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Hamlin Slides To First, Biggest Victory At Bristol

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 26 2012

Denny Hamlin crosses the finish line to win his first Sprint Cup race at Bristol. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Denny Hamlin claimed his first-ever Bristol Motor Speedway victory in Saturday’s IRWIN Tools Night Race, four drivers clinched spots in the Chase and four drivers emerged tied for the Chase’s top seed, but Tony Stewart’s helmet throw will undoubtedly receive top billing on next week’s highlights and YouTube.

Intensity was high Saturday night in both the emotional and racing departments at the tough half-mile track, so as far as Hamlin was concerned the old Bristol had returned. In the 500-lap race:

– Stewart threw his helmet at Matt Kenseth’s No. 17 Ford after the two wrecked on the frontstretch while battling for the lead.

– Danica Patrick shook a finger at Regan Smith after a tag in the left rear sent her spinning on lap 435.

– There were 13 caution periods, the most at Bristol since March 25, 2007 when there were 15. The 2007 race was the last one before the track was reconfigured.

– The 22 lead changes tied the race for fifth most in 105 Bristol Sprint Cup races.

– Drivers who encountered trouble early in the race fought back to top-10 finishes.

Even Hamlin was amazed at a victory he described as the “biggest win” of his career.

“We had no water in the car and we were 300 degrees early on in the race,” Hamlin said. “All of the gauges pegged, shooting water out like it’s a superspeedway race. Evidently we had an electrical fan or a radio fan go bad. So we spewed most of our water out. We hit the wall pretty good. We hit Landon Cassill on pit road. I told Darian (Grubb, crew chief) the more stuff that we hit the faster it went. As soon as you think it’s over, it’s like, ‘Man! We hit something. Oh, man, this thing is awesome!’”

Hamlin’s 20th career victory and third this season ties him with Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Stewart for the most victories this year. That also ties those four drivers for the top seed in the Chase. Hamlin’s victory elevated him to eighth in the standings with two races remaining before the Chase begins.

Standings leader Greg Biffle, Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth are all guaranteed a position in the Chase. Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch currently own the wildcard spots.

It was the racing, however, that once again created a wide range of opinions.

“It’s just a different kind of racing,” said Hamlin, who led five times for 70 laps. “There’s nothing he’s [Bruton Smith] going to do that’s going to make us run the bottom; that’s not the fastest way around the track. But it was the same thing (that it used to be), we were all running in the line and just waiting on the next guy to screw up to get around. The slide job was an option to pass …that won us the race.

“You had to be very aware of what was behind you before you even attempted to pass the guy in front of you. You had to have at least a two-car length gap behind you before you could actually work a guy to the low side. If you got pinned down there for a couple laps, the guy behind you would fill the hole every time and you would end up going backwards. It was a constant freight train up high of cars. I felt like we were the only car that could really pass like we could.”

Hamlin, who averaged 84.402 mph and finished 1.103 seconds ahead of Johnson, noted the high line was preferred by everyone because when it was ground it made it a little more abrasive.

“The abrasiveness was filled in by rubber and then it made it have more grip than the actual surface itself,” Hamlin said. “Even though the banking was cut out, the grip level superseded the amount of banking that was taken out.”

The bump-and-run also was replaced by the “slide-job.” Jeff Gordon, who finished third, noted that was the only way to pass.

“Sometimes you don’t complete that, but if you don’t complete that, it definitely will get you frustrated and lose positions,” Gordon said, “and if you hit the guy, it’s going to fire him up. I guess that’s what they were trying to accomplish, make it hard to pass so you had to kind of bump the guy out of the way.

“There’s no more bump-and-run, but there’s definitely plenty of slide jobs and side-by-side action where guys are rubbing up on one another and maybe try to get in their fenders.”

Keselowski who was involved in a two-car accident on lap 271said he wasn’t prepared for the track to “drive this stupid.” He said it was now a more “aerodynamic fest.”

Joey Logano, who led four times for 139 laps but finished eighth, described the event as “the most frustrating race I think I’ve ever been a part of. You just couldn’t do anything.”

Earnhardt Jr., who placed 12th, said he had fun with the new surface.

“I don’t know what the fans thought about the race, but I really enjoyed it.”

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

RACE RESULTS

1. (8) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 500, $329,441.

2. (37) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 500, $250,051.

3. (11) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 500, $205,026.

4. (22) Brian Vickers, Toyota, 500, $139,215.

5. (9) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 500, $153,398.

6. (10) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 500, $161,998.

7. (23) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 500, $141,554.

8. (4) Joey Logano, Toyota, 500, $130,440.

9. (12) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 500, $117,515.

10. (7) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 500, $117,640.

11. (15) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 500, $134,119.

12. (16) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 500, $112,780.

13. (28) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 500, $133,921.

14. (36) Bobby Labonte, Toyota, 500, $130,388.

15. (13) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 500, $149,741.

16. (14) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 500, $125,813.

17. (26) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 500, $132,038.

18. (41) Travis Kvapil, Toyota, 500, $122,488.

19. (3) Greg Biffle, Ford, 500, $108,555.

20. (18) David Gilliland, Ford, 500, $111,963.

21. (1) Casey Mears, Ford, 499, $113,477.

22. (27) Carl Edwards, Ford, 496, $141,246.

23. (30) Michael McDowell, Ford, 496, $93,805.

24. (33) Landon Cassill, Toyota, 490, $122,850.

25. (17) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 486, $142,041.

26. (25) Dave Blaney, Chevrolet, Accident, 476, $94,780.

27. (21) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 471, $144,585.

28. (20) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 440, $101,525.

29. (43) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, Accident, 434, $90,640.

30. (2) Brad Keselowski, Dodge, 434, $130,025.

31. (39) Jason Leffler, Toyota, 417, $90,895.

32. (24) David Ragan, Ford, 409, $90,285.

33. (6) Jeff Burton, Chevrolet, 360, $132,525.

34. (29) Sam Hornish Jr., Dodge, 343, $134,890.

35. (5) Aric Almirola, Ford, Accident, 235, $127,116.

36. (19) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, Accident, 189, $134,228.

37. (31) David Stremme, Toyota, Rear Gear, 159, $89,660.

38. (32) Josh Wise, Ford, Brakes, 150, $91,052.

39. (40) Joe Nemechek, Toyota, Electrical, 130, $86,110.

40. (38) Stephen Leicht, Chevrolet, Fuel Pressure, 56, $85,975.

41. (35) Scott Riggs, Chevrolet, Brakes, 20, $85,750.

42. (42) Ken Schrader, Ford, Accident, 9, $93,910.

43. (34) Mike Bliss, Toyota, Power Steering, 6, $85,960.

RACE STATISTICS

Average Speed of Race Winner: 84.402 mph.

Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 09 Mins, 27 Secs.

Margin of Victory: 1.103 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 13 for 87 laps.

Lead Changes: 22 among 13 drivers.

Lap Leaders: 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.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): J. Logano 4 times for 139 laps; D. Hamlin 5 times for 70 laps; J. Johnson 1 time for 52 laps; C. Edwards 2 times for 45 laps; M. Truex Jr. 1 time for 44 laps; K. Kahne 1 time for 42 laps; G. Biffle 2 times for 41 laps; C. Mears 1 time for 26 laps; M. Kenseth 2 times for 25 laps; D. Earnhardt Jr. 1 time for 13 laps; M. Ambrose 1 time for 1 lap; T. Stewart 1 time for 1 lap; B. Vickers 1 time for 1 lap.

Top 12 in Points: G. Biffle – 849; J. Johnson – 838; D. Earnhardt Jr. – 834; M. Kenseth – 823; M. Truex Jr. – 797; C. Bowyer – 794; B. Keselowski – 790; D. Hamlin – 774; K. Harvick – 767; T. Stewart – 746; K. Kahne – 730; C. Edwards – 712.

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 26 2012
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