BRISTOL, Tenn. – Denny Hamlin added another victory to his resume on Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.
It required a comeback of the ages for Hamlin to claim his fourth victory of the 2019 season, and 35th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory.
“Between my spotter (Chris Lambert) and the crew chief (Chris Gabehart), just stayed on me to not get anxious, just kind of take my time,” Hamlin said. “I had plenty of time.
“I just worked him over, worked him over. I knew I didn’t want to show him the bottom until I knew I could make the pass. I ran the top, ran the top, ran the top, got the position on the bottom and finished it. We had a great car that could move around. Came back from a couple laps down and here we are.”
After starting on the pole position, Hamlin fell off the lead lap early after an incident collected him at lap 80 while he was in the lead.
Getting back on the lead lap just before halfway, the comeback was on.
For a majority of the final 100 laps, Matt DiBenedetto was in charge, having taken over as the leader at lap 396, laps after the final restart of the event at lap 387.
DiBenedetto had trouble working through lapped traffic, and coming to 12 laps to go, Hamlin completed the comeback, taking the point on lap 489.
DiBenedetto kept the gap close, but Hamlin would not falter.
Earlier in the week, it was announced that DiBenedetto would not be returning to his current seat in the 2020 season, in the No. 95 Toyota for Leavine Family Racing.
DiBenedetto’s entrance during driver introductions was the most memorable of the night. DiBenedetto walked out dressed in boxing attire, with “The Italian Stallion” as his inspiration, walking out to the song made famous from the movie “Rocky”.
As DiBenedetto appeared on the “Colossus” screen suspended above the center of the track after the race had concluded, the crowd erupted into cheers.
It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in person. Chilling. https://t.co/MHQoZ6Vo8a
— Justin Melillo (@justinmelillo) August 18, 2019
“I don’t even know what to say,” DiBendetto said. “I’m so sad we didn’t win, but proud, proud of the effort. I got tight there from the damage from trying to get by (Ryan) Newman and that immediately flipped a switch and got tight.
“Man, this opportunity has been – that’s what I want everybody to know, how thankful I am that I got this opportunity and to work with great people like (Mike) “Wheels” (Wheeler), my crew chief.”
The first two stages were set at 125 laps a piece, and the final stage had 250 laps for a full 500 lap event.
One caution slowed the action in the first stage, and after it was said and done, Kyle Larson would reap the benefits of the misfortunes of others.
With Hamlin falling off the lead lap, Larson was the second best car in the opening stage, and went on to take the green-checkered flag.
Stage two was a heartbreaking stage for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Aric Almirola was involved in two separate incidents, the first of which resulted in heavy damage to the rear of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Mustang.
Clint Bowyer went for a spin in Turn 2 in his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Mustang, bringing out the fifth caution of the night.
As the field worked the caution, Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Mustang had an apparent clutch issue, and pulled his machine behind the wall.
While that all went on, Kurt Busch quietly moved into the lead position. On the final restart of the stage, Busch held off his former ride, the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Mustang of Daniel Suarez, to win Stage 2.
The final stage was slowed twice for a pair of multi-car incidents.
The first incident involved a blown tire on Alex Bowman’s No. 88 Camaro, and as he slowed up into the wall, collected both Joey Logano and William Byron.
Ryan Blaney’s flat tire triggered the second incident, which took out contenders such as Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Michael McDowell, David Ragan, and Jimmie Johnson.
DiBenedetto led 93 laps after taking the lead from Erik Jones on lap 396.
Jones wound up in the wall, and went multiple laps down when he had to pit for repairs.
DiBenedetto led Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski at the beginning of the run to the end, but Hamlin was in pursuit.
Hamlin made his way up to second while DiBenedetto continued to work through the traffic.
The lapped car of Ryan Newman made life difficult for the No. 95, and at one point, caused damage to the front left section of the nose.
It’s unclear if the slight damage allowed Hamlin to close in, but with 12 laps to go, DiBenedetto’s chance at a first career victory slipped away.
Denny Hamlin jumps from fourth to third in the drivers standings, and now has the second most playoff points earned thus far, with 23.
Kyle Busch continues to grow his lead over Joey Logano, now at a 39 point gap. Busch leads the series with 29 playoff points.
Next week, the series takes an off-weekend, but will return in two weeks at Darlington Raceway.
Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com