On a challenging “new” track that made passing difficult and ignited a few tempers, Denny Hamlin surged near the finish and won Saturday night’s Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The track, its racing groove made smaller by a modification of the outside sections of the turns, saw 13 cautions, numerous multi-car accidents and a helmet-throwing exhibition by an infuriated Tony Stewart.
Welcome back to the “old” Bristol.
Hamlin scored his third win of the year to improve his Chase positioning considerably.
Following in the top five were Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Brian Vickers and Marcos Ambrose.
Stewart was enraged about being involved in an accident with Matt Kenseth while they wrestled for the lead on lap 334.
Stewart and Kenseth were running side by side when Kenseth, who normally avoids such encounters with a lot of racing left, slipped up the track into Stewart, who responded by moving down on Kenseth.
As they rolled along the frontstretch, they both lost control and slid toward the pit wall. Kenseth was able to continue. Stewart climbed from his car and began plotting revenge.
After Kenseth pitted and drove down pit road to return to the track, Stewart, who was waiting at the end of pit road, threw his helmet at Kenseth’s car, hitting the front end. It resembled the sort of helmet toss practiced by other angry drivers over the years at Bristol.
In an interview later, Stewart promised to run over Kenseth “every chance I get for the rest of the year.” Stewart later returned to the track, but he and Kenseth were not near each other the rest of the way.
Several potential winners fell victim to other accidents.
One wreck took two – Ryan Newman and Jeff Burton – out of the front pack. Newman sailed into the inside wall along the frontstretch after contact with Juan Pablo Montoya on lap 192, and Burton, who had been enjoying one of the best runs of what has been a difficult season, slammed into Newman’s sliding car.
Brad Keselowski, seeking a third straight win at Bristol and driving a Dodge carrying a paint scheme similar to that once driven by retired Bristol winner Rusty Wallace, fell out of the competition at the front near the race’s halfway point when Brian Vickers slowed with a tire problem and Keselowski was pushed into the wall behind him.
Kasey Kahne led 42 laps in the early going but lost some zip when his car slid in oil from the wrecked car of David Ragan on lap 149.
The crashing carnival also collected Danica Patrick, who was knocked out of the race by Regan Smith on lap 435. After climbing from her car, she pointed her finger at Smith as he passed on the track.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.