Denny Hamlin wins wild Bristol shootout

BRISTOL, TN - AUGUST 25: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, poses in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 25, 2012 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Tyler Barrick/Getty Images)

Denny Hamlin is the best short track driver in NASCAR right now. His results don't always match his performances, and as a result, his skills on the smaller tracks are rarely acknowledged. But his record at tracks a mile or shorter speak for itself, especially after winning the IRWIN Tools Night Race Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Bristol is 0.5329999923706055 miles long (I love that stat).

That makes it a short track and the most important such victory of Denny Hamlin's career. For one, the Bristol Night Race is arguably one of the top-five races of the season. Secondly, it all but locked Hamlin into the Chase for the Championship, where he will be one of the favorites once the standings resets after Richmond.

The win is Hamlin's third of the year but first since April. Hamlin had suffered from accidents and Gibbs' suspect engine program, of which the latter is still a concern. But Saturday night's win was a reminder that Hamlin has the ability to win races en masse and compete for the championship, just like he did in 2010.

Hamlin had the car to beat all night. Passing was at a premium and track position was the key to leading laps, unless you were the driver of the No. 11 Toyota. Even when the outside lane rubbered in and racing reverted to a single-file affair, Hamlin was the only driver making progress on the bottom. That's when you knew that Hamlin was likely the driver to beat.

Hamlin struggled to get around leader Carl Edwards but finally completed the pass on lap 462 but not before the two exchanged light contact. Hamlin stretched his lead while Carl Edwards ran out of fuel in the closing laps and finished 22nd - severely damaging his hopes of making the Chase for the Championship.

Hamlin received one last challenge from Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon but navigated through lap traffic easier and cruised to 1.103-second victory over the Hendrick Motorsports teammates. Brian Vickers and Marcos Ambrose completed the top-five.

Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. clinched Chase for the Championship berths while Kyle Busch moved into the second wild-card spot following Ryan Newman's accident earlier in the evening. Busch, Newman and Gordon all have one win and are separated by just 17 points with two races remaining before the championship cutoff.

The complete race results, thoughts on the track surface and some of the race's most exciting stories (Stewart vs. Kenseth) can be found after the jump.

I thought I had a pretty good grasp on all the changes to the track surface after this week's Truck and Nationwide Series races. Instead, Saturday's Sprint Cup Series race provided more questions than answers. When Bruton Smith first ordered the grinding of the concrete on the outer groove, it was assumed that it would create one lane of racing, on the bottom, suggesting the drivers utilize the bump-and-run to complete passes.

Instead, the exact opposite thing happened.

Somewhere in the middle of the race, drivers started noticing a build-up of rubber and grip at the top of the track and migrated towards it. Instead of one lane at the bottom of the track, the only lane for passing was at the top of track. So ultimately, the goal of the repaving was met. Side-by-side racing was largely eliminated and the race was won on a bump-and-run late in the race.

The lasting memory from Saturday's race is sure to be the altercation between Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth.

It was the surest sign that the Bristol of old was starting to stir from a deep sleep. Kenseth and Stewart exchanged the lead on a series of slide jobs on lap 332, leading to contact between the two on the exit of turn one.

Stewart responded by slamming into the side of Kenseth's Ford, sending both cars into the frontstretch retaining wall. This ended the night for both drivers, and led to Tony Stewart tossing his helmet directly at Kenseth's hood.

Kenseth1_medium

And from the inside of Kenseth's car.
Kenseth2_medium

This is the type of racing and intensity fans demanded and Saturday's race delivered.

Kenseth and Stewart's relationship has been rocky ever since an altercation earlier in the season at Indianapolis. But Stewart appeared to egg this conflict on, steering into Kenseth's Ford as the two crossed the start-finish line.

It's a shame for both drivers as Kenseth was looking to build momentum nearing the Chase and Stewart had fought back from a lap down to compete for the win.

Stewart's decision negated a lot of hard work by both the driver and his over-the-wall crew. And I'll add that it's fortunate for him that he doesn't have to answer to a car owner. Decisions liked this had previously led to closed door meetings between himself and Coach Joe Gibbs.

That's just one of the many stories to develop out of an exciting weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway. And after several lackluster races at the Speedway in recent years, that's likely the most thrilling story of them all.

Audiovisual

Stewart throws his helmet at Kenseth's No. 17 after ... (via TheOfficialNASCAR)

Final Laps: Hamlin wins the battle vs. Edwards (via TheOfficialNASCAR)

Post-Race Reactions: Bristol (via TheOfficialNASCAR)

Race Results

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race Number 24
Unofficial Race Results for the 52Nd Annual Irwin Tools Night Race - Saturday,
August 25, 2012
Bristol Motor Speedway - Bristol, TN - .533 Mile Paved
Total Race Length - 500 Laps - 266.5 Miles - Purse: $6,255,621
Fin Str Car Driver Team Laps Pts Bns Driver Rating Winnings Status Tms Laps
1 8 11 Denny Hamlin FedEx Ground Toyota 500 47 4 136.2 $329,441 Running 5 70
2 37 48 Jimmie Johnson Lowe's Dover White Chevrolet 500 43 1 103.1 $250,051 Running 1 52
3 11 24 Jeff Gordon Farm Ville/Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet 500 41 113.9 $205,026 Running
4 22 55 Brian Vickers MyClassicGarage.com Toyota 500 41 1 98.5 $139,215 Running 1 1
5 9 9 Marcos Ambrose DeWalt Ford 500 40 1 102.6 $153,398 Running 1 1
6 10 18 Kyle Busch M&M's Toyota 500 38 103.4 $161,998 Running
7 23 15 Clint Bowyer 5-hour Energy Toyota 500 37 101.9 $141,554 Running
8 4 20 Joey Logano Dollar General Toyota 500 38 2 119.5 $130,440 Running 4 139
9 12 5 Kasey Kahne Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet 500 36 1 86.2 $117,515 Running 1 42
10 7 27 Paul Menard Menards/Schrock Chevrolet 500 34 82.8 $117,640 Running
11 15 56 Martin Truex Jr. NAPA Auto Parts Toyota 500 34 1 104.9 $134,119 Running 1 44
12 16 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet 500 33 1 83.8 $112,780 Running 1 13
13 28 42 Juan Pablo Montoya Target Chevrolet 500 31 84.4 $133,921 Running
14 36 47 Bobby Labonte Bush's Beans Toyota 500 30 64.5 $130,388 Running
15 13 29 Kevin Harvick Rheem Chevrolet 500 29 92.0 $149,741 Running
16 14 78 Regan Smith Furniture Row/Farm American Chevrolet 500 28 70.4 $125,813 Running
17 26 1 Jamie McMurray Bass Pro Shops/Allstate Chevrolet 500 27 67.4 $132,038 Running
18 41 93 Travis Kvapil Burger King/Dr. Pepper Toyota 500 26 60.2 $122,488 Running
19 3 16 Greg Biffle 3M/Bondo Ford 500 26 1 83.0 $108,555 Running 2 41
20 18 38 David Gilliland Taco Bell Ford 500 24 62.9 $111,963 Running
21 1 13 Casey Mears GEICO Ford 499 24 1 64.5 $113,477 Running 1 26
22 27 99 Carl Edwards Fastenal Ford 496 23 1 76.9 $141,246 Running 2 45
23 30 98 Michael McDowell K-Love/Curb Records Ford 496 21 48.9 $93,805 Running
24 33 83 Landon Cassill Burger King/Dr. Pepper Toyota 490 20 48.3 $122,850 Running
25 17 17 Matt Kenseth Valvoline NextGen Ford 486 20 1 84.1 $142,041 Running 2 25
26 25 36 Dave Blaney Seal Wrap Chevrolet 476 18 57.2 $94,780 Accident
27 21 14 Tony Stewart Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet 471 18 1 65.7 $144,585 Running 1 1
28 20 51 Kurt Busch Phoenix Construction Chevrolet 440 16 61.3 $101,525 Running
29 43 10 Danica Patrick(i) Go Daddy Racing Chevrolet 434 0 46.3 $90,640 Accident
30 2 2 Brad Keselowski Miller Lite Dodge 434 14 87.5 $130,025 Running
31 39 49 Jason Leffler(i) America Isarael Racing Toyota 417 0 38.7 $90,895 Running
32 24 34 David Ragan Glory Foods Ford 409 12 40.3 $90,285 Running
33 6 31 Jeff Burton Caterpillar Chevrolet 360 11 86.2 $132,525 Running
34 29 22 Sam Hornish Jr.(i) Shell Pennzoil Dodge 343 0 43.7 $134,890 Running
35 5 43 Aric Almirola Goody's Ford 235 9 63.6 $127,116 Accident
36 19 39 Ryan Newman Outback Steakhouse Chevrolet 189 8 47.0 $134,228 Accident
37 31 30 David Stremme Inception Motorsports Toyota 159 7 34.5 $89,660 Rear Gear
38 32 26 Josh Wise # MDS Transport Ford 150 6 32.0 $91,052 Brakes
39 40 87 Joe Nemechek(i) AM/FM Energy Wood & Pellet Stoves/AC Genral 130 0 31.0 $86,110 Electrical
40 38 33 Stephen Leicht # LittleJoesAuto.com Chevrolet 56 4 30.6 $85,975 Fuel Pressure
41 35 23 Scott Riggs North Texas Pipe Chevrolet 20 3 29.8 $85,750 Brakes
42 42 32 Ken Schrader Federated Auto Parts Ford 9 2 28.9 $93,910 Accident
43 34 19 Mike Bliss(i) Plinker Tactical Toyota 6 0 28.4 $85,960 Power

Race Comments: Before an estimated attendance of 145,000, Denny Hamlin won the Irwin Tools Night Race, his 20th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory. There were no cars that dropped to the rear of the field prior to the green flag.
Failed to Qualify: (4) 95, 79, 91, 37.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 09 Mins, 27 Secs. Average Speed: 84.402 MPH Margin of Victory: 1.103 Seconds
Caution Flags: 13 for 87 laps: Laps: 11-17 (#32, 49 accident Frontstretch [None]); 83-89 (Debris in Turn 2 [98]); 123-129 (#22, 34 accident Turn 4 [17]); 149-158 (#34 spin Turn 4 [14]); 192-199 (#42, 39, 31 accident Turn 4 [5]); 225-230 (#43, 38 accident Turn 1 [10]); 272-276 (#2, 47 accident Backstretch [55]); 323-328 (#78, 51 accident Frontstretch [55]); 334-339 (#14, 17 accident Frontstretch [78]); 347-352 (#36 accident Turn 1 [78]); 415-419 (#13 accident Turns 1 & 2 [10]); 424-429 (Debris in Turn 1 [13]); 436-443 (#10, 78 accident Frontstretch [98]).
Lead Changes: 22 among 13 drivers: C. Mears 1-26; J. Logano 27-84; D. Hamlin 85; J. Logano 86-107; K. Kahne 108-149; J. Logano 150-192; D. Earnhardt Jr. 193-205; D. Hamlin 206-226; G. Biffle 227-253; M. Kenseth 254-272; J. Johnson 273-324; D. Hamlin 325; M. Kenseth 326-331; T. Stewart 332; J. Logano 333-348; M. Ambrose 349; G. Biffle 350-363; M. Truex Jr. 364-407; D. Hamlin 408-415; C. Edwards 416-443; B. Vickers 444; C. Edwards 445-461; D. Hamlin 462-500.
Top 12 Driver Points: (1) G. Biffle 849;(2) J. Johnson 838;(3) D. Earnhardt Jr. 834;(4) M. Kenseth 823;(5) M. Truex Jr. 797;(6) C. Bowyer 794;(7) B. Keselowski 790;(8) D. Hamlin 774;(9) K. Harvick 767;(10) T. Stewart 746;(11) K. Kahne 730;(12) C. Edwards 712.
3M Lap Leader : Joey Logano, #20 139 Laps American Ethanol Green Flag Restart Award : Joey Logano, #20
DIRECTV Crew Chief of the Race : Denny Hamlin, #11 crew chief Darian Grubb Mahle Clevite Engine Builder of the Race : Toyota Racing Development (TRD), #11
Mobil 1 Oil Driver of the Race : Denny Hamlin, #11 Moog Chassis Parts Problem Solver of the Race : Jimmie Johnson, #48 crew chief Chad Knaus, 0.215 seconds
Sunoco Rookie of the Race : Josh Wise, #26 USG Improving the Finish : Jimmie Johnson, #48 35 places
(i) Ineligible for driver points in this series
Next Race: Sep. 2, 2012 - Atlanta Motor Speedway
NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications @ P.O. Box 2875, Daytona Beach, FL 32120-2875

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