Editor's note: Brad Parrott, a 19-time winner in NASCAR national series competition has joined NASCAR.com as a guest writer for the 2014 season. Here is his first-person analysis after Sunday's Aaron's 499 for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Talladega Superspeedway:
Sunday's race was Talladega racing as it always has been. The only thing you expect is the unexpected to happen.
We had the "Big One," some small ones, blown tires that caused guys to mysteriously spin, but at the end of the day, the two guys who started all the way back in 34th and 35th hammered it up through the field for most of the day. Greg Biffle led the most laps -- 58 -- but Denny Hamlin led 12, including the most important, the 188th, and came home the winner.
It was a big day for Denny's Joe Gibbs Racing team as he pushed his way into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. You're almost guaranteed to get a postseason spot with the victory and hats off to his guys who made that happen.
Hamlin knew that he had to win a race to guarantee his Chase spot after missing a race earlier in the season in California. He had an excellent car at Daytona in February, winning the Sprint Unlimited and one of the Daytona 500 qualifying races. The call where he stayed out sealed the deal, and pit strategy again wins the race.
Hamlin really showed his strength when he needed to, but led early in the race, too. He kept his car in the top 10 for most of the day and showed his way back to the front when it was time to go with 26 laps to go.
After the last caution with wholesale pit stops, where some cars stayed out and many others took fuel only, Hamlin was one of the only cars that was unsure if he could even make it on gas. Crew chief Darian Grubb put his car in position to be out front and be in that top-five group there at the end to have a shot to win the race.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had an excellent car and an excellent chance but when he lost all that track position giving up the lead at Lap 151 to come down pit road, he never led again or contended.
The Richard Childress Racing team showed plenty of Talladega strength before the race, but the results sheet doesn't show it. It's just who lines up with who at the end of the race and you just never know who your players are going to be until it comes down to the end. It's such a tough race to call from the pit box for the fact that you don't know what's going to happen lap-to-lap, you can't control who drafts with who.
The winner of the race ran a fastest lap time of 4 1/2 mph slower than Biffle, who finished second. That just shows you the difference in speed, and that it's all about the draft and who pushes you to the win.
Danica Patrick brought the crowd to her feet by leading six laps, though she can't be happy with a mid-pack finish. Still, she showed she could run with the boys and contend.
The best team today was Michael Waltrip Racing, with two drivers placing in the top five. I had picked MWR's Brian Vickers to win, only because I knew they've always had good restrictor-plate cars and their finishes showed it.
It all foreshadows what we'll face when we get back to Daytona International Speedway in July. Tires will be a little more important when we've got some summer heat and age in the track. The normal players from Daytona will re-emerge, but today shows you that even Landon Cassill, driving for one of the smaller teams in our sport, can come out and contend for the win. It always keeps you guessing.