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NASCAR Cup Series: Hamlin survives chaos at Bristol

Written by Sean McKean, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri

Denny Hamlin took his first victory of the season at Bristol Motor Speedway in a race of attrition. This is also Joe Gibbs Racing’s second win of the season, and Hamlin’s fourth win at Bristol.

When the first stage began, many thought it would be a duel between Josh Berry and Denny Hamlin, who led early. But that quickly changed once the first caution – for William Byron hitting the wall – was called. The ensuing restart saw Tyler Reddick spin after staying out, stacking up every Spire and Kaulig car behind. 

The next restart saw an emerging theme come to light: Tyre wear. Though Berry took the lead again, the lead constantly swapped hands amongst many drivers from several manufacturers. From Chase Elliott to Berry to Bubba Wallace, there was no clear-cut favourite emerging. The jockeying would slow down though, as Zane Smith blew a tyre after being involved in the crash with Reddick.

On the restart, Hamlin and Kyle Busch pulled away, but took too much out of their tyres. This allowed Ty Gibbs, Kyle Larson and Chris Buescher to cycle to the front, and begin battling for the stage win. 

However, the aforementioned Hamlin and Busch had incidents that brought out the caution to end the stage, as Hamlin hit the wall and Busch spun out. The stage ended with Gibbs leading, from Larson and Buescher. 

The beginning of the second stage saw an interesting dilemma occur with everyone in the field. Since everyone was focused on conserving tyres, anyone leading the race would slow down the pack, in an attempt to keep their tyres alive. This resulted in many lead changes – swapping between drivers such as Gibbs, Martin Truex Jr. and Chris Buescher.

The first caution of this stage came out though from a crash in the back of the field between Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Daniel Hemric. The ensuing pit cycle resulted in a penalty for Ty Gibbs, dropping the seeming favourite to the back of the field.

On the restart, the lead swapping continued. While the lead kept changing hands between Buescher, Bell, Logano and Blaney, NASCAR confirmed on lap 200 that they would give every team an extra set of tyres, as they and Goodyear did not anticipate the excessive tyre wear.

On lap 228, Kyle Busch’s already bad day became worse, as he would spin on his own in turn two. Since it was nearing the end of the stage, the caution saw many on old tyres stay out and try to go for stage points.

However, it was all for nought, as Ty Gibbs methodically worked his way through the field, and with some luck from the caution, he quickly grabbed the lead. Though drivers such as Logano and John Hunter Nemechek gave him a run for his money, the stage ended on lap 250 with another Gibbs victory, with Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano following suit.

The final stage began with more of the same: Gibbs maintained his lead and took off out front. However, his teammate – Martin Truex Jr – soon took the lead. His car was set up well for the tyre wear, as he took the lead early and kept it until lap 310, when Josh Berry spun around in turn two.

Many didn’t think the next restart would be the last, so they pushed as hard as they could. However, no one anticipated a green flag run to take them to pit cycles, such as Noah Gragson and Daniel Hemric – who slammed the wall on lap 362. Though the caution wouldn’t come out until lap 368, when Austin Cindric and Stenhouse collided and spun in front of the leaders

The restart saw JGR continue their dominance, Ty Gibbs leading all of his teammates in the top four. Though he lost the lead to Hamlin after a while, no one seemed to challenge the Toyotas. But as they spent more time on their tyres, issues arose. Ty Gibbs, having been dominant all day, suffered a left-rear puncture that put him in the wall with 70 to go, subsequently putting him out of contention.

The JGR drivers to have survived the “danger zone” of the tyres were Denny Hamlin and Truex. They battled hard until the end, having to carve through layers of traffic, but it was Hamlin who crossed the line to take victory at Bristol, followed by Martin Truex Jr – scoring his best finish at Bristol since 2011. 

Brad Keselowski rallied RFK to a third-placed finish, Alex Bowman – having avoided trouble all day – quietly scored fourth, and Kyle Larson rounded out the top five.

Catch the next round of NASCAR Cup Series action at Circuit of the Americas for the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix – the first road course of the season.


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