Hamlin advances in NASCAR Playoffs by racing to third Bass Pro Shops Night Race victory
Denny Hamlin moved one step closer to finally claiming an elusive NASCAR Cup Series championship by winning the Bass Pro Shops Night Race, one of NASCAR's crown jewel races, on Saturday under the lights in front of a packed house at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Hamlin, driving the No. 11 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, led the race’s final 135 laps, topped 142 circuits overall and beat Kyle Larson to the start-finish line by 2.437 seconds on his way to his third win of the season and 51st of his career.
“I can’t thank this whole FedEx team enough,” said Hamlin over the cheers and jeers of the frontstretch crowd after collecting the checkered flag. “It’s amazing how good this team has been. I can’t wait to keep going.”
The 42-year-old Virginian has won just about all the top events you can in NASCAR, from three Daytona 500s to three Southern 500s and now three Bristol Night Races. But the ultimate prize of a Cup Series title has remained just out of reach, despite eight career top-5 season finishes – including four in a row.
This year, Hamlin finally sees a path to the top.
“It’s our year,” Hamlin said. “We have it all put together. There’s nothing to stop us at this point.”
Larson, who qualified last on Friday after a tire issue despite posting the fastest practice speed, was second, followed by Stage 1 and 2 winner Christopher Bell (race-high 187 laps led) in third, Chris Buescher in fourth and Cup Series rookie Ty Gibbs (102 laps led) in fifth.
“The race went a lot better than I thought it would,” Larson said. “I feel like we had the second-best car. I just didn’t have the pace of Denny. He was really fast.”
The Bass Pro Shops Night Race concluded The Last Great Colosseum’s NASCAR weekend, which marked the first time Bristol hosted playoff rounds in all three of NASCAR’s top series.
It was also the first cutoff race of this year’s NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, with the number of championship contenders dropping from 16 to 12 following Hamlin’s victory.
Defending Cup Series champion Joey Logano was one of four drivers eliminated from title contention, along with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Michael McDowell and Kevin Harvick in his last Bristol appearance as a full-time driver.
“We’ve been hit or miss all year and tonight we missed by a mile,” Harvick said. “I didn’t have many expectations with as up-and-down as the year has been.”
Logano was caught up in the night’s biggest wreck, a six-car incident entering Turn 3 just after the start of the final stage on Lap 263 that began when Corey Lajoie (48 laps led) spun on the backstretch.
“It’s a little uncharacteristic for us right now and we just have to go to work and keep our heads down and stay faithful in each other, keep trusting each other that we can figure it out,” said Logano, who had started the race 12 points above the cutline for elimination. “It’s still the same team that won the championship last year. We’re a little lost at the moment, but we’ll keep fighting and try to figure some things out.”
While it was deflation for some drivers, others were elated to advance, particularly Cup Series regular season champion Martin Truex Jr. and Bubba Wallace, who entered the race seven and 19 points behind the playoff cutline, respectively.
“I love where we’re at with this team,” Wallace said. “This is a career year. We just have to keep it going. I’m wore out. We gave it our all. We know next week is a reset. Thank you to the ones who believe in me.”
Among other championship contenders, Brad Keselowski finished eighth, points leader William Byron was ninth and Tyler Reddick was 15th.
Hamlin completed the 500 laps around the .533-mile concrete oval in 2 hours, 48 minutes, 20 seconds with an average speed of 94.99 mph. Six caution flags took up 53 laps, with six drivers exchanging the lead 10 times and 10 drivers finishing on the lead lap.
The Round of 12 Playoffs begins next weekend, Sept. 24, with the AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.
Bass Pro Shops Night Race
NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs
Bristol Motor Speedway
Sept. 16, 2023
- Denny Hamlin
- Kyle Larson
- Christopher Bell
- Chris Buescher
- Ty Gibbs
- Michael McDowell
- Chase Elliott
- Brad Keselowski
- William Byron
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
- Carson Hocevar
- Ryan Preece
- Alex Bowman
- Bubba Wallace
- Tyler Reddick
- Todd Gilliland
- Austin Dillon
- Aric Almirola
- Martin Truex Jr.
- Kyle Busch
- Daniel Suarez
- Ryan Blaney
- Ross Chastain
- Erik Jones
- Corey LaJoie
- JJ Yeley
- Chase Briscoe
- Harrison Burton
- Kevin Harvick
- AJ Allmendinger
- BJ McLeod
- Austin Cindric
- Ty Dillon
- Joey Logano
- Justin Haley
- Ryan Newman