Denny Hamlin holds off Matt DiBenedetto, wins at Bristol

First pole of the year for Hamlin at Bristol	
				Image by Thacker  LAT

First pole of the year for Hamlin at Bristol Image by Thacker LAT

However, Denny Hamlin's stirring comeback to beat Matt DiBenedetto for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race win Saturday was another highly entertaining race at the "World's Fastest Half-Mile".

With 100 laps remaining DiBenedetto led and Hamlin was fourth. It was his fourth win of the season and his second in the Bristol Night Race. His last win at The Last Great Coliseum before Saturday was in August of 2012.

The Daytona 500 victor gave both Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing its first pole of the season in qualifying, but the result was not official until after inspection began hours before the race.

"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. The race victor had empathy for DiBenedetto and his former crew chief. "I hate it. I know what a win would mean to that team", Hamlin said as soon as he exited his vehicle. It was nearly like fans intentionally stuck around just to wait for that moment, then roared at the first chance they got.

Denny Hamlin, 11 auto, and Matt DiBenedetto went door to door Saturday night in Bristol.

"To come from the inside line, pass all those guys, march to the front ... that makes me feel pretty good", Hamlin said. "This pit crew, my crew chief (Chris Gabehart) ... everybody is doing an fantastic job right now".

But SMI CEO Marcus Smith struck back and posted on Twitter that there was no grinding to the upper groove and "actually we just cleaned off the upper groove".

"Between my spotter (Chris Lambert) and crew chief (Chris Gabehart), they just stayed on me to not get anxious, just kind of take my time", Hamlin said. "I had plenty of time". The gesture brought more attention to DiBenedetto's plight and ultimately a partial sponsorship that helped him get through the 2018 season.

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That bottom lane was Hamlin's ace card, he tipped after the race. I just worked him over and worked him over. He benefited when his team made a decision to get tires on a late pit stop when others stayed out for track position.

With 200 laps remaining in the race, Keselowski maintained a small lead over Kyle Busch with Elliott in third, followed by Truex and Jones.

Matt DiBenedetto (95) leads in the final laps of Saturday's Bass Pro Shops/NRA Night Race.

The restart commenced on lap 370 with Busch leading. He's maturing, he's made a real effort and maturing as a person and a race vehicle driver and crew chief of Chris Gabeheart is part of that."At the end of Stage One, Kyle Larson had taken the win and the incident in Stage One had put Hamlin down by two laps and even making it in the top ten wasn't looking promising".

DiBenedetto had taken the lead from Erik Jones on Lap 396 and led a race-high 93 laps, but trying to get around the uncooperative lapped vehicle of Ryan Newman with 41 to go, the two made contact which affected the handling of DiBenedetto's machine and cost him much of his lead over Hamlin. Newman refused to give an inch as DiBenedetto tried to put him down a lap, and contact between the two cars caused DiBenedetto's Toyota to tighten up as Hamlin closed the gap. Hamlin was then able to get under DiBenedetto and drive away to win by 0.502 seconds.

After climbing out, DiBenedetto couldn't hold the emotions back and was almost in tears as he spoke candidly about what his standout performance meant, as well as what he missed out on in the final laps.

Hamlin knew how much a win would mean to DiBenedetto. But, man, I'm sad. "It flipped a switch and got tight", he said. "[Hamlin] is a guy that I've asked advice from, I've been a fan of as a kid". Then on NBCSN's post-race broadcast, Hamlin said he was emotional for DiBenedetto, calling him "a great guy" and an "amazing race vehicle driver".

DiBenedetto was emotional after such a tough week and losing the race in such a dramatic fashion, and the race's victor had plenty of empathy. "Just want to stick around and keep doing this for a long time to come". I love it, I love the opportunity and I'm not done yet.

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