The track was re-configured, tempers flared, cars bumped into each other, helmets flew and in the end a slide job won the race.
It was the Irwin Tools Night race at Bristol Motor Speedway and for the first time since 2007 Bristol had only one groove, however for the first time in the history of the track, it was the high groove that was the preferred line. Coincidentally it was also Denny Hamlin’s first win at the half mile track.
“A slide job is the only thing you could do,” Hamlin said to ABC reporters from victory lane on how to make passes at the newly configured track. “My car worked on the bottom and my car didn’t touch a soul.”
Hamlin’s car was one of the few, the very few, cars that did not touch another car or the wall tonight. Although there were scratches on Hamlins car, those came from early in the race when he was caught in a minor accident on pit road.
That accident didn’t affect the car when it came to performance. Hamlin didn’t have the dominant car, but he stayed in the top-10 for most of the night.
With the laps closing down, after the last restart of the race with 65 laps to go, Hamlin had worked pit strategy to find him self starting third. Carl Edwards had the race lead and a very fast Brian Vickers was in second. The restart featured Edwards, Vickers and Hamlin all going for the race lead, never going more than two wide, but all three stayed within a second of each other.
Then Vickers got loose coming off one of the turns and it was time for Hamlin to make his move. He caught up to Edwards and tried once, but Edwards held on to the lead.
Once again, Hamlin caught up to Edwards, and once again Edwards held strong. The third time was the final time that a pass for the lead would take place as Hamlin was able to move from the bottom of the track and slide to the top of the track in front of Edwards to take the lead. A move that is known as the slide job.
From then on, Hamlin pulled away to take his third win of the season and all but locking himself into the 2012 edition of the Race for the Championship.
“My biggest win,” Hamlin said from victory lane. “[My car] it would haul the mail.”
Hamlin led a total of 70 laps of the race, the last 39 of those coming after he passed Edwards for the race lead.
“Big day, big win,” Hamlin said. “I don’t know how to say [what the win means to me] other than it’s the Bristol night race.”
While Hamlin worked the low line for much of the day, one of the few cars that could, it was his teammate that took control of the race early.
Joey Logano led most of the early part of the race and took home the most laps led, but after an early pit strategy call took him out of contention to win, the race took on a much different shape.
What was a fairly tame race up until that point turned into one of the most action packed races of the season.
Twice during the middle and latter parts of the race, the leaders wrecked. The first time it happened was when Kasey Kahne got caught in the oil of David Ragan and hit the wall. The second time was when Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth were racing for control of the race, with just over 100 laps to go.
Kenseth and Stewart were side-by-side going for the lead when Kenseth got a little loose and slid into Stewart who was on the outside. Stewart and Kenseth both slid into the inside wall and their night ended there. After the wreck, Stewart showed his displeasure at Kenseth by throwing his helmet at the No. 17 Roush-Fenway Racing Ford.
Stewart wasn’t the only one that was frustrated during the night, several of the cars that finished the race with damage. One of those cars that finished with damage was second place Jimmie Johnson.
With Johnson’s second place finish he became one of three drivers to lock their way into the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
The other two are current points leader, Greg Biffle and current third place Dale Earnhardt Jr. the 2012 chase starts in two races after Richmond.
“We’ve worked hard all year,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr. to ABC reporters after his 12th place finish. “We’ve come with a good strategy each week to the track.”
Hamlin’s win Saturday is his third of the season, tying him with Johhnson, Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart for the most wins this season, virtually assuring Hamlin a spot in the chase.
Next week the series will head to Atlanta Motor Speedway.
IRWIN Tools Night Race results:
- Denny Hamlin
- Jimmie Johnson
- Jeff Gordon
- Brian Vickers
- Marcos Ambrose
- Kyle Busch
- Clint Bowyer
- Joey Logano
- Kasey Kahne
- Paul Menard
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Juan Pablo Montoya
- Bobby Labonte
- Kevin Harvick
- Regan Smith
- Jamie McMurray
- Travis Kvapil
- Greg Biffle
- David Gilliland
- Casey Mears
- Carl Edwards
- Michael McDowell
- Landon Cassill
- Matt Kenseth
- Dave Blaney
- Tony Stewart
- Kurt Busch
- Danica Patrick
- Brad Keselowski
- Jason Leffler
- David Ragan
- Jeff Burton
- Sam Hornish Jr.
- Aric Almirola
- Ryan Newman
- David Stremme
- Josh Wise
- Joe Nemechek
- Stephen Leicht
- Scott Riggs
- Ken Scrader
- Mike Bliss