BRISTOL — The Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race drew a crowd around 100,000 according to the estimates of veteran reporters in the Bristol Motor Speedway press box.
While NASCAR no longer releases official crowd figures, the reporters who follow the circuit on a weekly basis said it was safe to say it was the second largest crowd of the Monster Energy Cup season.
According to those reporters, the only race with a larger crowd was the season-opening Daytona 500, which had a sellout of 101,000 seats along with thousands of infield campers.
Polesitter Denny Hamlin and fellow front row starter Kyle Larson accounted for four lead changes over the first 50 laps of the race.
Larson grabbed the lead when Hamlin tested the outside groove of the track and Larson passed him on the inside. Hamlin reclaimed the lead when Larson had a tough time navigating through traffic.
Hamlin later got hung up in traffic and Larson made a pass in turn 3. Hamlin passed Larson once again getting a good run off the top groove and speeding past him heading into turn 1.
THE ITALIAN STALLION
Matt DiBenedetto stole the show during the BMS pre-race driver introductions.
Coming out to “Gonna Fly Now,” the theme from the “Rocky” movie, DiBenedetto wore a red boxing robe with the words, Italian Stallion, on the back. It represented the driver’s Italian heritage and his underdog role after it was announced he would be replaced in the No. 95 Toyota following the 2019 season.
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 6 Ford, chose to go with “These Are My People,” Rodney Atkins, who grew up in Cumberland Gap, Tenn., and was a 1987 graduate of Powell Valley High School.
Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson went with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” which is played before the start of Virginia Tech football games.
The visit to Bristol Motor Speedway marked the first of three to iconic venues to end the Monster Energy Cup NASCAR Series regular season.
After going 500 laps on Bristol’s high-banked, .533-mile short track, the series has a week off.
Racing returns the following week to NASCAR’s first superspeedway, the 1.333-mile Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. The regular season concludes with a race at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a rectangular-shaped 2.5-mile track.