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Denny Hamlin Conquers Competition in Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol

The driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota led three times for 142 laps to earn his third win of 2023 and third at Bristol Motor Speedway.


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Denny Hamlin finished a disappointing second last weekend at Kansas Speedway, but Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was on a tear as he led 142 of the 500 laps in the Bass Pro Shops Night Race to earn his third win of the 2023 season and third at the concrete half-mile track.

Hamlin had to contend with teammates Christopher Bell and Ty Gibbs, as well as rival Kyle Larson, but the 42-year-old driver led the final 135 laps to take the checkered flag to a chorus of boos from the capacity crowd.

"Man, everybody likes a winner, right? Can't thank this whole FedEx team enough. They've really kicked ass this whole first round," said Hamlin. "Really amazing how our team has been. So happy about the way we're running. Can't wait to keep going.

“Hey, I beat your favorite driver,” Hamlin said in jest as the crowd went wild.

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It's our year. I just feel like we've got it all put together. We've got the speed every single type of racetrack. Nothing to stop us at this point."

Denny Hamlin

Larson was able to navigate heavy traffic in the final run to the checkered flag but was unable to catch Hamlin, settling for second for the third time this year. The driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet led once for 20 laps but was unable to pressure Hamlin for the top spot in the end.

After capturing his third consecutive pole award, it appeared as if Christopher Bell was going to contend for the win for much of Saturday night’s race, winning both Stage 1 and Stage 2. The driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota led three times for a race-high 187 laps, but could not catch the top two cars in the closing laps.

Defending race winner Chris Buescher came on strong in the final stage of the race and brought his No. 17 RFK Racing Ford home in the fourth spot, leading just once.

Rookie Ty Gibbs had one of his strongest performances to date, leading twice for a total of 102 laps. Gibbs lost the lead to Hamlin racing in heavy traffic on Lap 359 and faded a bit on the final restart of the night, which went green for the final 131 laps.

Despite an impressive sixth-place finish, Michael McDowell will not advance to the Round of 12 in the Playoffs. Entering Saturday’s race 16th in the standings after two poor results at Darlington Raceway and Kansas Speedway, McDowell needed to win the race to advance. Although the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford was a factor inside the top 10 for the entirety of the race, it was simply not enough to keep the championship hopes alive.

“Those first two races just killed us, put us so far behind,” said McDowell. “This is a learning experience. It's a young group. We didn't do what we wanted to do here in these Playoffs. I think we showed speed, showed that we could do it.

“We'll learn from this, get ready for next year,” he said. “Still have a lot to fight for this year, too. Not the run we needed to have tonight, but still a good performance. Really proud of everybody.”

While McDowell missed out on advancing, 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace was able to secure the 12th and final transfer spot into the Round of 12.

Wallace stayed on track while others hit pit road on the second caution of the day on Lap 69 and was suddenly a factor at the front of the field. Entering the day 19 points outside the final transfer spot, Wallace finished third in Stage 1 and scored eight points, more than anyone else he was battling to transfer into the Round of 12.

“I love where I’m at with this team,” Wallace said after the race. “I'm mentally exhausted. I'm wore out. Gave it our all there. Battled hard and executed. That's what you got to do."

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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.”

Bubba Wallace

While Wallace was scoring stage points, Kevin Harvick was struggling after a two-tire call left the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford battling a tight condition and falling through the field. The handling never improved for Harvick and he ended his final start at Bristol a disappointing 29th, five laps down to the leaders, and not making the cut for the Round of 12.

Harvick called Saturday night’s effort at Bristol the worst one he had with fenders still on the car.

“We've been like that all year. We've been hit or miss. Tonight we just missed by a mile,” he said.

For much of the night, Joey Logano also struggled with the handling of his No. 22 Team Penske Ford. Entering the night 11th in the Playoff standings, Logano’s chances at becoming a back-to-back champion came to a crashing halt on Lap 263 when he was collected in an incident with Corey LaJoie, Ryan Newman, Ty Dillon and Justin Haley.

Logano suffered heavy damage to the left rear tire of his car and immediately took it behind the wall, ending his night and his championship hopes.

Regular season champion Martin Truex Jr. entered Saturday night’s race on the Playoff bubble and was in serious danger of not advancing to the next round. After two rough outings at Darlington and Kansas, he would have to survive at a track in which he has historically struggled.

Truex was knocking on the door of the top 10 for much of the opening stage of Saturday night’s race and was able to finish ninth in Stage 1 to earn two points. When he hit pit road after Stage 1, Truex was then mired in traffic for the remainder of the race.

Fighting hard to stay on the lead lap, the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was finally put a lap down by his teammate Hamlin late in the going and then slipped off Turn 4 on Lap 362 and brushed the wall right ahead of Gibbs and Larson, who were battling for second. The incident brought out the caution but Truex was able to save the car and limit the potential disaster by not damaging the car any further. Thanks in large part to Logano’s issue, Truex was able to advance to the next round by five points.

Next week the Round of 12 kicks off with the Autotrader Echo Park Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Photo courtesy Jonathan McCoy, Racing America

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