Denny Hamlin soaring after Dega win

"I looked in the mirror and saw the smoke behind me," Biffle said, "and I wasn't really sure whether the caution had come out, and I didn't know what to do.

"I thought about making my move on the 11 [Hamlin] right then, because I had a huge run, and I could have. And then probably off [Turn] 2 I could have got beside him and sucked by him.

"But I just didn't want to pass too early."

With the drafting freight train behind him, a premature move would have meant "I was going to be 15th by the time we got back around to the start-finish line.

"So I was just waiting. I was backing up off him quite a bit on the backstretch [to make a run] and I got probably 2½ or three cars away from him and they said, 'Caution's out.'

"I was setting up to go by him, but I just never had the chance. I wish I'd known we weren't going to race all the way back."

At the white flag, "I liked the situation I was in, for sure," Bowyer said. "I knew Greg was going to try something, and we did have a big push at him. You see those guys crashing in your rearview mirror and you're like, well, history has shown that usually if they're straightened up, not sitting in the middle of the racetrack, we're going to finish this thing under green."

But Bowyer, too, knew that "you pull out right then, you might be 15th by the time you get 2 miles over here to the start-finish line ... uh ..." And his voice trailed off and he said resignedly, "we finished third."

That was all there was to it.

And so, Bowyer's winless streak in Cup extended to 51 races, back to 2012. Biffle's slump went to 31 races, back to last summer.

Talladega threw up a break for grabs among the three, and Hamlin caught it.

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