Denny Hamlin did not let the Bristol boos bother him Saturday night.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver dominated the second half of Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race and won the elimination event of NASCAR’s Round of 16 at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee.
Hamlin defeated Kyle Larson by 2.437 seconds in the cutoff race to win for the third time this season and advance to the three-race Round of 12 that begins at Texas Motor Speedway next Sunday.
“Hey, everybody likes a winner, right?” said Hamlin to the fans as the BMS crowd rained boos after his 51st Cup win and third at the half-mile track. “Hey, I beat your favorite driver.”
He said he feels this year is a championship one for him and his No. 11 team.
“It’s our year. I just feel like we’ve got it all put together. We got the speed at every type of race track. Nothing can stop us at this point,” he said.
Christopher Bell, Chris Buescher and Ty Gibbs rounded out the top-five finishers in the short-track race that saw six cautions and one major incident that affected the postseason standings.
However, four drivers saw their title hopes dashed in the 500-lapper around the high-banked, 0.533-mile track in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains of east Tennessee.
In a quartet led by defending 2022 Cup Series champion Joey Logano, 2014 title winner Kevin Harvick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Michael McDowell were eliminated from championship contention.
Logano’s chance of repeating as champion came to an end on Lap 262 after a restart. His No. 22 Team Penske Ford was collected and suffered major damage after Corey LaJoie’s Chevrolet slid up into traffic after a spin.
“We just weren’t fast enough,” Logano said. “You go down here a lap in the back at Bristol … and you get caught up in stuff. It was our own fault. We didn’t go fast enough with our Mustang.”
In the 125-lap Stage 1, polesitter Bell paced the pack before AJ Allmendinger banged the wall to bring out the first caution on Lap 69. Austin Cindric’s Ford smacked Allmendinger’s No. 16 as it came down the track.
After losing the lead during the first round of pit stops, Bell regained the top spot and claimed the first segment’s bonus points.
Rain created a 20-minute red-flag condition on the 500-lap event, but Bell soon picked up right where he left off and set a strong pace until he was passed by Larson, who won the Round of 16’s opening race with a win at Darlington Raceway.
However, Bell battled back and earned more bonus points with his second stage win and fourth of 2023.
–Field Level Media