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Hamlin wins action-packed Cup race at Bristol

August 26, 2012, NASCAR Wire Service,

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- -- It wasn't the old Bristol, but it was definitely a better Bristol.

""It's Bristol -- I don't know what to say, man. I'm so damn happy."


Denny Hamlin saved his best effort for the stretch run in 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."

*Video: Denny Hamlin beats Bristol

But it wasn't the same Bristol that played in March. On the contrary, grinding two degrees of banking off the outside lane -- a project orchestrated after the March race -- helped produce an abundance of action, but perhaps not in the way track owner Bruton Smith intended.

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.

Jeff Gordon ran third, followed by Brian Vickers and Marcos Ambrose.

Greg Biffle (19th), runner-up Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (12th) clinched berths in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

On the newly-ground surface at the .533-mile short track, the race featured 13 cautions and plenty of emotion.

To Hamlin, the racing was similar to the old Bristol -- just that cars ran single-file in the top groove instead of on the bottom of the track.

"It's just a different kind of racing," said Hamlin, who won the 20th Cup race of his career and the record 200th for the No. 11. "There's nothing [Smith is] going to do that's going to make us run the bottom, if that's not the fastest way around the track. But it was the same thing -- we were all running in a line. You're just waiting for the next guy to screw up to get around [him].

"That's what we had to do with the old Bristol, and that's exactly how we had to race today. The slide-job was an option to pass, which won us the race. I don't think we saw as much side-by-side racing, but you didn't see side-by-side racing with the old Bristol. You just saw a bunch of cars in line, waiting for someone to get knocked out of the way or to mess up."

There were plenty of flare-ups to punctuate the racing. Juan Montoya wrecked his old nemesis, Ryan Newman, and dropped him out of a provisional wild-card spot. Brad Keselowski's Dodge with the throwback paint scheme pinballed between three different cars before wrecking.

Contact from Regan Smith sent Danica Patrick hard into the frontstretch wall.

"The pace was fast," said Gordon, who inched closer to a wild-card spot in the Chase but still trails Kyle Busch by 16 points for the second of two positions. "You'd fly up around the top like that with all that rubber down. . . . It was fast, and it was intense.

"The only way you could pass was to just dive on in there and slide-job the guy, and sometimes you don't complete that. And when you don't complete that, it definitely will get you frustrated and [you] lose positions, and if you hit the guy, it's going to fire him up."

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 dropped a spot to 10th in the standings, 16 points ahead of Kasey Kahne in 11th. If Stewart should drop out of the top 10, he won't get bonus points for his three victories when the Chase starts.

Kenseth finished 25th and fell two spots to fourth in points, but he clinched at least a wild-card berth in the Chase.


• Denny Hamlin pulled down his 20th career win, and third this season, in his 247th race.
• There are now four drivers, including Denny Hamlin, with a Cup-high three wins in 2012.
• It's Denny Hamlin's first Bristol win in his 14th race -- previous best finish a 2nd in March 2009.
• Denny Hamlin got his seventh short-track win, and first at Bristol.
• Denny Hamlin led five times for 70 laps, including the final 39.
• That victory was number 200 for the No. 11 car in the Cup Series, the most by a single car number.
• Joe Gibbs Racing got its 98th all-time win, and sixth at Bristol.
• It's the fifth win of 2012 for Joe Gibbs Racing.
• Joe Gibbs Racing has won five of the last eight races at Bristol, and 14 of the last 22 on short tracks.
• Jimmie Johnson (second) had his seventh top-five finish at Bristol, including five of the last seven races.
• Jeff Gordon (third) grabbed his fifth top-five finish of the season, including three of the last five races.
• Brian Vickers (fourth) has top-five finishes in both Bristol races this season, third top-five in six starts in 2012.
• Marcos Ambrose (fifth) notched fourth straight top-10 finish of 2012, third straight top-five.
• Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. all clinched spots in the Chase.
• Drivers 4th-10th in points can clinch Chase spots next week in Atlanta.

The wreck with Smith on Lap 434 relegated Patrick to 29th in her fourth Cup start. Patrick, who was sandbagged by a sneaker in last week's Nationwide Series race at Montreal, was running on the lead lap in the top 20 before the other shoe finally dropped.