Denny Hamlin saved his best for the last stretch of Saturday’s IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, and his persistence paid off with the No. 11 team’s third win of the season in 24 Sprint Cup Series races.
“It’s Bristol — I don’t know what to say, man,” Hamlin said as he crossed the finish line. “I’m so damn happy.”
After a heated battle, Hamlin passed Carl Edwards for the lead on Lap 462 but didn’t clear the No. 99 Ford until both drivers traded shots. As Edwards faded, Hamlin pulled away to beat Jimmie Johnson to the checkered flag by 1.103 seconds.
On the newly-ground surface at the .533-mile short track, the race featured 13 cautions and plenty of emotion.
No wreck was more significant to the outcome of the race — or to the Cup standings, for that matter — than Tony Stewart’s dustup with Matt Kenseth on Lap 332. Stewart had the faster car, but Kenseth had the race lead, and their cars collided as they powered through Turn 4, with Stewart to the outside.
Repeated contact between the cars turned both sideways as they crossed the start/finish line. Kenseth’s Ford careened into the inside wall at the end of the frontstretch, with Stewart’s Chevrolet slamming into Kenseth’s car.
Kenseth’s car was wounded, but he drove away from the wreck. Stewart climbed from his car and slung his helmet squarely into the nose of Kenseth’s car.
“We weren’t that great of a race car, but we were definitely faster than [Kenseth's car] after that restart [on Lap 329],” Stewart said while his car spent 25 laps in the garage for repairs. “I checked up twice to not run over him, and I learned my lesson there.
“I’m going to run over him every chance I’ve got from now till the end of the year — every chance I’ve got.”
Stewart finished 27th and Kenseth 25th.
A late wreck relegated Danica Patrick to 29th in her fourth Cup start.