Denny Hamlin rallies to Talladega playoff victory

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Despite being forced to the apron on the last corner of the last lap, Denny Hamlin went from fifth to first to win Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Hamlin was forced down the track as Erik Jones and Chris Buescher moved down a lane. Hamlin darted to the left, sparks flying as he went off the banking, and passed Matt DiBenedetto and William Byron to win.

“They were crashing in front of us,” Hamlin said. “Obviously, I got forced down there just like the 21 (DiBenedetto) and others did. There were a bunch of us that all crashed down there.”

MORE: Race results 

It was Hamlin’s 44th career win, tying him with Bill Elliott for 18th on the all-time wins list. Hamlin spent most of the day at the back. He avoided the record 13 cautions in a race extended nearly 32 miles by multiple overtime attempts.

DiBenedetto crossed the finish line second, but NASCAR penalized DiBenedetto for forcing Byron below the yellow line in Turn 4. DiBenedetto was scored 21st. Erik Jones was moved to second.

“It was pretty clear‑cut,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition on the penalty to DiBenedetto. “(DiBenedetto) hung a left, drove those guys down below the line. We called that twice on (Joey Logano) during the race, so nothing different there.”

Ty Dillon finished a career-best third. He was followed by Byron and Chase Elliott. NASCAR originally penalized Chase Elliott for going below the yellow line to improve his position. NASCAR penalized Buescher for forcing Elliott below the yellow line and relegated Buescher to 22nd.

The race went to a final overtime restart when Ryan Preece made contact with Bubba Wallace and sent Wallace into the wall. DiBenedetto did not stop for fuel during that caution. Elliott, who was second, and John Hunter Nemechek, who was third when the caution came out on Lap 194, had to pit for fuel under caution. DiBenedetto, who was nearly out of fuel, led on the restart but couldn’t stay ahead of Hamlin.

The race was extended when a multi-car crash happened before the field took the white flag to begin what was to have been the scheduled final lap. Playoff contenders Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano were among those involved. The incident ended a miserable day for Kyle Busch, who was involved in three separate incidents and had a left front tire be cut by a tire rub from damage in an accident.

The race proved challenging for many playoff drivers. Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch were eliminated in crashes in the first 125 laps. Kurt Busch’s car went airborne in a 13-car crash but landed on its wheels. That incident brought out the red flag on Lap 110.

“I was just doing my job as a Chevy helper, running top five and the next thing you know I’m going for one of the wildest rides I’ve ever been in,” Kurt Busch told NBC Sports.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Chris Buescher

STAGE 2 WINNER: Martin Truex Jr.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ty Dillon finished a career-high third. … John Hunter Nemechek tied his career-best finish by placing eighth. … Brennan Poole finished a career-high ninth.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Aric Almirola was eliminated in a crash just before the end of Stage 1. He was leading with three laps to go in the stage when contact from behind by Alex Bowman turned Almirola into the wall on the backstretch. Almirola finished 36th … Clint Bowyer placed 32nd after he was a part of a crash before the end of stage 2. … Kurt Busch finished 31st after his car went airborne in the 13-car crash that brought out the red flag on Lap 110. … Kyle Busch’s car also was damaged in that incident that ended Aric Almirola’s race. Busch had a tire rub that cut the left front tire and damaged his car shortly after the restart. Busch was later damaged in two other accidents.

NOTABLE: Bubba Wallace led 10 laps, the most laps he’s lead in his Cup career.

NEXT: The series races at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval at 2:30 p.m., Oct. 11 on NBC. The race is an elimination race.