Hamlin wins at Bristol!
It was an impressive night for Joe Gibbs Racing with Denny Hamlin capturing his third win of the season and all three teams starting and finishing in the top ten for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Denny Hamlin led the way with his first career victory at the half-mile track, while Kyle Busch battled to an impressive sixth-place finish and Joey Logano led the most laps before coming home in eighth.
Hamlin started the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota in eighth and was able to move into the top five shortly after the drop of the green flag. Hamlin’s Camry was fast through the early going as he took over fourth on lap 76. Hamlin would have some trouble during the first round of stops when the No. 83 car made contact with the FedEx Toyota on pit road. Hamlin would restart sixth on lap 89 and managed to remain inside the top ten despite the mishap. He would restart sixth on lap 130 and managed to re-enter the top five take over fourth just a few laps later. Crew chief Darian Grubb would make the call to bring Hamlin down pit road under the next caution on lap 148 and with various pit strategies at play he would restart the race on lap 159 in the 21st position. Hamlin would regain several spots on the track but with various pit strategies he was able to remain out when the next caution flew and that allowed him to restart second on lap 200. Hamlin lost a couple of spots on the restart, but all allowed was the opportunity to display just how fast his FedEx Camry could deliver. By lap 207 Hamlin had taken his place at the front of the field and he would lead until the next round of pit stops. With various pit strategies at play Hamlin would shuffle track position several times. With 100 laps to go Hamlin would be racing in second just behind the leader and eight laps later he would retake the lead. The FedEx team would give up the lead to hit pit road a final time following another caution on lap 413. That would leave Hamlin to restart eighth with 81 laps to go. He would manage to drive up to fourth with 60 to go. He would be racing in third with 50 laps to go and second with 40 laps to go before taking the lead in an intense battle with the 99 car with 38 laps remaining. Once back at the front he never looked back and led the rest of the way to earn his third victory of the season.
Busch, who has five career victories at Bristol Motor Speedway, started the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota in 10th and would find it difficult to pass through the first quarter of the race on the newly re-figured half-mile track. Busch would get hit with a pit road speeding penalty while make his first stop of the night on lap 84. Then penalty left him to start at the end of the lead lap cars when the race restarted. That left Busch back in 30th place, but by the time the next caution came out on lap 123 he had already raced his way into the 21st position. He was able to restart 16th on lap 130 and gained a couple additional spots just a few laps later. Another caution would come out on lap 148 and crew chief Dave Rogers would make the call not to pit but remain out on the track for additional track position. That allowed Busch to restart sixth on lap 159. The various pit strategies would work in the other direction when a caution on lap 193 sent the 18 car to pit road while many others remained out on the track. That would drop Busch back outside the top 15 to restart on lap 200. The various pit strategies at play would shuffle the field several times over the next portion of the race. The M&Ms team would make the decision to pit following a lap 322 caution for four tires and fuel in hopes that they could make a quicker two-tire stop later in the race when others would be taking four. Busch was racing in third when another caution on lap 413 would set up that final stop for Busch. That would line him up 10th with 81 laps to go. He would drive his way up to seventh with 50 laps remaining and would go on to finish the night in sixth-place. The solid finish put Busch back in the second of the two wild-card spots for The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship.
Logano, who won the Nationwide Series race in his Dollar General Toyota on Friday night, started Saturday evening fourth in his No. 20 Dollar General Toyota. Logano quickly moved into the second position and patiently waited for the opportunity to take the lead which he would do on lap 27. He would lead the next 80 laps before finally turning over the spot to the No. 5 car on lap 107. He would regain the top spot just forty laps later when crew chief Jason Ratcliff made the decision to remain on the track and not pit after the night’s next caution on lap 148. That allowed Logano to restart first again on lap 159 and he would lead until coming to pit road under caution on lap 193. With various pit strategies at play Logano would go back and forth with track position over the next several pit stops. He would retake the lead on lap 333 while running third when the leaders wrecked into each other. Logano would lead until the team would pit following the next caution on lap 346. When another caution came out on lap 413, the Dollar General team would make the call to remain on the track and restart sixth with 81 laps to go. Logano would manage to bring his No. 20 Camry home with an impressive eighth-place finish which included leading the most laps on the night at 139.
Jimmie Johnson was second behind Hamlin, while Jeff Gordon was third, Brian Vickers fourth and Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top five. There were 13 cautions for a total of 88 laps with 27 lead changes among 18 different drivers.
Two races remain before the field for The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship is set. The Series moves south to Atlanta for a special Sunday night battle under the lights. The race will be held next Sunday, September 2 at 7:30 PM ET. ESPN will provide live high-definition coverage of the race starting at 7 PM ET. Sirius NASCAR radio channel 90 and MRN Radio will also provide live coverage.
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