BRISTOL — Bristol Motor Speedway came back in a big way Saturday night.
Drivers feuding, helmet throwing and Denny Hamlin making a slide job for the winning pass.
Track owner Bruton Smith’s decision to have the top groove of Bristol Motor Speedway grinded down prior to Saturday’s IRWIN Tools Night Race paid off in a big way.
The race featured 22 lead changes among 13 drivers, and 13 caution periods for 87 laps.
While not the bump-and-run, Hamlin used an aggressive move to get past Carl Edwards for the winning pass.
Hamlin dove to the inside of Edwards coming off turn two and the two drivers battled side-by-side down the backstretch. Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota finally got enough space to slide in front of Edwards’ No. 99 Ford a lap later, although Edwards rammed the back of Hamlin’s car as they came off turn four. Both drivers maintained control and Hamlin drove away for the victory.
“I knew I had to do everything I could just to slide up in front of him,” Hamlin said. “It was my only chance. That’s the way Bristol racing is supposed to be -- rooting and gouging.”
There was plenty of the rooting and gouging with Goodyear bringing a different left-side tire compound to the track. According to third-place finisher Jeff Gordon, the combination of the tires and the track surface reminded him of the old Bristol, the real old Bristol when like when the track was asphalt instead of concrete.
“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.”
Sometimes, the slide jobs worked out better than other times.
Such was the case on lap 332 when race leaders Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth wrecked coming off turn four. Stewart was fuming afterwards, taking his helmet and bouncing it off Kenseth’s machine.
“I checked-up twice to not run over him and I learned my lesson there,” Stewart said. “I’m going to run over him every chance I’ve got from now until the end of the year, every chance I’ve got.”
Kenseth didn’t see their accident the same way. He saw Stewart as the one to blame.
“I’m a little confused. I was running the top leading and he went into turn one like I wasn’t there and just went straight to the fence,” Kenseth said. “If I wouldn’t have lifted, like he chose not to do the next corner, we would have wrecked. He chose not to lift and wrecked us both.”
There was more give than take all night, making the race highly entertaining. The hard racing took out other big contenders besides Stewart and Kenseth.
Ryan Newman was knocked into the wall by Juan Pablo Montoya on lap 190 and Bobby Labonte ended Brad Keselowski’s hopes 81 laps later.
At the end of it all, track owner Bruton Smith, more than Denny Hamlin, ended up the biggest winner. With a slogan of the, ‘Fans spoke. We listened.’ building up the IRWIN Tools Night Race, Bristol Motor Speedway gave the fans what they asked for with an action-packed race.