Hamlin Wins Bristol: DiBenedetto Wins Respect

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 18 2019
Drivers Denny Hamlin, left, and Matt DiBenedetto met up in the infield after they had fought for the victory on track in Saturday night’s Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway. (RacinToday/HHP photo Alan Marler)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Denny Hamlin was fighting for his fourth victory of the season Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, but Matt DiBenedetto was fighting for his career.

Hamlin succeeded as he claimed his second Bristol victory and became the third driver this year to win four races. The other two are his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. But the Chesterfield, Va., native believes DiBenedetto succeeded in making a statement for his case to remain in NASCAR’s premier series.

“Matt is doing a phenomenal job of showing his resume in front of everyone,” Hamlin said. “So he doesn’t need to type it out. He’s going out there and performing. Ultimately, the car owners make the decision. There are many car owners that finance cars that are on the race track, good teams. They’ve got to step up and grow some balls and take a chance on somebody they really believe in. That or they can continue to run 15th.

“He will land as good or better on his feet, I’m certain of it, after this year.”

Two days before the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race DiBenedetto announced via Twitter that he would not return to the Leavine Family Racing team in 2020. With laps winding down in Saturday night’s race it appeared the tough half-mile track might soften the career blow DiBenedetto had suffered. But it was not to be as Hamlin ran down the 28-year-old DiBenedetto and passed him with 12 laps remaining in the 500-lap event.

Denny Hamlin, 11 car, and Matt DiBenedetto went door to door Saturday night in Bristol. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Jim Fluharty)

“My first reaction was I was sorry to Matt (DiBenedetto),” Hamlin said shortly after receiving the checkered flag. “I know those guys really wanted to win and Matt deserves a win. Just hate it that I had to take it from him. It is a tough business at times.”

DiBenedetto’s undoing came in the closing laps when he attempted to put the 11th-place Ryan Newman a lap down. The two collided and that changed the handling on DiBenedetto’s Toyota. 

“We got tight after the deal with Newman when he came up into us,” the emotional DiBenedetto said as he fought back tears.

For DiBenedetto it was a devastating loss, but the Grass Valley, Calif., native handled the situation with class, meeting with the media on pit road while the fans cheered him. He even signed autographs for numerous fans before leaving.

“I’ll try not to get emotional, but it’s been a tough week,” said DiBenedetto, who admitted he had been a Hamlin fan since he was a kid. “Something will come open. It’s going to happen. I’m here to win.”

 Even though Hamlin emerged victorious the JGR driver didn’t experience a problem-free night. Twice he had to stop for a loose wheel, a situation that left him having to regain lost laps. He wasn’t in the top 10 at the end of the first two stages. Hamlin finally found his way back into the top 10 with 130 laps remaining, but he was ninth when the race restarted on lap 388 following the eighth and final caution flag. 

“To come from the inside line, pass all those guys, march to the front … that makes me feel pretty good,” Hamlin said. 

 With 100 laps remaining DiBenedetto led and Hamlin was fourth. While DiBenedetto negotiated lapped traffic, Hamlin dispensed first with Brad Keselowski and then Chase Elliott to take over second. He then set his sights on DiBenedetto, catching him with 16 laps to go and snatching the lead from him four laps later. 

Hamlin is now third in the regular season standings, 77 points behind leader Busch, but trails second play Joey Logano by only one. The Cup Series is off next weekend before heading to Darlington, S.C., for Labor Day weekend.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 18 2019
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