Denny Hamlin gets by Matt DiBenedetto for Bristol Motor Speedway win
Denny Hamlin claimed his fourth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win of 2019 in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday night. The win puts him in a three-way tie with Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. for most victories through the first 24 races of the season.
“It feels good. My first reaction was I was sorry to Matt [DiBenedetto]. I know those guys really wanted to win and Matt deserves a win, but - I’m watching him do an interview, I get emotional for him. Just hate it that I had to take it from him.”
Hamlin led 67 laps early before suffering damage in a lap-80 crash between Austin Dillon and Jimmie Johnson and going a lap down because of an unscheduled pit stop for a loose wheel on lap 185. But he took his race-winning lead when he passed Matt DiBenedetto on lap 489 of the 500-lap race.
“He was good,” Hamlin said of DiBenedetto, whose Leavine Family Racing team has a technical alliance with Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing team and whose crew chief, Mike Wheeler, is Hamlin’s former crew chief. “I knew it was something; that car, it was probably a set up that I ran last year. I know Mike Wheeler has a great set up for this place and Matt was just doing a phenomenal job. That’s all you can say. He’s just a hell of a race car driver. He’s going to land on his feet in a better ride than he’s got now.”
DiBenedetto, days after announcing he would be losing his seat in the LFR #95 car, finished a career-best second after leading a race-high 93 laps, nearly a quarter of the race.
“I don’t even know what to say,” an emotional DiBenedetto said. “I’m so sad we didn’t win but proud, proud of the effort. I got tight, there, from the damage from trying to get by [Ryan] Newman, and that immediately flipped a switch and got tight. Man, this opportunity has been – that’s what I want everybody to know, how thankful I am that I got this opportunity and to work with great people like “Wheels,” my crew chief. I am so thankful everyone on this team gave me this opportunity – all of our sponsors, ProCore, Dumont Jet, Anest Iwata spray equipment, Toyota for backing me this year, everybody at Leavine Family Racing. I want to try not to get emotional, but it’s been a tough week, and I want to stick around and I want to win. That’s all I want to do is win in the Cup Series, and we were close. It’s so hard to be that close, but it’s neat to race door-to-door with Denny Hamlin, someone who I’ve been a fan of since I was a kid. It’s amazing. Great day, but this one is going to hurt for sure.”
Brad Keselowski finished third after leading 91 laps. Kyle Busch was fourth, and Chase Elliott rounded out the top-five.
Hamlin and Kyle Larson traded the lead back and fourth several times before Hamlin sustained damage to his race car, and Larson went on to win the first 125-lap stage of the race.
Elliott, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. each led laps in the second stage before Kurt Busch took the lead by staying out when most of the previous frontrunners pitted during a lap-243 caution for a Clint Bowyer spin. Kurt Busch remained up front long enough to win stage two.
As he took the lead, Harvick headed to the garage for a transmission change.
Kyle Busch stayed out on the race track during the caution that followed the second stage, even though he also stayed out during the previous caution. As a result, he became the race leader after starting the race in the 31st position and going a lap down early. He got back on the lead lap during a lap-212 caution for an incident involving Aric Almirola and B.J. McLeod.
“It ended a lot better than it started,” Kyle Busch said of his race. “It’s certainly better than some other situations for sure. This M&Ms team just never gave up and kept working on it. Obviously, Adam [Stevens, crew chief] and the guys do a really good job of being able to work on the car and constantly improve it and constantly make it better. We’re just flat out getting killed by our teammates right now, so we’ve got to get better.”
Keselowski overtook Kyle Busch for the lead on lap 262, but after lap 350, the two drivers traded the lead back-and-forth for a few laps before Busch retook command of the top spot.
Kyle Busch lost the lead to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Erik Jones just before the eighth and final caution on lap 373 for a wreck involving Front Row Racing teammates David Ragan and Michael McDowell.
“I saw [Ryan] Blaney cut a tire just past the start-finish line, and I knew he was gonna run up and hit the wall, and I started trying to slow down,” Ragan said. ”I was already committed to running the top and, that happens in a fraction of a second, and I got off the gas and hit the brakes, tried to go low, but as they bounced off the wall, they came back down the track a little bit and just knocked the radiator out. That’s racing at Bristol. That’s short track racing. We had a solid run. I felt like we had a top-15 to top-20 car. We made some good adjustments throughout the night, and it’s just one of those things. That’s kind of the way short-track racing goes.”
Meanwhile, DiBenedetto moved into second on the lap-389 restart and began his domination of the last quarter of the race seven laps later.
Larson finished sixth, Bowyer was seventh, Daniel Suarez eighth, Kurt Busch ninth, and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top-10.
“We had a good race,” Bowyer said. ”We were too loose. I needed more rear grip all night long. That’s probably the loosest I’ve ever been here. We kind of fought front turn all weekend long and was trying to make up for it with wedge out and track bar up – stuff like that – and it just hurts rear grip. I mean, all in all, it was a good weekend for us. It was kind of a rebound weekend and what we needed, but you can’t expect those guys to just lay over for you. We did all we could do. I was hoping to be a top-five car, and when you’re a top-five car here, you’ve got a chance to win, but we were just a beat off of that all night.”