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Denny Hamlin Conquers Food City 500 at Bristol

Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin wields the power of the sword after winning Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. (Photo: Wayne Riegle | The Podium Finish)

BRISTOL, Tenn. — When Denny Hamlin’s NASCAR Cup Series career is in the books, the Chesterfield, Virginia, native may look back on Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway with fervent memories.

Although the box score for the 500-lap race at the 0.533-mile short track reads like a typical, winning effort for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, it was anything but ordinary. In fact, Hamlin, who was the dominant racer at the concrete arena, overcame an encounter with the wall on Lap 124.

As Hamlin and a majority of the 36-driver field can attest to during and after the fifth round of the season, tire degradation or tire wear was atypically excessive at the East Tennessee track. Following the Lap 124 incident, it seemed like Hamlin applied the lessons learned from his early race scare to remain a potent force for the duration of the race.

“This is the first time the driver played a huge role in a long, long time. Long time,” Hamlin said. “It’s a different philosophy from what we’re used to, which is everyone is just kind of on the gas all the time running the bottom, the shortest way around. Technique was a huge deal today.”

Unlike most Bristol races, the Cup series drivers had to finesse their cars while trying to get past lapped traffic. At times, the leaders, primarily in the form of Hamlin, Ty Gibbs, Martin Truex Jr. and Christopher Bell, all from Joe Gibbs Racing, traded the lead to pace the field.

Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin leads his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates in Ty Gibbs, Christopher Bell and Martin Truex Jr. in Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol. (Photo: Josh James | The Podium Finish)

Hamlin, who placed 13th in Stage 1, rallied to a seventh place in Stage 2, netting four stage points. Meanwhile, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammates all made cases on potentially snatching the Food City 500 victory like a savvy coupon hunter.

Namely, Ty Gibbs, last year’s Rookie of the Year winner,  led on nine different stints for 137 laps. Sweeping the stages and netting two Playoff points, it appeared as if the 21-year-old Charlotte, North Carolina, native would win his first Cup race of his career.

Instead, savvy and experience prevailed over youth and enthusiasm in the late moments of the race. Smart driving by Hamlin, mainly with strong tire management skills, paid dividends over Gibbs’ smooth but hard charging ways.

In other words, there was no panic in Hamlin’s eyes as he hunkered down in the final 120 laps. Much like last fall’s Bristol Night Race, along with the dramatics of the tire wear, Hamlin was too much to handle for the rest of the competition.

Outside of Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, Brad Keselowski of RFK Racing, Josh Berry of Stewart-Haas Racing and Kyle Larson of Hendrick Motorsports had respectable mounts. Berry, a Cup rookie, led twice for 25 laps before placing 12th while Larson overcame an equipment interference pit penalty on Lap 374 to grind out a fifth place finish.

Regardless, the 43-year-old racer had the winning hand in an otherwise unpredictable table known as Bristol.

Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin captured Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol. (Photo: Wayne Riegle | The Podium Finish)

Leading the final 17 laps of the race, Hamlin bested Truex by 1.083 seconds while Keselowski placed third. In spite of cutting his finger in Victory Lane, the Virginian demonstrated his patience and poise when it mattered.

“Yeah, experience was a big part of it for sure,” Hamlin said. “I was trying not to get pushed so much by Ty. I knew he was going to push a little too hard. Obviously, I knew Martin was going to be the next guy in line that had the experience to challenge.

“Really proud of the team. Obviously, a really great job on the pit sequence there. Being able to hang on longer than others was the key to us being able to stop later and have some tires at the end.”

Despite placing runner-up on Sunday afternoon, Truex’s path to a strong finish proved impressive considering the condition of his right rear tire in the final laps.

“You know, we just came out too far behind him there on the green flag stop,” Truex said. “I was right on his bumper when he pitted and when I came out, he was a straightaway ahead of us and just used my stuff up too much to try to get there.

“The last five laps, my right rear was corded. It was close. A great run for our Auto-Owners Camry. Great job by everybody on our team all weekend to put us in this position. I was an interesting race, that’s for sure. Just came up a little bit short there.”

Keselowski continued his strong streak in March with a podium finish at Bristol. The 2012 NASCAR Cup Series champion showcased his veteran experience in grand fashion.

“It was an interesting day,” Keselowski said. “There was a lot of discipline required and it was a fun race, to be honest, because you just had to be so smart behind the wheel. It would bite you in a heartbeat and you had to have a good setup. I think we had a good setup and tried to run the smartest race I could.”

Without a doubt, Hamlin did not hold back on how he felt about his Food City 500 victory at Bristol. Namely, he did not hold back as to who he felt was responsible for his 52nd career Cup win.

Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin lights ’em up after winning the Food City 500 at Bristol. (Photo: Josh James | The Podium Finish)

“Way more proud. I know I had such a huge role in the result,” Hamlin said. “If the car was not good, I wasn’t going to win. But I feel like I played a huge factor in the result.

“It’s really a proud one for me. Certainly one of the more proud ones I’ve had in my career, no question.”

Stage 1 Top 10 Results
  1. Ty Gibbs
  2. Kyle Larson
  3. Chris Buescher
  4. Brad Keselowski
  5. John Hunter Nemechek
  6. Ryan Blaney
  7. Martin Truex Jr.
  8. Christopher Bell
  9. Ryan Preece
  10. Josh Berry (R)
Stage 2 Top 10 Results
  1. Ty Gibbs
  2. Brad Keselowski
  3. Joey Logano
  4. John Hunter Nemechek
  5. Christopher Bell
  6. Martin Truex Jr.
  7. Denny Hamlin
  8. Kyle Larson
  9. Bubba Wallace
  10. Ryan Preece
Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway Race Results
Finish Start Car No. Driver Sponsor/Make Status
1 3 11 Denny Hamlin Express Oil Change Toyota Running
2 11 19 Martin Truex Jr. Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota Running
3 17 6 Brad Keselowski King’s Hawaiian Ford Running
4 20 48 Alex Bowman Ally Chevrolet Running
5 10 5 Kyle Larson Chevrolet Running
6 26 42 John Hunter Nemechek Dollar Tree Toyota Running
7 34 17 Chris Buescher Ford Running
8 5 9 Chase Elliott NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Running
9 19 54 Ty Gibbs SiriusXM Toyota Running
10 12 20 Christopher Bell DEWALT Toyota Running
11 7 34 Michael McDowell Love’s Travel Stops Ford Running
12 2 4 Josh Berry (R) SunnyD Ford Running
13 6 14 Chase Briscoe Mahindra Tractors Ford Running
14 25 41 Ryan Preece Ford Running
15 36 1 Ross Chastain Busch Light Fishing Chevrolet Running
16 1 12 Ryan Blaney Menards/Dutch Boy Ford Running
17 32 51 Justin Haley Ohanafy Ford Running
18 28 99 Daniel Suárez Jockey Outdoors by Luke Bryan Chevrolet Running
19 33 15 Kaz Grala (R) N29 Capital Partners Ford Running
20 15 43 Erik Jones AdventHealth Toyota Running
21 18 7 Corey LaJoie Gainbridge Chevrolet Running
22 4 22 Joey Logano Shell Pennzoil Ford Running
23 30 16 AJ Allmendinger Mountain Dew/Doritos Chevrolet Running
24 31 3 Austin Dillon BREZTRI Chevrolet Running
25 14 8 Kyle Busch FICO Chevrolet Running
26 24 38 Todd Gilliland CITGARD Ford Running
27 35 77 Carson Hocevar (R) Gainbridge Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation Chevrolet Running
28 20 31 Daniel Hemric Cirkul Chevrolet Running
29 9 23 Bubba Wallace Leidos Toyota Running
30 23 45 Tyler Reddick Monster Energy Toyota Running
31 21 2 Austin Cindric Discount Tire Ford Running
32 13 21 Harrison Burton DEX Imaging Ford Running
33 27 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Ball Park Buns & Rolls Chevrolet Running
34 22 10 Noah Gragson Bass Pro Shops/Ranger Boats Ford Running
35 8 24 William Byron Liberty University Chevrolet Running
36 24 71 Zane Smith (R) Focused Health Chevrolet Engine

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing. Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Journalism at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's an everywhere kind of man residing in Texas.

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