Denny Hamlin’s last-ditch effort to repeat as a winner at Talladega Superspeedway fell short as his No. 11 Toyota was shuffled from third to ninth in the closing laps.
But the Joe Gibbs Racing driver could lay claim to being best in class in Sunday’s Geico 500.
Hamlin completed the only green-flag passes of a Hendrick Motorsports-powered car for the lead in the 500-mile race, powering by race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Lap 105 and again on Lap 156.
Of the race’s 188 laps, 176 were led by drivers with Hendrick engines:
Earnhardt Jr. (67), Jimmie Johnson (50), Jeff Gordon (47), Tony Stewart (6), Kasey Kahne (3), Harvick (1), Kurt Busch (1) and Justin Allgaier (1).
Hamlin led five laps. Cole Whitt (No. 35 Ford) was the only other non-Chevy driver to lead more than one.
“The odds were very stacked against us,” Hamlin said. “The Hendrick cars and engines were just extremely tough and really I did my best just to kind of hang with those guys, but they’re definitely in a league of their own right now for sure.”
Sunday’s mostly single-file finish partly could have been attributed to strength in numbers. Hamlin said there were too many Chevys (which claimed six of the top eight spots) for a competing manufacturer such as Toyota to make a challenge.
“When there’s eight legitimate Hendrick cars, they’re going to work together,” Hamlin said, referring to the four-car lineups of Hendrick and Stewart-Haas Racing (which uses Hendrick chassis and engines). “I work together with my teammates as well, but there’s just a handful of us, and some of them got wrecked. Those guys are going to go with the guys they have alliances with – that’s just part of this type of racing.”