighth in the standings on the last lap, just trying to fight through. I'm proud of the effort from my FedEx team and happy that we made it."

Denny started 38th in the #11 FedEx One Rate/Deliverminator Toyota, but wasn't too concerned as he knew anything could happen in the 500-mile restrictor plate race at the 2.66-mile high-banked oval. He dropped back to 41st at the start, planning to hang around at the tail end of the pack and avoid trouble during the first half of the race.

His competitiveness forced a change to that script as he wanted to test the speed of his #11 machine. By lap 14 he was up to 24th and had moved to third by lap 30. On lap 39 he made his first green flag stop for tires and fuel, returning to the race seventh, happy with the way the FedEx car was able to take him to the front.

Crew Chief Darian Grubb and Denny made the decision to drop back again, surrounding himself in the draft with Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth. While the trio were happy just clicking off laps, there were a couple of close calls with accidents they had to take evasive action to avoid, with one collecting Busch, sending the drafting partner to the garage for repairs.

"Hate lagging in the back," said Hamlin after the race, "but couldn't afford to have what happened to the #18 (Kyle Busch) happen to us and take our chances out. Going forward I think these are all good tracks for us (Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead) and now we definitely have to capitalize, especially at these race tracks that we're really good at."

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to action on Sunday, October 26 at Martinsville Speedway where Denny has four wins, nine top-five and 13 top-10 finishes.

Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were the four teams eliminated from the playoffs.