Hamlin Wins Bristol, Harvick and Logano Eliminated from Playoffs

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Bristol Motor Speedway, Bristol, TN — September 16, 2023

The first elimination race of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs is scheduled for this evening at Bristol Motor Speedway. The Bass Pro Shops Night Race starting time was moved up an hour due to anticipated weather conditions in the Bristol area.

That’s okay with the drivers. There is less time to sit around and think about what might happen. At a track as unpredictable as Bristol, the only thing guaranteed this weekend is four drivers will be eliminated from the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. Tensions are high, the point standings are tight, and once the stadium lights illuminate the ‘World’s Fastest Half-Mile,’ expect nothing less than the greatest stock car drivers in the universe to battle it out in spectacular fashion in the Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Two Playoff drivers have locked themselves into the Round of 12 by virtue of their wins in the first two races of the Round of 16 – Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson (Darlington) and 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick – leaving ten spots still up for grabs on Saturday.

The remaining 14 drivers hope to secure one of those ten spots.

NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Outlook Following Race No. 28
Rank Driver Points Race Wins Stage Wins Playoff Pts + / – Cutoff
1 Kyle Larson (P) 2,117 3 4 23 In On Wins
2 Tyler Reddick (P) 2,111 2 4 14 In On Wins
3 Denny Hamlin (P) 2,105 2 7 27 49
4 William Byron (P) 2,097 5 8 36 41
5 Brad Keselowski (P) 2,089 0 5 11 33
6 Ryan Blaney (P) 2,081 1 3 8 25
7 Kyle Busch (P) 2,080 3 2 19 24
8 Ross Chastain (P) 2,074 1 5 11 18
9 Chris Buescher (P) 2,069 3 1 21 13
10 Christopher Bell (P) 2,069 1 2 14 13
11 Joey Logano (P) 2,068 1 3 8 12
12 Kevin Harvick (P) 2,063 0 1 4 7
13 Martin Truex Jr. (P) 2,056 3 6 36 -7
14 Bubba Wallace (P) 2,044 0 0 0 -19
15 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (P) 2,041 1 0 5 -22
16 Michael McDowell (P) 2,023 1 2 7 -40

 

Who is favored to win? Kyle Busch has to be a consideration, given his past success at the track. Don’t count out Martin Truex Jr., the regular-season champion, who is seven points below the cut line and needs a solid run to advance out of the first round.

The sentimental favorite is Kevin Harvick making his final start at Bristol and needing a good finish to stay above the cut line.

Active Bristol Winners (7) Wins Seasons
Kyle Busch 8 2019, ’18, ’17, ’11, ’10, ’09 sweep, ’07
Brad Keselowski 3 2020, ’12, ’11
Kevin Harvick 3 2020, ’16, ’05
Denny Hamlin 2 2019, ’12
Joey Logano 2 2015, ’14
Chris Buescher 1 2022
Kyle Larson 1 2021

 

Tonight’s Race

The Bass Pro Shops Night Race is scheduled for 500 laps around the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway. Stages are 125/125/250 laps. The defending champion is Chris Buescher. He starts 20th on the grid tonight.

Christopher Bell is on the pole for the third week in a row, and teammate Denny Hamlin starts beside him. Kyle Larson had a big wiggle in qualifying and aborted his run. He starts last tonight. Don’t expect him to stay there long. He was the fastest driver in practice.

However, starting in the back can often result in getting caught up in an incident, not of your own making. No worries for Larson. He is through to the Round of 12 based on his win at Darlington.

Stage One

Just as drivers fired their engines, a light rain began to fall on the speedway. The cars were held for a few minutes and then allowed to begin circling the track. Before the green flag could be displayed, the field was brought back to the pit road to wait out the weather.

Shortly after 7 PM, the cars were fired up again and began to circle the track for the second time. The race started a half hour late as Christopher Bell(20) fired off quickly into turn one. Denny Hamlin(11) was slow to respond to the throttle at the start, allowing Michael McDowell(34) to slip by into second.

Hamlin quickly found the gas pedal, passed McDowell, and then he and Bell quickly built a straightaway lead on the field. Bell and Hamlin began lapping back markers just 16 laps into the race.

On lap 68, Hamlin put AJ Allmendinger(16) a lap down. The Dinger slipped high in the corner and tapped the wall. Getting out of the throttle was costly as Austin Cindric could not avoid the slower car, and the pair collided, bringing out the night’s first caution flag.

Hamlin was caught speeding on the pit road, and the drive-through penalty sent him to the rear of the pack. Larson had made up a lot of positions before the caution but was penalized for running over equipment during his pit stop. He joined Hamlin at the back of the field. Six cars remained on the track while the remainder of the drivers pitted.

Corey LaJoie(7), Bubba Wallace(23), Ross Chastain(1), and Tyler Reddick(45) were the leaders when the race restarted. Bell had just caught LaJoie on lap 105 when the caution was displayed for more rain falling.

The cars continued to circle the speedway to keep heat into the track, and NASCAR restarted the race with 12 laps to go in the Stage. Bell caught and passed La Joie with five laps to go. The Stage win gives Bell a playoff point and 10 points to add to their race total.

Christopher Bell / Lasco Press Photo

Stage One Results

POS CAR DRIVER POINTS
1 20 Christopher Bell (P) 10
2 7 Corey LaJoie 9
3 23 Bubba Wallace (P) 8
4 24 William Byron (P) 7
5 45 Tyler Reddick (P) 6
6 1 Ross Chastain (P) 5
7 6 Brad Keselowski (P)* 4
8 5 Kyle Larson (P) 3
9 19 Martin Truex Jr. (P) 2
10 54 Ty Gibbs 1

(P) Playoff Drivers *Ford Mustang Drivers

Stage Two

Pit stops shuffled the running order as the team’s strategies for coming to the pit road were all over the board.

The top five coming to the green flag for the restart were Bell, William Byron(24), Larson, Ty Gibbs(54), and Chase Elliott(9).

The restart was delayed as rain began to fall more earnestly. The field was brought to the pit road on lap 136 to wait out what is hopefully a small weather cell passing through.

Once the race restarted, Bell led with Larson on his tail. Larson moved to the front for 20 laps midway through the Stage.

Kyle Larson / Lasco Press Photo

But it was Bell with the fastest car resuming the top spot with the laps running down in Stage Two. Gibbs ran third, McDowell sat in the fourth position, and Hamlin ran fifth.

Bell lapped Ross Chastain(1), Joey Logano(22), and Kevin Harvick(4), all playoff drivers, and was about to lap Kyle Busch(8) when the Stage came to an end.

Stage Two Results

POS CAR DRIVER POINTS
1 20 Christopher Bell (P) 10
2 54 Ty Gibbs  9
3 5 Kyle Larson (P) 8
4 11 Denny Hamlin (P) 7
5 42 Carson Hocevar 6
6 34 Michael McDowell (P)* 5
7 17 Chris Buescher (P)* 4
8 24 William Byron (P) 3
9 41 Ryan Preece* 2
10 9 Chase Elliott 1

(P) Playoff Drivers *Ford Mustang Drivers

The Final Stage

With 250 laps to run, we may see green flag pit stops. Will a mistake on pit road cost a driver a chance to advance?

Ty Gibbs was first off the pit road. Denny Hamlin will restart next to him when the race goes back to green. They ran side-by-side for a lap until Gibbs prevailed.

Ty Gibbs / Lasco Press Photo

Just after the restart, LaJoie got loose and spun up the track hitting Joey Logano in the left rear wheel. The impact broke the left rear suspension, and Logano, the defending series champion, was knocked out of the race and likely eliminated from the playoffs. The only way he can advance is if one of the drivers just above him in the standings (Wallace or Truex) crashes out also.

On this restart, Gibbs led, and Hamlin passed Larson for second place. Chris Buescher(17) ran fourth, and Bell held down the fifth spot.

Gibbs was comfortably out front until he ran up on Kyle Busch and tried to put him a lap down. Busch held Gibbs up long enough for Hamlin and Larson to close on the leader. The next car Gibbs encountered was Martin Truex Jr.(19). Before Gibbs could get around the last man on the lead lap, Hamlin was able to make a pass for the lead.

Hamlin had no better luck trying to get around Truex, and Gibbs went back to the top spot. Truex got loose and hit the front stretch wall with the right rear. He was able to regain control of the car and keep running, but NASCAR had already made the decision to put the race under caution.

With 139 laps to go, everyone opted to come to pit road for fuel and tires. Based on the position everyone currently holds, Logano and Harvick are below the cut line. Truex and Bubba Wallace(23) are the beneficiaries holding the final two playoff spots.

On the restart, Larson and Hamlin fight for the lead. Hamlin eventually is able to clear Larson and moves away three car lengths. Bell, Buescher, and Gibbs round out the top five.

With 94 laps to go, Hamlin’s lead had grown to 1.6 seconds, and he put Kevin Harvick four laps down. Harvick is in the same trouble as Logano, both needing help from others if they are to advance.

Denny Hamlin / Lasco Press Photo

No one had anything for Hamlin as he cruised to victory. Hopes were dashed for Logano and Harvick as no one dropped enough positions to elevate them out of an elimination position.

Michael McDowell, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kevin Harvick, and Joey Logano were the four drivers eliminated from playoff contention. Every race, every point matters. Harvick and Logano came up four points shy of advancing to the Round of 12.

Playoff Standings

POINTS CUTOFF (+/-) RACE WINS STAGE WINS STAGE POINTS
1 William Byron
24
Hendrick Motorsports
3036 +25 0 0
2 Martin Truex Jr.
19
Joe Gibbs Racing
3036 +25 0 0
3 Denny Hamlin
11
Joe Gibbs Racing
3032 +21 0 0
4 Kyle Larson
5
Hendrick Motorsports
3023 +12 0 0
5 Chris Buescher
17
FordRFK Racing
3021 +10 0 0
6 Kyle Busch
8
Richard Childress Racing
3019 +8 0 0
7 Christopher Bell
20
Joe Gibbs Racing
3016 +5 0 0
8 Tyler Reddick
45
23XI Racing
3014 +3 0 0
9 Ross Chastain
1
Trackhouse Racing Team
3011 -3 0 0
10 Brad Keselowski
6
Ford
RFK Racing
3011 -3 0 0
11 Ryan Blaney
12
Ford
Team Penske
3008 -6 0 0
12 Bubba Wallace
23
23XI Racing
3000 -14 0 0

The driver to watch for may very well be Martin Truex Jr. After surviving the opening round, Truex gets all of his playoff points earned as the regular season champion returned to him. He sits tied with William Byron at the top of the playoff standings heading into the first race of the second round at Texas Motor Speedway.

Martin Truex Jr. / Lasco Press Photo

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

POS CAR DRIVER DELTA LAPS
1 11 Denny Hamlin (P) 500
2 5 Kyle Larson (P) 2.437 500
3 20 Christopher Bell (P) 5.098 500
4 17 Chris Buescher (P) 9.206 500
5 54 Ty Gibbs 9.237 500
6 34 Michael McDowell (P) 10.196 500
7 9 Chase Elliott (P) 15.325 500
8 6 Brad Keselowski (P) 15.795 500
9 24 William Byron (P) 16.113 500
10 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (P) 16.128 500
11 42 Carson Hocevar -1 499
12 41 Ryan Preece -1 499
13 48 Alex Bowman -1 499
14 23 Bubba Wallace (P) -1 499
15 45 Tyler Reddick (P) -1 499
16 38 Todd Gilliland -1 499
17 3 Austin Dillon -1 499
18 10 Aric Almirola -1 499
19 19 Martin Truex Jr. (P) -2 498
20 8 Kyle Busch (P) -2 498
21 99 Daniel Suarez -2 498
22 12 Ryan Blaney (P) -2 498
23 1 Ross Chastain (P) -2 498
24 43 Erik Jones -3 497
25 7 Corey LaJoie -3 497
26 15 JJ Yeley -5 495
27 14 Chase Briscoe -5 495
28 21 Harrison Burton -5 495
29 4 Kevin Harvick (P) -5 495
30 16 AJ Allmendinger -9 491
31 78 BJ McLeod -10 490
32 2 Austin Cindric -12 488
33 77 Ty Dillon -237 263
34 22 Joey Logano (P) -238 262
35 31 Justin Haley -239 261
36 51 Ryan Newman -240 260