The newly surfaced Bristol Motor Speedway provided plenty of drama and caution flags on Saturday night. For Denny Hamlin, it was just another race in Tennessee.
“It’s Bristol. I don’t know what to say, man,” Hamlin retorted after winning the Irwin Tools Night Race, explaining the grinding down of the road surface didn’t change the overall racing experience at the track. “It was the same thing – we were all running in a line. That’s what we had to do with the old Bristol, and that’s exactly how we had to race today. I don’t think we saw as much side-by-side racing, but you didn’t see side-by-side racing at the old Bristol. You just saw a bunch of guys in line, waiting for someone to get knocked out of the way or to mess up.”
Hamlin took over the lead on lap 462, of 500, when he went past Carl Edwards and then held off a charge by Jimmie Johnson, who could get no closer than within a second of the race winner. Jeff Gordon finished third in the race.
“I’m so damn happy,” he said. It was Hamlin’s third win of the season, but he has yet to secure his spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup despite being in the top 10. “We feel pretty good about where we’re at. There’s two races left. I think the only reason I’m not (secured in the Chase) is because of the 14 (Tony Stewart).”
The drivers sitting in places one through 10 in the standings are automatically part of the championship chase, with the two with most points in places 11 to 20 also making the run for the Sprint Cup. Greg Biffle, Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. clinched berths in the Chase. The three sit at the top of the Sprint Cup standings.
The next race on the Sprint Cup schedule is the AdvoCare 500, at the Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sept. 2. The Chase for the Sprint Cup begins in earnest on Sept. 16 in Chicago, with the Geico 400.