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Hamlin practically punches Chase ticket

May 04, 2014, Staff report,

In 300th career Cup start, Hamlin earns first victory at Talladega

Denny Hamlin passed Kevin Harvick late in the Aaron's 499 to score his first victory of the 2014 Sprint Cup Series season and his first victory at Talladega Superspeedway.

Hamlin earned his 24th career win in the Sprint Cup Series in his 300th start in the series. Overall on the day, he led 12 laps. His win is even more impressive when you consider that he came from the 34th spot on the starting grid.

After overtaking Harvick for good on Lap 187, a late caution on Lap 188 for debris on the frontstretch (after the white flag came out) sealed the victory for the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Hamlin and Harvick had exchanged the lead five times in the final eight laps.

The victory practically punches Hamlin's ticket into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field. Hamlin must maintain a top-30 ranking the rest of the season and attempt to qualify for each race. A medical exemption can be granted to a driver who misses a race for a valid medical reason. Hamlin missed the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in March when he had vision issues. It was later determined that a piece of metal in his eye, that was removed, was the source of those issues.

Hamlin missed four races in 2013 with a L1 compression fracture suffered from a last-lap crash at Auto Club Speedway. He missed the Chase but scored a win in the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Talladega produced several wrecks on Sunday that affected former Sprint Cup Series champions Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Brad Keselowski.

Joey Logano (Texas and Richmond) and Harvick (Phoenix and Darlington) are the lone two-time winners on the circuit thus far, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Daytona), Keselowski (Las Vegas), Carl Edwards (Bristol), Kyle Busch (Fontana) and Kurt Busch (Martinsville) each have one win.

Drivers with one win through the first 26 races, and a top-30 ranking in the points standings, could also potentially qualify for the Chase. If the points leader does not have a win, that driver will also qualify for the Chase.

After the 10th race of NASCAR's regular season, here is how the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings look:

Pos. Driver Chase berth
1. Joey Logano
Winner: Texas, Richmond
2. Kevin Harvick
Winner: Phoenix, Darlington
3. Kyle Busch
Winner: Fontana
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Winner: Daytona
5. Carl Edwards
Winner: Bristol
6. Brad Keselowski
Winner: Las Vegas
7. Denny Hamlin
Winner: Talladega
8. Kurt Busch
Winner: Martinsville
9. Jeff Gordon
Points leader
10. Matt Kenseth
2nd in points
11. Jimmie Johnson
7th in points
12. Greg Biffle
8th in points
13. Ryan Newman
9th in points
14. Brian Vickers
10th in points
15. Kyle Larson
13th in points
16. Austin Dillon
14th in points


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