Start first, finish first for Hamlin and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing, but it wasn’t all that easy.
Hamlin was dominant in the first stage, swapping the lead back and forth with Kyle Larson six times before Hamlin had a right-rear tire go down after contact. The JGR driver was quiet after Stage 1 until he made contact with race leader Matt DiBenedetto for the lead with 12 to go. Hamlin was able to hold off DiBenedetto for his fourth win of the season.
“It feels good,” Hamlin said to PRN Radio. “My first reaction was, I’m sorry to Matt (DiBenedetto). I mean I know those guys really wanted to win and Matt (DiBenedetto) really deserves to win. Watching him (DiBenedetto) do an interview, I get emotional for him. I just hate that I had to take it from him.”
Hamlin sat on the pole Friday afternoon, which gave him his first pole of the season.
Stage 1: Lap 1 – Lap 125
Hamlin was strong early leading 14 laps before getting stuck in lap traffic, allowing Larson to close in and take the lead. Both drivers would swap the lead a couple of times before a caution on Lap 81 when Hamlin was involved in an accident with Austin Dillon and Jimmie Johnson. Hamlin had to pit under caution for a flat right-rear tire that went down.
There were no more cautions and Larson took the stage win. Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, DiBenedetto, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola rounded out the top-10 finishers for Stage 1. Hamlin finished 11th after pitting for the right-rear tire.
Under the stage break, Larson, Truex, Elliott, Harvick, Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Blaney, Jones and Clint Bowyer were among the ones to pit.
Stage 2: Lap 135 – Lap 250
The second stage has more incidents than Stage 1. On Lap 160, Chicago winner Alex Bowman had a left front tire rub but no caution was warranted. The battle for the lead heated up four laps later with last week’s winner, Harvick and Truex followed suit. Johnson went two laps down on Lap 169. More issues arose for Hamlin on Lap 178 when he reported a loose wheel and he eventually went in to pit on Lap 186. The problem later turned out to be the right-side tire.
The third caution came out on Lap 191 as Almirola made contact with the 54 of J.J. Yeley. Replays later showed that Almirola tried coming down to pass the 54 before being clipped by Yeley. Almirola would later bring out another caution on Lap 214 after being involved in an accident with the 51 of B.J. McLeod. It was a big moment for Kyle Busch as he had been struggling all night and received the free pass to get back on the lead lap. Busch was running 19th at the time of caution.
A close call took place with Blaney on Lap 231 with the 52 of Kyle Weatherman. Blaney may have received right front damage. A caution came out again on Lap 242 as Quin Houff made contact with Bowyer which sent Bowyer spinning up the track in Turn 2. Bowyer escaped without any major damage. The caution would be a huge break for Hamlin as he received the free pass.
This would set up a late Stage 2 restart with three laps to go. The top six of Kurt Busch, Daniel Suarez, William Byron, Newman, Daniel Hemric and Kyle Busch stayed out under caution. Under the caution, Harvick who had led 28 laps, went behind the wall with clutch problems. The No. 4 driver would not return to the race and wound up with a disappointing last-place finish.
By staying out, Kurt Busch was able to win the second stage. Suarez, Newman, Kyle Busch, Byron, Elliott, Jones, Keselowski, Hemric and Truex rounded out the top-10 in Stage 2. Hamlin was 18th in the second stage.
Stage 3: Lap 260 – Lap 500
In the early part of Stage 3, Kyle Busch, who had been struggling earlier, was able to take the lead and led for 11 laps before Keselowski took over for a short while. Both would take the lead several times creating an interesting battle up front. Keselowski eventually took the lead and led 85 laps before battling with Busch again.
On lap 313, Reed Sorenson was out of the race with a clutch problem. The race started to get interesting on Lap 360 as Truex came down pit road with a right front tire down. Just two laps later, Bowman brought out the seventh caution of the night after blowing a left front tire. Joey Logano and Byron would also be caught in the crash with Logano receiving the most damage.
The night would go from bad to worse for Logano as he was caught with a safety violation under caution. Race leaders Kyle Busch, Jones, Larson and Hamlin, among others, made a pit stop as well.
The eighth caution came out for a big wreck on Lap 374. Blaney shot straight up the track in Turn 1 as he couldn’t turn due to a right front tire that went down. He took Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Michael McDowell, David Ragan and Johnson with him. McDowell had heavy damage as did Johnson who had the right side sheet metal torn apart with styrofoam coming out of the side.
After that, there was a long green-flag run with 113 laps to the finish. Race leader Kyle Busch hit the dusty part of the PJ1 which slowed him down and eventually cost him the win. At that point, fan-favorite DiBenedetto skyrocketed to second trying to catch Erik Jones for the lead.
It wasn’t until a few laps later on Lap 396 when DiBenedetto finally passed Jones for the lead. On the same lap, Jones got loose and made contact with the wall and collected Elliott. Jones later had to pit for the damage.
From that point on, DiBenedetto set a blistering pace in search of his first career win. He was lapping cars left and right until he caught Ryan Newman, who is a hard driver to pass on the racetrack. Newman gave DiBenedetto a run for his money.
With DiBenedetto and Newman racing for the lead, Hamlin was able to close in on him, lap by lap. With 12 to go, Hamlin was side-by-side with race leader DiBenedetto. Both made contact on the backstretch, giving the 95 some left front tire damage.
Unfortunately for DiBenedetto, he ran out of time and laps as Hamlin went on to win at Bristol.
“Yeah, he was good,” Hamlin said in describing DiBenedetto’s run. “It was probably the setup I ran last year. Mike Wheeler has a great set up for this place. Matt was just doing a phenomenal job, that’s all you could say. He’s a helluva racecar driver and he’s going to land on his feet in a better ride then he’s got now.”
Despite getting damage early on, Hamlin was able to come back and take home his second win at Bristol.
“It means a lot, it’s emotional for a lot of reasons,” Hamlin added to PRN Radio. “The team is on a roll like I’ve never seen before. It hasn’t been this good in a long time.”
Hamlin led four times for 79 laps before picking up the win at Bristol. He also collected five playoff points in the process.
There were eight cautions for 61 laps and 23 lead changes among 10 different drivers.
Up Next: The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series takes their final off weekend before returning to Darlington International Raceway on Sunday Sept.1.
- Kyle Busch – Four wins
- Denny Hamlin – Four wins
- Martin Truex Jr. – Four wins
- Brad Keselowski – Three wins
- Joey Logano – Two wins
- Kevin Harvick – Two wins
- Chase Elliott – Two wins
- Kurt Busch One win
- Alex Bowman – One win
- Ryan Blaney +95
- Kyle Larson +74
- William Byron +73
- Aric Almirola +63
- Erik Jones +63
- Ryan Newman +12
- Daniel Suarez
- Denny Hamlin – led 79 laps
- Matt DiBenedetto – led 93 laps
- Brad Keselowski – led 91 laps
- Kyle Busch – led 30 laps
- Chase Elliott – led 33 laps
- Kyle Larson – led 62 laps, won Stage 1
- Clint Bowyer
- Daniel Suarez – one lap down
- Kurt Busch – won Stage 2
- Ryan Blaney – one lap down
- Ryan Newman – one lap down
- Daniel Hemric – one lap down
- Martin Truex Jr. – two laps down, led 52 laps
- Bubba Wallace – two laps down
- Alex Bowman – three laps down
- Joey Logano – three laps down
- Chris Buescher – three laps down
- Ryan Preece – three laps down
- Jimmie Johnson – four laps down
- Ty Dillon – four laps down
- William Byron, four laps down
- Erik Jones – five laps down
- Paul Menard – five laps down
- Corey LaJoie – six laps down
- Landon Cassill – 10 laps down
- Ross Chastain – 10 laps down
- Matt Tifft – OUT, Suspension
- J.J. Yeley – 15 laps down
- Aric Almirola – 18 laps down
- Quin Houff – 22 laps down
- Kyle Weatherman – 26 laps down
- B.J. McLeod – OUT, Front Hub
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – OUT, DVP
- Austin Dillon – 113 laps down
- Josh Bilicki – OUT, Fatigue
- David Ragan – OUT, Crash
- Michael McDowell – OUT, Crash
- Reed Sorenson – OUT, Crash
- Kevin Harvick – OUT, Clutch, led 28 laps