BRISTOL, TENN - After leading 142 laps, Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin found Victory Lane at Bristol Motor Speedway to win the Bass Pro Shops Night Race, earning some beneficial playoff points heading into the Round of 12.
Hamlin and his No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry had speed all night long, even after a pit-road speeding penalty set them back earlier in the race. The now 51-time race winner in the NASCAR Cup Series was fired up after his victory fueled by the crowd that welcomed him with boos.
"Man, everybody likes a winner, right? Can’t thank this whole FedEx team enough," Hamlin said. "They’ve really kicked ass this whole first round. Really amazing how our team has been. So happy about the way we’re running. Can’t wait to keep going."
Hamlin's response caused a louder show of displeasure from the crowd, which caught the attention of NBC Sports reporter Marty Snider. He asked Hamlin if the boos from the fans motivated him.
Then, Hamlin looked at the crowd and said, "Hey, I beat your favorite driver."
Snider responded, "Who would that be?" Hamlin replied with a big smile on his face, "All of them."
Hendrick Motorsports' Kyle Larson took home second place at Bristol. Larson had already clinched his spot in the Round of 12 after winning at Darlington, so he was just looking to get some extra playoff points.
"I’m definitely happy to finish second," Larson said. "The race went a lot better than I thought it would. Our No. 5 Valvoline Chevy was good, too.
"I feel like we had the second-best car and we finished second with it. We just didn’t have the pace that Denny had. He was really, really fast and got through traffic really well."
This was an elimination race to end the Round of 16 that saw past Cup Series champions Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick get eliminated from further playoff contention, while Toyota driver Bubba Wallace advanced in his first playoff appearance as a driver.
In fact, Wallace is the only driver who made his playoff debut in 2023, which is part of the reason why the pressure is on him to succeed, especially with 23XI teammate Tyler Reddick winning the previous week at Kansas.
“It was a tough run," Wallace said in an emotional post-race interview. "I love that shit right there. They counted us out. Like Coco Gauff said, all they are doing is adding fuel to the fire. I love it. I love where I’m at with this team. Wish my mom, dad and sister were here to celebrate."
Wallace finished 14th and earned three stage points which helped him secure a cushion large enough to advance.
"I’m in a career year, just have to keep it going," Wallace continued. "I appreciate all of the partners involved. I’m mentally exhausted. We gave it our all there. We battled hard and executed and that is what we have to do.
"We know next week is a reset. We just have to go out and have some fun and work our asses off. Thank you to the ones that believe in me. On to next week."
Besides Harvick and Logano, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Michael McDowell were also eliminated from the playoffs.
Results from the 2023 Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol are listed below.
Other Race Facts
The NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Round of 12 is officially set. The image below includes the updated Cup Series points heading into the second round of the playoffs.
Carson Hocevar, piloting the No. 42 Chevrolet for Legacy Motor Club, has been something special to watch in recent weeks. Hocevar finished 11th at Bristol in a car that is 32nd in owner points and has shown very little speed all season.
"We had a really fast No. 42 Sunseeker Chevy," Hocevar said. "It was a lot of fun. We were running fifth at one point and I think that’s where we finished in Stage 2. Our car was so fast. Luke (Lambert) and this whole Legacy Motor Club team has worked so hard."
Toyota had all five playoff drivers advance into the Round of 12. The manufacturer has six full-time cars, and now five remain in the title hunt. Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Christopher Bell, along with 23XI Racing's Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick, are the five drivers still fighting for a championship.
Truex Jr. was in danger of being eliminated as he scored just 40 points in the first three playoff races, which was the least among all playoff drivers. Due to winning the Regular Season Championship and having 36 playoff points, Truex Jr. is once again tied for the top spot in the standings heading into the Round of 12.
Chase Elliott advanced in the Cup Series Owners Championship Playoffs, which marks the second straight season where a driver who failed to make the playoffs as a driver helped the team advance into the second round of this particular title fight (Bubba Wallace, 2022).
The 2023 GRID Ranking is the seventh year of the world's premier motorsport ranking and was initially released on Sunday, April 2.
Drivers in the seven racing series participating in the ranking (NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula 1, Formula E, World Rally Championship, Repco Supercars, MotoGP) have earned GRID Ratings, which helped determine their seeding during Week 24 of the 2023 GRID Ranking.
MOST RECENT FINISH
Martin Truex Jr.
Week 25 of the GRID Ranking:
Denny Hamlin jumped from fourth to first in the NASCAR rating. This also left William Byron and Martin Truex Jr. outside of the top two for the first time in numerous weeks.
The first race in the Round of 12 will take place at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, Sept. 24. Coverage of the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 400 will begin at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network.
GRID Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/GRIDRanking
GRID Ranking: https://twitter.com/GridRanking
GRID TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@gridnetwork
GRID Buy Me A Coffee: https://www.buymeacoffee.com/gridnetwork
GRID Website: https://www.gridranking.com/
GRID History: https://twitter.com/Grid_History
GRID YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/@gridranking