Denny Hamlin Denies Matt DiBenedetto a Cinderella Finish at Bristol

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Bristol Motor Speedway, Bristol, TN — August 17th, 2019

Based on the races in NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series and the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend, tonight’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 500 lapper should be an exciting affair.

The Bass Pro Shop NRA Night Race always has its share of bumper-to-bumper and door-handle-to door handle racing. This year the track looks somewhat different than previous editions of the Saturday night bull-ring. Traction compound has been removed from the top groove of the speedway, the track was actually ground down giving it a rough chalky appearance. The lower groove was treated with the PJ1 product which just gives improved grip to the preferred line around the track.

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Race

Thursday night’s Truck race was a one groove racetrack. Drivers avoided the upper surfaces of the speedway. If you wanted to pass you moved the guy or gal in front of you out of the way with your bumper.

The UNOH 200 featured 12 cautions for 73 laps. It was a crash fest from the start. Last year’s Truck Series Champion, Brett Moffitt, won the event.

Brett Moffitt Wins at Bristol Motor Speedway / Lasco Press Photo

 NASCAR Xfinity Series Race

The Xfinity event on Friday night saw drivers take to the top of the track early. Rubber was laid down on the racing surface from top to bottom in the corners. A couple of early wrecks took out Cup regulars Erik Jones and Joey Logano. Kyle Busch won the 2nd Stage and went directly behind the wall as his motor lost power.

Kyle Busch’s NASCAR Xfinity Series entry at Bristol / Lasco Press Photo

The latter part of the Food City 300 featured exciting racing as 2-wide and 3-wide battles led to tight quarters as cars entered the turns.

Tyler Reddick pulled out the win in remarkable fashion. His car failed pre-race inspection 4 times, he was not allowed to qualify. Allowed to start dead last of the 38 race cars in the field, he also served a drive-thru penalty on the 1st lap of the race putting him a lap down. An early caution gets him back on the lead lap.

NASCAR Xfinity Driver Tyler Reddick / Lasco Press Photo

Reddick drives into 2nd place and spins just prior to the end of Stage 1. Restarting in 24th, he again drives to a 2nd place finish in Stage 2. In the final stage, Reddick pitted under caution with 80 laps to go for fresh tires. He restarted 5th and worked his way through traffic back to the front.

The caution came out again with 20 laps to go and he was in 2nd behind the leader Justin Allgaier. The race restarted with 14 laps to go. Allgaier had a tire go down with 10 to go and Reddick takes over the top spot. He pulls away to win the Food City 300.

Tonights Race

Five hundred laps around the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” is a test of equipment and physical conditioning. The temperature will just dip under 90 degrees on a hot and humid night in Tennessee. Stages will split the race into segments of 125/125/250 laps. Kyle Busch(18) was the winner last year and will be one of the favorites tonight, despite starting 31st after a poor qualifying effort.

Denny Hamlin(11) and Kyle Larson(42) start on the front row. All eyes will be on the playoff race for the final two positions. Larson +54 above the cut line in 13th and Erik Jones(20) +53 in 14th appear safe barring a three-race series of disasters.

Denny Hamlin sets on the Pole for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway / Lasco Press Photo

Clint Bowyer(14) is on the cut line in 16th with Ryan Newman(6) +10 in 15th. After a series of solid finishes, Daniel Suarez(41) has moved back into contention only 6 points below the cut line. Jimmie Johnson(48), fading over the last few races, sits 22 points out.

Daniel Suarez is Fighting for a Playoff Spot at Bristol / Lasco Press Photo

Paul Menard(21) and Chris Buescher(37) sit 53 and 73 points back respectively, needing a win to make the postseason. A win by any driver outside the Top 16 will throw the fight to qualify on points into a three-race rumble.

Paul Menard in the Woods Brother’s NASCAR Cup Series Ford Mustang / Lasco Press Photo

Stage 1

On the drop of the green flag, everyone dropped to the bottom lane to take advantage of the traction compound and cars quickly strung out all the way around the track. It only took Hamlin 13 laps to start passing drivers at the rear of the field.

By Lap 20 cars had moved to the top of the track and side-by-side racing was on. Starting well back in the pack, Kyle Busch had to go three-wide to move past slower traffic as he began his march to the front.

Kyle Busch / Lasco Press Photo

Hamlin and Larson traded the lead as they drove through traffic lapping vehicles. Hamlin finally broke free and opened a half-straightaway lead on Larson who was being hunted down by Martin Truex Jr.(19) in 3rd.

Kyle Larson / Lasco Press Photo

Joey Logano(22) dove into the pits with a flat tire. Service to the #22 car under green put Logano three laps down. On Lap 78 Hamlin lapped Kyle Busch in 19th, putting half of the field at least a lap down. One lap later Austin Dillon(3) blew a tire and the yellow flag came out as Hamlin was lapping Jimmie Johnson who got into Dillon’s car.

Trouble for the Leader

Hamlin’s car picked up some minor damage as he drove past the cluster of cars around Dillon. His crew was able to fix the issues but he lost a lot of track position, restarting in 11th position when the race went back to green.

Jimmie Johnson made two stops under the caution and was late getting back on the track. He went two laps down shortly after the race resumed.

Larson assumed the lead and held on for the stage win, despite a late challenge from Chase Elliott(9). Hamlin remained mired back in 11th, unable to advance during the late segment of Stage 1.

Stage 1 Results

Car Driver Stage Points
42 Kyle Larson 10
9 Chase Elliott 9
19 Martin Truex jr. 8
4 Kevin Harvick* 7
95 Matt DiBenedetto 6
12 Ryan Blaney* 5
20 Erik Jones 4
2 Brad Keselowski* 3
1 Kurt Busch 2
10 Aric Almirola* 1

* Ford Mustang Drivers

Stage 2

Elliott was first off of pit road after the stage ending caution, with Larson beside him on the front row for the restart. Elliott got a great jump and rocketed off to a three-car length advantage on Larson.

Chase Elliott / Lasco Press Photo

Kevin Harvick found some speed on his pit stop, running down Elliott and taking the lead on Lap 164. Harvick began lapping cars and putting Jimmie Johnson two laps down dealing a serious blow to Johnson’s playoff hopes.

Kevin Harvick / Lasco Press Photo

Hamlin, complaining of a loose wheel, took his car to pit road on lap 185. Aric Almirola(10) spun and hit the wall coming out of Turn 2 four laps later after Hamlin lost two laps in the pits getting his wheel repaired.

The leaders pitted on the Almirola caution. Harvick had a small hiccup on pit road, the car fell off the jack. The issue cost him the lead as Truex was first out of the pits and into the lead. Eighteen cars were on the lead lap when the race returned to green.

Martin Truex Jr. / Lasco Press Photo

More Cautions

Almirola spun again on Lap 212, bringing out yet another caution. Kyle Busch was in the Luck Dog spot, the first car a lap down, and was given the free pass back onto the lead lap. The leaders opted to stay out this time as 31 laps remained in the Stage when the race restarted.

With 8 laps to go in the Stage, Clint Bowyer(14) spun out of Turn 2. The caution forced crew chiefs to make a difficult decision. Pit and be ready for the Final Stage or stay on the track and earn Stage points. Kurt Busch stayed out as did Daniel Suarez and Ryan Newman, the latter pair desperately needing every point they can gain.

Ryan Newman / Lasco Press Photo

Kevin Harvick pitted and his crew ended up pushing the #4 car behind the wall. Transmission trouble ended Harvick’s night early, although his crew buzzed around the car attempting to repair the issue.

Stage 2 Results

Car Driver Stage Points
1 Kurt Busch 10
41 Daniel Suarez* 9
6 Ryan Newman 8
18 Kyle Busch 7
24 William Byron 6
9 Chase Elliott 5
20 Erik Jones 4
8 Daniel Hemric 3
2 Brad Keselowski* 2
19 Martin Truex Jr. 1

* Ford Mustang Drivers

The Final Stage

After the pit stop scrambles, Kyle Busch remained on the track and inherited the lead. Thirty laps into the Final Stage the Top 5 were Brad Keselowski(2), Kyle Busch, Elliott, Erik Jones(20), and Truex.

In the longest green-flag run of the night, Keselowski led the majority of it. Kyle Busch regained the lead as Keselowski’s car began to go away. The fastest car on the track during the long run was Jones, who worked his way into second.

With everyone needed fresh tires and fuel the caution made a timely appearance as Alex Bowman(88) hit the wall in Turn 2. Logano and William Byron(24) both ran into Bowman as the three cars stacked up at the top of the track.

On the restart, it was Kyle Busch, Jones, Keselowski, Elliott, and Bowyer as the Top 5. Jones drove into the lead just as a melee erupted in Turn 3. Blaney had a tire go down, Michael McDowell(34) ran into him. David Ragan(38), Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(17) and Johnson were also involved.

Restart With 113 Laps to Go

Jones led the field to the green flag with 113 laps to go.  Matt DiBenedetto(95) drove past Kyle Busch and Elliott who were battling for 2nd and set his sights on Jones. DiBenedetto got beside Jones and took the lead. Jones overdrove Turns 1 & 2 and made contact with the wall forcing him to make a pit stop for a tire rub. He returned to the track four laps down.

As the race settled in for another long run DiBenedetto, Elliott, Keselowski, Hamlin, and Kyle Busch made up the Top 5. Hamlin moved past Elliott and Keselowski into second. DiBenedetto had built a good-sized lead, but Hamlin began to track him down.

Matt DiBenedetto comes close to his 1st Cup Victory at Bristol / Lasco Press Photo

The Finish

With 18 laps to go and DiBenedetto working through lapped traffic, Hamlin drove up to his bumper. With 14 to go, they were side-by-side. Hamlin took the lead with 11 laps to go. Hamlin stretched the lead to 3 car lengths and held on for his 4th victory of the year.

In his flag stand interview with NBC, Hamlin apologized for beating Matt. It had been a difficult week for DiBenedetto, he learned he would not be returning to the Leavine Family Racing #95 in 2020. Had DiBenedetto been able to pull off the victory is would have been the Cinderella moment of the decade for NASCAR. Still, it will likely propel DiBenedetto into a competitive ride for next year.

Playoff Implications

The big winner in the Playoff race was Daniel Suarez, his 8th place finish and 9 bonus points from finishing 2nd in Stage 2 moved him onto the bubble. Ryan Newman finished 11th and gained 2 points on the 16th position.

Clint Bowyer finished 7th but did not gain a Stage point and dropped 2 points below the final playoff spot. Jimmie Johnson fell 26 points behind the bubble and likely will need a win to avoid missing his first NASCAR Playoff ever.

Two races remain until the Playoff field is set. The series has an off week before resuming at Darlington with the final regular-season race at Indy. The Lasco Press will provide live coverage of the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard powered by Florida Georgia Line.

Rank Driver Points To Cut Line Wins Stage Wins Playoff Points
1   Kyle Busch 932 In 4 9 29
2   Joey Logano 893 In 2 7 17
3   Denny Hamlin 855 In 4 3 23
4   Martin Truex, Jr. 838 In 4 3 23
5   Kevin Harvick 830 In 2 4 14
6   Brad Keselowski 794 In 3 4 19
7   Chase Elliott 757 In 2 4 14
8   Kurt Busch 741 In 1 2 7
9   Ryan Blaney 686 +95 2 2
10   Alex Bowman 675 In 1 0 5
11   Kyle Larson 665 +74 3 4
12   William Byron 664 +73 1 1
13   Aric Almirola 654 +63 1 1
14   Erik Jones 646 +55 0 0
15   Ryan Newman 603 +12 0 0
16   Daniel Suarez 591 0 0
Playoff Cut Line
17   Clint Bowyer 589 -2 0 0
18   Jimmie Johnson 565 -26 1 1
19   Paul Menard 520 -71 0 0
20   Chris Buescher 506 -85 0 0

 

 

 

Results of the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race from Bristol Motor Speedway

Position Car Driver Laps
1 11    Denny Hamlin 500
2 95    Matt DiBenedetto 500
3 2    Brad Keselowski 500
4 18    Kyle Busch 500
5 9    Chase Elliott 500
6 42    Kyle Larson 500
7 14    Clint Bowyer 500
8 41    Daniel Suarez 499
9 1    Kurt Busch 499
10 12    Ryan Blaney 499
11 6    Ryan Newman 499
12 8    Daniel Hemric 499
13 19    Martin Truex, Jr. 498
14 43    Bubba Wallace 498
15 88    Alex Bowman 497
16 22    Joey Logano 497
17 37    Chris Buescher 497
18 47    Ryan Preece 497
19 48    Jimmie Johnson 496
20 13    Ty Dillon 496
21 24    William Byron 496
22 20    Erik Jones 495
23 21    Paul Menard 495
24 32    Corey LaJoie 494
25 0    Landon Cassill 490
26 15    Ross Chastain 490
27 36    Matt Tifft 487
28 54    J.J. Yeley 485
29 10    Aric Almirola 482
30 27    Quin Houff 478
31 52    Kyle Weatherman 474
32 51    B.J. McLeod 410
33 17    Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. 391
34 3    Austin Dillon 387
35 53    Josh Bilicki 373
36 38    David Ragan 371
37 34    Michael McDowell 368
38 77    Reed Sorenson 269
39 4    Kevin Harvick 244