Hamlin is still second in points, still in a great position to claim his first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Yet because he fell off the lead lap early in the race and had to fight his way back and because his ninth-place finish was two spots behind Johnson, Hamlin was visibly unhappy after the race.
It didn’t help that Kevin Harvick finished second to his own Richard Childress Racing teammate, Clint Bowyer, putting Harvick just 24 points back of Hamlin in third. Nor did it help that Hamlin gave up critical spots at the end of the race.
No, Talladega certainly wasn’t a disaster for Hamlin. But you definitely got the sense that he felt like he and the team left something on the table.
“It wasn’t very fun,” Hamlin said after the race. “I didn’t get to race as hard as I would like to at times and thought I was in a good position there. I was actually in a great position with two (laps) to go. I had the 5 (Mark Martin) pushing me, but as soon as we passed the 48 (Johnson), he stopped pushing and that’s teamwork. That’s what I would expect of a teammate. We were in a bad spot. We weren’t around our teammates when it counted there at the end.”
When Martin backed off Hamlin, it cost Hamlin the points lead. “I had the 48 by five spots coming off the last corner and when the 5 stopped pushing me, it just killed us,” Hamlin said. “We weren’t going forward from that point.”
Although Johnson was able to extend his points margin slightly, Hamlin did insist that he left Talladega exactly as he wanted, with none of the three championship contenders suffering a truly wretched points day.
“It’s what I asked for,” Hamlin said. “I asked for nobody to really get killed (points-wise) here this weekend and to let us settle it on the race track, where our teams can make a difference and us drivers can make a difference. That’s what we got. We’ve got a tight one and I’m looking forward to the last three (races).”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.