Bristol, TN (Sports Network) - Denny Hamlin survived a wild night of racing at Bristol Motor Speedway to claim his third victory of the season and therefore virtually assure him a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Saturday night's Irwin Tools Night Race featured pit strategy throughout its 500-lap distance. Hamlin last pitted during a caution with less than 90 laps remaining. Carl Edwards remained on the track and took over the lead at the time.
After a fierce battle for the lead, Hamlin wrestled the top spot away from Edwards with 38 laps to go. Hamlin then held off Jimmie Johnson at the finish by 1.1 seconds for his first win at this 0.533-mile, high-banked oval.
"This is just a big win," Hamlin said. "I don't know how else to explain it."
Johnson's second-place finish allowed him to clinch a spot in the Chase. Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. also punched their tickets into the playoffs with just two races to go before it begins. Biffle, the current points leader, finished 19th, while Earnhardt Jr. placed 12th.
Jeff Gordon took the third spot, followed by Brian Vickers and Marcos Ambrose.
The race featured 13 cautions on Bristol's modified concrete surface. The top groove of the surface was grinded with hopes of bringing back traditional beating and banging among competitors on this track.
And it did, creating the most amount of cautions since the track was reconfigured with variable banking in the summer of 2007.
The most notable caution came on lap 333 when Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth bumped into each other and crashed while battling for the lead just after a restart.
Stewart expressed his displeasure towards Kenseth when he threw his helmet at the hood of Kenseth's car during the caution laps.
"We weren't that great race car, but we were definitely faster than Matt after that restart," Stewart said. "He checked up twice to knock me over, and I learned my lesson there. I'm going to run over him every chance I get from now until the end of the year, every chance I get."
Stewart ended up finishing 27th, two spots behind Kenseth.
Danica Patrick, who made her fourth Sprint Cup Series start, was also involved in a late-race wreck. Regan Smith bumped into Patrick, causing her to spin down the track and hit the inside retaining wall. She finished 29th.
Instead of throwing her helmet, Patrick showed her disgust towards Smith by finger-pointing at him when he came around the track under caution.
"Bristol is a place where you find out who's playing fair and who's not," Patrick said.
Edwards, who is battling for a spot in the Chase, faded with less than 20 laps remaining before he ran out of fuel with four to go. He finished 22nd.