Bristol, Tenn.— Three consecutive nights of NASCAR action at the Last Great Coliseum of Bristol Motor Speedway didn’t disappoint when all the checkered flags finally flew.
Matt DiBenedetto didn’t win the actual race, but won the hearts and adulation of many on Saturday, Tyler Reddick overcame pre-race and mid-race penalties to win on Friday and Brett Moffit was left standing in Victory Lane on Thursday.
Hamlin takes Checkers, DiBenedetto Takes Bows
Denny Hamlin started on the pole for Saturday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 500-lap race. He led the early portion, then had to pit under green to fix a loose wheel on lap 189, going a lap down.
For the meantime, nine other drivers took the lead for portions of the race before suffering mechanical and on-track situations. Most notable was Kevin Harvick who led the race, hit pit road under caution and when the jack was dropped for him to go back to racing – didn’t move. The transmission gave out, and he was out.
Meanwhile the underdog and fan favorite, Matt DiBenedetto in his No. 95 Toyota remained in the top-10, then the top-five and then took the lead. He would remain there for a race-high 96 laps and was 15 circuits from claiming his first victory.
However, Hamlin had raced his way back onto the lead lap and was closing in on the leader. With 11 circuits left, he took the top spot, the checkered flag and won his fourth race of the year.
Earlier in the week, DiBenedetto was informed he would not be returning to the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing ride next year. Hamlin knew this and was apologetic for denying the 95 team the win.
“I just want to say sorry to Matt DiBenedetto and (his crew chief) Mike Wheeler,” said Hamlin, who won for the fourth time this season, the second time at Bristol and the 35th time in his career. “I hate it. I know a win would mean a lot to that team, but I’ve got to give 110% to my whole team. Just, sorry.”
A dejected DiBenedetto was very emotional in his post-race interview, and had every right to feel that way.
“I wanted to win so bad for these guys, for this team, for them giving me this opportunity,” he said next to his car, the emotion evident in his voice. “I’m just thankful that they gave me this opportunity. But man, I’m sad.
“Congrats to Denny, he raced hard. I’ve been a fan of his since I was a kid. To be racing door-to-door with him at Bristol, in front of a great group of fans. I’ll try not to get emotional, but it’s been a tough week. I just want to stick around and keep doing this for a long time to come.
“I love it, I love the opportunity. I’m not done yet.”
When his post-race interview was shown on the big screen, the crowd erupted with cheers for the gladiator who almost – almost – conquered at the Coliseum.
Rounding out the top-five was Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott…who had all led the race at some point.
The Cup Series is off this weekend, for the final time of the year.
Reddick Reels it In for Win
Tyler Reddick failed post-race inspection, had a crew member ejected and had to start at the rear of the field before the green flag even flew. After working his was into the top-15, he was issued a pit road penalty and had to restart at the longest line.
He and the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet team rallied, once again, to get back up front. Oh, and he spun out during the race. Then, while running second, Lady Luck shined upon them as race leader Justin Allgaier cut a tire forcing him to pit under green.
As a result, an unlikely winner in Reddick ended up in Victory Lane after overcoming all the aforementioned obstacles. Rounding out the top-five finishers was Chase Briscoe, John Hunter Nemechek, Jeremy Clements and pole sitter Austin Cindric.
Moffit Tops Trucks
Brett Moffit is making it known he can repeat and defend last year’s championship by kicking off the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series Playoffs with a win. He did that avoiding multiple spins, penalties to others and late-race restarts to take the victory on Thursday night.
Rounding out the top-five finishers was Chandler Smith, Ross Chastain, Stewart Friesen and Grant Enfinger.