Denny Hamlin pips Larson to win Bristol Playoffs

Denny Hamlin pips Larson to win Bristol Playoffs

Denny Hamlin delivered a stunning performance to win the Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Denny Hamlin won the Playoffs race in NASCAR’s Round of 16 at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday after dominating the second half of the Bass Pro Shops Night Race in Bristol, Tennessee.

For the third time this season, Hamlin defeated Kyle Larson by 2.437 seconds in the cutoff race to win and move on to the three-race Round of 12 that kicks off at Texas Motor Speedway on next Sunday.

“Can’t thank this whole FedEx team enough,” said Hamlin, who won for the third time this season, the third time at Bristol and the 51st time in his career.

“They’ve really kicked ass this whole first round. Really amazing how our team has been. So happy about the way we’re running. Can’t wait to keep going.

“It’s our year. I just feel like we’ve got it all put together. We’ve got the speed [at] every single type of race track. Nothing to stop us at this point.”

The top five finishers in the short-track race, which had six cautions and one significant incident that influenced the postseason rankings, were Christopher Bell, Chris Buescher, and Ty Gibbs.

McDowell ran sixth, followed by Chase Elliott, Keselowski, Byron and Stenhouse.

Four drivers, however, saw their chances of winning the championship shattered in the 500-lap race on the high-banked, 0.533-mile circuit in the east Tennessee Appalachian Mountains.

2014 champion Kevin Harvick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Michael McDowell, and Joey Logano who is the defending 2022 Cup Series champion, were eliminated from championship contention.

Logano’s chances of winning the race again were over on Lap 262, after a restart. Corey LaJoie’s Chevrolet spun and drifted up into traffic, collecting his No. 22 Team Penske Ford and causing significant damage.

Pole-sitter Bell led the race in the 125-lap Stage 1 after AJ Allmendinger hit the wall and the first yellow went up on Lap 69. Allmendinger’s No. 16 was struck by Austin Cindric’s Ford.

Bell reclaimed the top position and received the bonus points for the first stage after losing it during the first round of pit stops.

The 500-lap race was delayed for 20 minutes after heavy rain, but Bell quickly resumed where he had left off and maintained a comfortable lead until he was overtaken by Larson, who had won the first race of the Round of 16 at Darlington Raceway.

Bell fought back, though, and with his second stage victory and fourth of 2023, he secured additional bonus points.

Martin Truex Jr., who won the NASCAR Cup Series regular-season championship, made it through to the next round. Bubba Wallace also saved himself from being eliminated from the series Playoffs by four points, and made it to the Round of 12.

Wallace came in one lap later and placed 14th overall, but the eight points he earned for finishing third in Stage 1 were significant to secure a berth in the next round. Stenhouse was the last of the 10 cars to finish on the front lap and finished the Round of 16 in 15th place, seven points behind Wallace.

Wallace and Hamlin each encountered an outburst of boos as they exited their cars.

“Like Coco Gauff said, all they’re doing is adding fuel to the fire—I love it,” said Wallace, who drives for Hamlin and co-owner Michael Jordan at 23XI.

“I love where I’m at with this team. Wish my mom, dad, sister were here to celebrate with me.

“I’m mentally exhausted. I’m wore out. Gave it our all there. Battled hard and executed. That’s what you got to do.

“We know next week’s a reset. We just got to go out and have some fun, work our asses off.

“Thank you to the ones that believe in me. Keep it going. Yeah, on to next week.”

All five Toyota Playoff drivers, led by Hamlin, made it to the next round.

Saturday’s eighth- and ninth-place finishers Brad Keselowski and William Byron, as well as 23XI Racing teammates Wallace and Tyler Reddick, Truex, Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, and Ross Chastain, all progressed to the next round.

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