As a short track, the Monster Energy Cup Series‘ Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway typically produces close racing and battles throughout. On Saturday, Denny Hamlin chased down Matt DiBenedetto in the final laps to take his first win at Bristol since 2012 and fourth of the season.
Hamlin edged out Kyle Larson for his first pole of 2019 and fourth at Bristol. DiBenedetto, just days after it was announced he would not return to Leavine Family Racing after the 2019 season, started twenty-seventh.
Hamlin quickly built an early lead in the race’s opening laps until he elected to run the outside line, enabling Larson to pass him on lap 15. As the high line began to see more action, it began to be more favourable for drivers. The front row drivers continued their battle through the first stage as Hamlin retook the lead on lap 24, which Larson reclaimed on lap 45 before losing it again three laps later.
On lap 67, Joey Logano pitted to address a cut right-front tyre, but his team struggled to change the left-rear tyre, causing him to drop to thirty-fourth and three laps down. Austin Dillon‘s right-front also went down on lap 80, and contact from behind by Jimmie Johnson resulted in a caution.
The race resumed on lap 87 with Larson leading Chase Elliott after the two were the first off pit road. DiBenedetto moved up to third three laps later, while Dillon returned to the pits for further servicing.
Larson held off Elliott to take the stage win. Truex took third, followed by Kevin Harvick, DiBenedetto, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, and Aric Almirola.
Elliott led the grid to the Stage #2 start on lap 135. On lap 166, Harvick took the lead from Elliott, who began to fall as Truex claimed second.
On lap 185, Hamlin pitted with a loose wheel while in tenth. Five laps later, J.J. Yeley – débuting the #54 for Rick Ware Racing – bumped Almirola and sent the latter into the wall. As a result of the yellow, Hamlin fell to twenty-eighth and two laps down.
Truex paced the lap 196 restart. On lap 212, Almirola spun in turn two for another caution, with the green flag six laps later.
On lap 243, Almirola’s Stewart-Haas Racing team-mate Clint Bowyer spun in turn two, which placed Hamlin back on the lead lap as the free pass. SHR’s woes continued when Harvick went to the garage with transmission issues.
With two laps remaining in the stage, Busch drove off to the stage victory ahead of Daniel Suárez, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, William Byron, Elliott, Jones, Daniel Hemric, Keselowski, and Truex.
Kyle Busch stayed out to open Stage #3 on lap 259. After three laps in front, he lost the lead to Keselowski, though Busch retook it on lap 352. The two continued their fight as the stage progressed, trading the position.
Truex hit the wall on lap 360 and pitted. Moments later on lap 362, Alex Bowman also made contact with the wall and Logano bumped him from behind, with Byron doing the same to Logano.
The restart commenced on lap 370 with Busch leading. Following three laps of green-flag racing, Blaney’s tyre went down, which collected Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Behind the two, Front Row Motorsports drivers David Ragan and Michael McDowell could not avoid them and ran into them, while Ryan Preece was able to escape the wreck.
Jones became the leader for the lap 388 restart, while a strong restart from DiBenedetto quickly pushed him to second. On lap 396, DiBenedetto claimed the top spot.
Lapped traffic began to play a factor as second-placed Hamlin attempted to chase down the leader. As the race reached less than 20 laps remaining, he had narrowed the gap to under .20 seconds.
Hamlin cleared DiBenedetto for the lead with 11 laps to go. DiBenedetto could not catch him as Hamlin scored his fourth victory of 2019.
“I’m so sorry to Matt DiBenedetto, (#95 crew chief) Mike Wheeler, hate it,” Hamlin said in a post-race interview with NBCSN. “I know a win would mean a lot to that team, but I gotta give 110% for FedEx and my whole team. Just, sorry.”
“I wanted to win so bad for those guys, for this team,” DiBenedetto said, ending his day with a career-best second and leading a race-high 93 laps. “Congrats to Denny, he raced hard. I’ve been a fan of him since I was a kid. To be racing door-to-door with him at Bristol in front of a great group of fans…
“I’m trying not to get emotional, but it’s been a tough week. I just want to stick around and keep doing this for a long time to come. I love it, I love the opportunity. I’m not done yet.”