Entering Sunday's NASCAR race, Denny Hamlin had a strategy to survive the carnage that is usually associated with racing at Talladega Superspeedway.
That plan entailed Hamlin spending the majority of the afternoon riding around in the back and biding his time until the closing laps. Then, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver planned to charge to front and hopefully leave with finish somewhere in the top 10 – a result which would almost certainly keep him in the thick of title contention.
Ultimately, that game plan seemed to work. The final boxscore showed Hamlin ended the day in 14th-place and is a mere 23 points out of first with six races still to go.
"With this strategy, you're basically conceding a win – a chance at a win," Hamlin said. "But you're just trying to do damage control and not finish in the 20s and 30s."
However, Sunday's result was by no means easy – and certainly wasn't uneventful.
With less than 10 laps to go, Hamlin was running 26th, nearly five seconds behind the leaders and seemingly destined to be short on fuel for the second straight week.
But a timely caution for Jamie McMurray's single-car spin allowed Hamlin to pit for gas, close up on the remainder of the field and then make his charge to the front – exactly as he and crew chief Darian Grubb drew it up beforehand.
And on the final turn of the final lap when a multi-car wreck consumed just about every car still on the track, Hamlin, despite spinning out, was still able to drive through the aftermath and leave the speedway with a respectable finish.
"We were waiting for what happened," Hamlin said. "It happened later than I expected, but still it's better than my average (finish), I can tell you that. We got a good finish based off of the wreck, but still it was a good solid day and that's all we could ask for is to not lose a bunch of ground."
But the "solid day" still wasn't enough to make Hamlin completely happy. Despite the effectiveness of the strategy, running in the rear is hard for a driver like Hamlin to accept.
"It sucks and I'm sure my fans are frustrated, but it's what you have to do," Hamlin said. "You kind of give up the chance at a win riding in the back all day, but you've got to miss the wreck. ... You've got to maintain the pace and that's what everyone did."
Now, though, with Talladega behind him, Hamlin is eagerly awaiting a return to the kind of racing where, as he says, his team "can control our destiny." That optimism is aided by the fact he is in a favorable position points-wise with a host of good tracks coming up.
"I feel pretty good," Hamlin said. "I feel like we're in a good spot. Less than a half a race back and we're just making sure we're still in it until the end."