By Reid Spencer (NASCAR Wire Service, Aug. 25, 2012).
BRISTOL, Tenn. — It wasn’t the old Bristol, but it was definitely a better Bristol.
Denny Hamlin saved his best effort for the stretch run in Saturday’s Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, and his persistence paid off with the No. 11 team’s third win of the season in 24 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races.
“It’s Bristol — I don’t know what to say, man,” Hamlin said as he crossed the finish line. “I’m so damn happy.”
But it wasn’t the same Bristol that played to half-empty grandstands in March. On the contrary, grinding two degrees of banking off the outside lane — a project orchestrated after the March race — helped produce an abundance of action, but perhaps not in the way track owner Bruton Smith intended.
After a heated battle, Hamlin passed Carl Edwards for the lead on Lap 462 but didn’t clear the No. 99 Ford until both drivers traded shots. As Edwards faded, Hamlin pulled away to beat Jimmie Johnson to the checkered flag by 1.103 seconds.
Jeff Gordon ran third, followed by Brian Vickers and Marcos Ambrose.
On the newly ground surface at the .533-mile short track, the race featured 13 cautions and plenty of emotion, as drivers began to rubber-in the outside groove and discovered it was the fastest way around.
To Hamlin, the racing was similar to the old Bristol — just that cars ran single-file in the top groove instead of on the bottom of the track.
“It’s just a different kind of racing,” said Hamlin, who won the 20th Cup race of his career and the record 200th for the No. 11. “There’s nothing (Smith is) going to do that’s going to make us run the bottom, if that’s not the fastest way around the track. But it was the same thing — we were all running in a line. You’re just waiting for the next guy to screw up to get around (him).
“That’s what we had to do with the old Bristol, and that’s exactly how we had to race today. The slide job was an option to pass, which won us the race. I don’t think we saw as much side-by-side racing, but you didn’t see side-by-side racing with the old Bristol. You just saw a bunch of cars in line, waiting for someone to get knocked out of the way or to mess up.”
Video recap of Final Laps.
Watch Denny in Victory Lane.
Denny answers media questions in post-race Press Conference.