For the last time in the regular season, Bristol Motor Speedway hosted the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race with plenty of hype heading into the 500 laps under the lights on a Saturday night in Tennessee. Several drivers were fighting for a playoff spot, and perhaps a job for next season.
Denny Hamlin began the march around the high banks; taking the green flag with the lead. Kyle Larson stayed right behind him and was able to battle Hamlin for the lead. The two battled back and forth until Hamlin won the battle. With Hamlin in the lead, Jimmie Johnson and Austin Dillon made contact with each other and brought out the first caution of the race. Hamlin was also involved in the caution with minor damage. Kyle Larson won the race off pit road and ran the high line to his victory in stage one.
Larson continued to lead heading into the second stage of the race, but Kevin Harvick made the pass for the lead on lap 165. With 63 laps left in the stage, Aric Almirola cut a tire and slammed hard into the outside fence for another caution. Harvick continued to lead heading to the restart. The field was not racing under the green flag for long when Almirola brought the caution again as he spun around racing into turn three. With nobody coming down pit road, Harvick led the field back to the green flag. Clint Bowyer brought out another caution late in stage two as he was battling for position. Most of the leaders returned to pit road under the caution, but Kurt Busch stayed out to take the lead. Harvick had a transmission failure trying to drive out of his pit stall and had to bring his machine to the garage. On the restart, Busch was able to jump out in front to win stage two.
Kyle Busch stayed out under the stage break and cycled into the race lead, but his lead was short-lived when Brad Keselowski immediately took it away from him. Busch was able to stay within reach and grabbed the lead back from Keselowski on lap 355. Seven laps later, a caution flag waved when Alex Bowman and Joey Logano created contact with one another. Bowman came down pit road with significant damage. Busch restarted with the race lead, but on the restart, another caution flag came out. Ryan Blaney ran up the track into multiple drivers including Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Jimmie Johnson. Erik Jones held the lead bringing the field around into the restart. As he was able to jump in front of the field, Matt DiBenedetto launched himself into the second-place position. With 104 laps left in the race, DiBenedetto took the lead away from Erik Jones. DiBenedetto held a stable lead over the rest of the field, but Denny Hamlin was moving his No. 11 car through the top-five. Hamlin eventually moved his way into second place with the race still running green. Matt DiBenedetto was approaching heavy traffic, allowing Hamlin to get into striking position. Hamlin made his move by passing DiBenedetto with twelve laps left in the race. Hamlin was able to race on uninterrupted and win at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Denny Hamlin overcame multiple issues throughout the race and was even a lap down at one point during the race. He was held up in the first stage as he was involved in the caution with Jimmie Johnson and Austin Dillon. His team had to repair damage and he was left with poor track position on the rest of the field. In the second stage, he returned to pit road under the green flag when he reported a loose wheel. This is when it seemed like all hope was lost. However, he was able to battle back into contention throughout the remaining laps in the race. He put himself in position with an excellent strategy and won the race.
Only two races left in the regular season. After a two-week break, the Cup Series will make their way to Darlington Raceway for the Bojangles’ Southern 500. This will be another test of endurance for the series with many still fighting for a spot in the playoffs. This race will have big implications with many teams right on the bubble.