Denny Hamlin Makes Statement With NASCAR Playoffs Win At Bristol Motor Speedwayby Hunter Thomas September 16, 2023 1 comment
BRISTOL, Tenn. – After coming up short the past two weekends, Denny Hamlin made a statement with a win in the Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 FedEx Toyota team nearly swept the opening round of the NASCAR Playoffs. In Darlington, Hamlin was the driver to beat, but a potential loose wheel and a crash ruined his chances after leading the most laps. Last weekend at Kansas Speedway, Hamlin had another strong run, and he came up just one spot short of victory. This weekend at Bristol, Hamlin led 142 laps and outran Kyle Larson in lapped traffic to earn his third-career Bristol victory.
“Man, everybody likes a winner, right,” Hamlin said. “Can’t thank this whole FedEx team enough. They’ve really kicked ass this whole first round. Really amazing how our team has been. So happy about the way we’re running. Can’t wait to keep going.”
With Hamlin’s performance so far in this year’s NASCAR Playoffs, you can’t help but consider that his team is the favorite to win this season’s championship. The 42-year-old feels the say way as well.
“It’s our year,” Hamlin said. “I just feel like we’ve got it all put together. We’ve got the speed every single type of racetrack. Nothing to stop us at this point.”
Equally as impressive as Hamlin’s performance is Kyle Larson’s most recent efforts. The Hendrick Motorsports driver continued to ride his momentum in Bristol as well. On Labor Day weekend, Larson finally won his first-ever Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, and then he finished fourth at Kansas Speedway. This weekend, Larson finished out Stage 1 in eighth and Stage 2 in third. In the final laps, Larson attempted to chase down Hamlin, but he just couldn’t get to him in enough time.
“I’m definitely happy to finish second,” Larson said. “The race went a lot better than I thought it would. Thankfully, the No. 1 (Ross Chastain) and the No. 4 (Kevin Harvick) went a lap down – they were pitted behind me and in front of me, and had they been on the same lap as us, that would have been very difficult for all of us. So got fortunate there, which made pit stops much easier.
“And our No. 5 Valvoline Chevy was good, too. I feel like we had the second-best car and we finished second with it. We just didn’t have the pace that Denny had. He was really, really fast and got through traffic really well. I thought maybe his balance was fading when we got to traffic, but as soon as he got clear of them, he took back off. Just didn’t quite have the balance that I needed to really charge through the corners and be aggressive on the throttle and exit. We made it better on that final run, but just not quite enough.”
Christopher Bell finished third dominated Stages 1 and 2, while also leading a race high of 187 laps, but he had to settle for a third-place finish after battling a tight car in the closing laps.
Last year’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race winner, Chris Buescher finished fourth, followed by Ty Gibbs, Michael McDowell, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, William Byron and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
There were six cautions for 53 laps. The most notable caution came on Lap 263, when Corey LaJoie got loose and lost control entering Turn 3. The crash involved five other drivers, including Joey Logano who ended up being eliminated from the NASCAR Playoffs after finishing 34th.
“Obviously, it’s a real bummer,” Logano said. “You get out of the race like that and you’re behind the wall and you’re in denial for a minute. You don’t want to believe that it happened and you want to think that it’s fixable, but the car was tore up too bad.”
Bristol was an elimination round. Driver advancing to the Round of 12 include: William Byron, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Chris Buescher, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Ross Chastain, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney and Bubba Wallace.
In addition to Logano being eliminated, so was Kevin Harvick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Michael McDowell.
The opening race of the Round of 12 will kickoff at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, Sept. 24. Live coverage of the AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400 will broadcast on USA at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Photo Credit: Hunter Thomas/TheFourthTurn.com