The race was delayed three hours by rain and slowed by several cautions, and NASCAR cut the distance by 10 laps as darkness closed in on the track. Then Joey Coulter brought out a caution and NASCAR decided to make one attempt at a green-white-checkered finish.
At least 10 cars were jockeying for position in packs of two on the final lap when Brian Vickers was spun hard into the outside wall. Smith, Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne raced three-wide to the finish line and Kahne crossed it first.
But NASCAR decided Smith was leading when the caution came out and was the winner.
ON THE MEND: Denny Hamlin ran 16 laps at full speed Friday, turned his car over to Brian Vickers and then didn’t exactly rule himself out of running a full race this weekend as he recovers from a back injury.
Hamlin insisted he’ll again give Vickers the car at some point today at Talladega Superspeedway.
But with a sly smile, Hamlin left the door open to run a full race in his return from a compressed fracture of a vertebra in his lower back. After missing four races, he was cleared Thursday to get back in the car this weekend and said doctors gave him permission to run the entire race.
He said his intention was to “take a knee” after the start by getting out of the car during a caution and allowing Vickers to finish the race.
COMFORT ZONE: Danica Patrick not only has the same car at Talladega Superspeedway that won the pole position for the season-opening Daytona 500, she brings a new level of experience into today’s race.
She was third on the final lap at Talladega’s sister track at Daytona, but she was shuffled back to an eighth-place finish.
“I learned that if I just stay in line and keep my foot down and don’t try and come up with any kind of plan that you are kind of a sitting duck,” Patrick said. “I have a better idea of what it is going to take, but it’s also circumstantial. Jimmie (Johnson) told me after the race he said, ‘Look I didn’t have a plan. The two times I’ve won now I didn’t have any plan going into the last lap.’”
With the exception of a 12th-place finish last month at Martinsville, Patrick seems more comfortable at restrictor plate tracks at Talladega and Daytona. Her best finish at the other seven races was a 25th at Kansas.
“I guess I show up here and it’s just a little bit more comfortable,” she said.
INDYCAR SERIES: In Sao Paulo, Ryan Hunter-Reay set a track record Saturday to win the pole position for IndyCar’s Sao Paulo 300.
The defending IndyCar Series champion had a lap of 1 minute, 20.430 seconds at the Anhembi street track, 0.307 ahead of EJ Viso and 0.461 in front of Dario Franchitti.
Helio Castroneves and Will Power, winner of all three previous races in Sao Paulo, didn’t make it past the first round of qualifying after a mechanical problem with the car of James Jakes kept them from posting a fast lap.
Castroneves will start 18th and Power 22nd.