By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
Denny Hamlin's victory in Sunday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway was a surprise.
Then again, it wasn't.
If you're trying to pick a winner for a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points race at a restrictor-plate race track, Hamlin probably wouldn't head your list.
After all, there are plenty of more likely candidates, based on past performance. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Clint Bowyer and Jamie McMurray come to mind immediately, and that's just for starters.
That doesn't mean Hamlin hasn't run well in plate races. On occasion, he has. He just hadn't managed to win one -- until Sunday.
On that basis, you could call Hamlin a surprise winner at Talladega.
But in no way, shape or form, is it surprising that Hamlin has picked up a victory in the first 10 races of the season. In handicapping probable race winners -- and hence, probable participants in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup -- Hamlin would have been on everyone's short list before the season started.
In fact, it would have been better than even odds that all three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers -- Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth -- all would have qualified for NASCAR's playoff.
So don't look at Hamlin's victory at Talladega as a shocker. It wasn't. Just congratulate the driver of the No. 11 Toyota for expanding his resume.
--Post-race tech complete. No issues. The three cars heading to the R&D center are the three cars that are still intact.
--Denny Hamlin was victorious in the Aaron's 499. Always great when that glimmer in a driver's eye is from the elation of a big race win and NOT from the sun reflecting off a small piece of metal.
--Denny Hamlin takes home $303,315 for winning the race. Or 649,493,145.65 in Dogecoin. His choice.
--Brad Keselowski feels bad, and wants to take everyone out again, but this time for a beer or something.
(Follow @nascarcasm on Twitter. His unique views on NASCAR are his own -- but chances are you already knew that.)
4: The number of finishes outside the top 20 for Jimmie Johnson in the first 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races. That's the most since 2009, when Johnson also had four results outside the top 20 in the first 10 races. But, oh, by the way, Johnson went on to win the series championship that year.
5: The number of former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions involved in "The Big One" in Sunday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega. On Lap 137, 2012 champion Brad Keselowski triggered a wreck that also collected Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth, who have 14 titles between them.
11: The finishing position at Talladega of Landon Cassill, who kept the No. 40 Hillman Racing Chevrolet in the top 10 for much of Sunday afternoon. That result was a career best for Cassill in 201 Sprint Cup starts, bettering a pair of 12th-place finishes at Michigan and Daytona.
23.3: Kyle Busch's average finish in 13 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Kansas Speedway, statistically Busch's worst track. The driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has but two top 10s at Kansas, and no top fives. He has led 85 laps there, his lowest total by far at a 1.5-mile intermediate speedway.
5: The number of drivers who have won two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway, suggesting that success breeds success at the 1.5-mile track. In 16 total races at Kansas, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth have won twice each. Kesneth is the only one of the five to win in two different car makes (Ford and Toyota).
Next up on the schedule is Kansas, home to Michael Waltrip Racing's Clint Bowyer, who will be making his 300th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career start this weekend. In even bigger news for MWR, 5-Hour ENERGY, Bowyer and crew chief Brian Pattie all signed multi-year contract extensions this week that will take effect in 2015. ... Reed Sorenson will also be making a milestone career start this weekend, his 200th in the series. ... Ryan Blaney, son of NASCAR Sprint Cup veteran Dave Blaney, will be making his series debut in the No. 12 SKF Ford for Team Penske this weekend at Kansas Speedway. Ryan Blaney has made one start in the NCWTS at Kansas resulting in a third-place finish and one start in the NNS producing an 11th-place finish. ... Dave Blaney is also entered this weekend. ... The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series set a new record for Green Flag Passes for the Lead (GFPFL) during the spring race at Talladega last weekend. Last weekend's race produced 188 Green Flag Passes for the Lead, the most for a Talladega spring race, and third-most since NASCAR introduced the stat in 2005.