BRISTOL — Denny Hamlin felt Bristol Motor Speedway owed him. Not anymore.
After coming close to wins at the high-banked short track on three different occasions, Hamlin powered his No. 11 Toyota past Carl Edwards’ Ford on lap 463 of Saturday’s IRWIN Tools Night Race and went on to record his first Bristol win.
“I can’t even tell you what this means. This is my biggest win,” said Hamlin, who unofficially wrapped up a berth in the upcoming ‘Chase for the Cup’ playoffs with his third win of the season. “This is just a big win, I don’t know how else to explain it, but it’s the night race at Bristol.”
It was the 20th career win for the 31-year-old Virginia driver with seven of those coming on short tracks. It was the fifth Bristol Cup Series win for car owner Joe Gibbs, and it gave Toyota a sweep of the week’s races.
Timothy Peters won Wednesday’s Camping World Truck Series race and Joey Logano won Friday’s Nationwide Series race.
Hamlin and Edwards bumped three times on the lap of the winning pass. Both drivers nearly lost control before Hamlin slid in front of Edwards’ car.
“That’s what you have to do,” Hamlin said. “It’s one line and you still have to knock someone out of the way.”
Jimmie Johnson finished second in a Chevrolet, some 10 car lengths behind the race winner. The five-time champion started in 37th and made up more spots than any other driver to finish in the runner-up spot.
“It was a great night,” Johnson said. “We got messed up in practice and had to start from the back. This track has been incredibly difficult to pass on over the years. There was plenty of bumping and banging, and plenty of slide jobs out there tonight.”
Jeff Gordon in a Chevrolet, Brian Vickers in a Toyota and Marcos Ambrose in a Ford rounded out the top five.
“It was a pretty wild night,” Gordon said. “I say they grind the whole place. What I loved about the place, it reminded me of old school Bristol like 1991 or ‘92 before they even put concrete down.
“There’s no more bump and runs, but there are plenty of slide jobs.”
Edwards, racing on older tires, fell back in the pack before running out of fuel in the final laps and finishing 22nd.
The action was wild throughout the race with 13 caution periods for 87 laps. Those were the most cautions at Bristol since the 2006 Food City 500.
It included a wreck between race leaders Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth on lap 322 which left Stewart fuming.
The defending series champion took off his helmet and hit Kenseth’s car as he passed by. Stewart promised further retaliation over the rest of the season.
“I checked-up twice to not run over him (Kenseth) and I learned my lesson there,” Stewart said. “I’m going to run over him every him every chance I’ve got from now until the end of the year, every chance I’ve got.”
Danica Patrick finished 29th in her Sprint Cup Series debut at the track after contact with Regan Smith and slamming the frontstretch wall on lap 434.
“We’re all racing hard. This is Bristol and this is why people love this track is because you see a lot of that and you see tempers flare,” she said. “I felt like we were going to get a top-20 finish and finish on the lead lap. But you know, Bristol is a place where you find out who’s playing fair and who’s not.”