Hamlin wins in 3rd overtime of Talladega’s longest race

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Denny Hamlin (11) races William Byron (24) and Matt DiBenedetto (21) to the finish line during the YellaWood 500 NASCAR auto race at Talladega Superspeedway, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020, in Talladega, Ala. Hamlin won. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Denny Hamlin put himself in position to finally win in the playoffs by hanging at the back to avoid the carnage of the messiest and longest race in Talladega Superspeedway history.

His sweeping three-wide pass in triple overtime Sunday brought an end to the sloppiest race of the season. The Daytona 500 winner surged to the win coming out of the final turn — it was the 58th lead change of a race that went nearly 32 miles, or 12 laps, longer than scheduled.

Talladega was pocked with 13 cautions, two more than the record, and nearly every title contender had some sort of damage. Only six of the 12 made it to the finish.

Hamlin insisted lagging the No. 11 Toyota at the back of the field all day, waiting to pounce at the end, was his strategy all along. Either that, or he was simply the last driver standing when given the chance to snap a skid that started with the playoffs one month ago.

“I hate to say it, but you have to play the game. You have to get to the next round,” Hamlin said. “To win the championship, you have to win the last race and you have to get to the last race. For us, we played the strategy to play the numbers to make sure we got locked in.”

Fitting for this particular wreck-fest was that Hamlin's win needed official review. He had gone below the yellow out-of-bounds line during the third overtime, but NASCAR ruled the move was legal.

“They were crashing in front of us," Hamlin shrugged. “Obviously, I got forced down there."

The crowd of 15,000 — the most allowed to attend the Alabama superspeedway — booed Hamlin as he was declared the winner. He dismissed any notion of a controversy over the yellow line rule, noting it had been called by NASCAR the same way the entire race.