Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth led a race-high 142 laps in the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, but could only bring home an eighth-place finish in the rain-delayed restrictor plate race, which had a surprising one-two finish by Front Row Motorsports drivers David Ragan and David Gilliland.
Kenseth, in the No. 20 Home Depot/Husky Toyota Camry, was at the front for the green-white-checkered finish, was unable to defend his position in the closing laps. “It was a good run,” said Kenseth post-race. “It was a really disappointing finish. First of all, congratulations to David (Ragan) and David (Stremme). That was cool to see the underdogs go up there and grab one so I’m happy for them guys… I saw David (Ragan) at the last minute, but he was going too fast so if I pulled in front of him I was just going to get wrecked so I just had to bite the bullet and try to find a hole, which there wasn’t one, and finish the best we can. So, it was a disappointing ending to the day, but, man, we had a great car again.”
Denny Hamlin, in his first start in the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota since his back injury at Auto Club Speedway in March, made the driver switch on Lap 26 with Brian Vickers during the first caution flag of the race, and just in time – Vickers was involved with Kyle Busch and others in the first “big one” of the day on Lap 44. The No. 11 team was able to make repairs to Vickers’ car and get him back on track, moving up a few spots to finish 34th. Busch, in the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota, would also get back on track, but left Talladega with a 37th-place finish.
“The exchange went great,” said Hamlin of the driver switch. “Really, that was about as smooth as it’s went for us. Obviously we’ve had a few repetitions at it. That was about the quickest that I was able to get out so everything went well. I had a checklist in the car with things that I needed to do before I got out to switch over for the next driver. Everything really went seamless and painless.”
“I hate it for the FedEx guys and the whole team and Denny (Hamlin) more than anything,” said Vickers following the accident. “Everybody did a great job and we had a great car. They’ve been so supportive and I really wanted to finish on a high note and have a good run or a win and then it happened. It’s Talladega. I love racing here, I really do. I’m frustrated right now and I’m frustrated after yesterday and I’m frustrated after today, but I still can’t wait to come back. I love racing here. I love drafting. I have a lot of fun doing it. We went from last all of the way up to seventh in a short period of time and had a lot of fun doing it, but then the big one happened and there was nothing we could do about it and it sucks and is frustrating. I don’t hate the race track. I love the track. I just want to be up there racing for a win right now.”
The Sprint Cup Series goes back under the lights for Saturday night racing at Darlington Raceway on Saturday, May 11th. Keep up with the action at www.nascar.com and joegibbsracing.com.
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