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Denny Hamlin: teammates ‘would be dumbest group in history’ if they’d crashed at Talladega

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Hellmann's 500

TALLADEGA, AL - OCTOBER 23: Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Carl Edwards, driver of the #19 Subway Toyota, Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 DeWalt Flexvolt Toyota, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Snickers Halloween Toyota, trail the field during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Hellmann’s 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 23, 2016 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Denny Hamlin defended his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates for riding in the back last weekend at Talladega, saying if they got caught in a crash racing near the front “they would be the dumbest group in history.’’

Fans have criticized Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch, for running in the back all race and finishing 28th, 29th and 30th, respectively. Each driver said they didn’t enjoy it, but that it was best to ensure they advanced to the Round of 8, which begins Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.

“There’s no way those guys should have been up there helping me and risk putting themselves in danger and not making the Chase,’’ Hamlin said Friday.

Kenseth, Edwards and Busch didn’t need to run at the front because they had a large enough lead on those outside a transfer spot entering Talladega. When Chase contenders Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. both suffered engine failures, it allowed the Gibbs trio to continue to run at the back.

Hamlin, though, had to run at the front because he was outside the cutoff entering the race. He finished tied with Austin Dillon for the final transfer spot and got it based on a tiebreaker - Hamlin’s third-place finish at Talladega.

With all three Gibbs cars safe in the back, Hamlin’s run meant all four teams advanced in the Chase — the first time an organization has had four cars reach the Round of 8 since the elimination-style format debuted in 2014.

“I thought it was smart,’’ Hamlin said of the strategy used by his teammates at Talladega. “We all knew what they were going to do before the race started.

“They would be the dumbest group in history if they would have been in the middle of the pack and got wrecked at some point and didn’t have to be. It’s about championships. It’s not about winning Talladega by any means.’’

Hamlin said his teammates “earned the right” to employ such a strategy because they had strong finishes in the first two races of the round.

“Luckily it all worked out where we had all four (advance),’’ Hamlin said. “They played the strategy they had to play to get in, and I did the strategy I had to do to get in. Nobody from any other team would have done anything different that’s for sure. If they tell you different, that would be a lie.’’

Such a tactic likely won’t be used next year when Talladega and Kansas flip dates. Talladega will become the middle race in the Round of 12. Kansas will be the cutoff race for that round.

“I think next year, with the races being switched around, you’ll see less of that because people won’t know where they stand,’’ Hamlin said. “I think it kind of fixes itself next year most likely.’’

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