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Hamlin dances to Bristol victory

Denny Hamlin made sure he was in the right place to benefit from off-sync pit strategies and a series of hot-tempered accidents making for an eventful and topsy-turvy night at Bristol.
Bristol Motor Speedway is one of the shortest, tightest and most claustrophobic tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup calendar, and the pressure cooker atmosphere this close to the Chase cut-off made for an eventful night's racing - which included Carl Edwards misjudging his pit stop strategy, a wrecked Danica Patrick pointing an accusing finger at one driver, and Tony Stewart throwing a retaliatory helmet in fury at another.

In the end it might have been Denny Hamlin in victory lane, but Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth arguably had the biggest prize - all of them booking passage through to the Chase play-offs for the 2012 Sprint Cup championship.

The evening had got off to an unusually musical start, with drivers walking out on stage to their choice of music track, the best introduction in terms of crowd reception getting a donation for a charity of their choice. There was Macros Ambrose arriving to the strains of AC/DC's "Thunderstruck," Brian Vickers' wry choice of "Livin' On A Prayer" from Bon Jovi, David Ragan going quirky and sentimental with the theme from The Andy Griffith Show, Brad Keselowski opting for Ozzy Osborne, Clint Bowyer for Elvis Presley and Aric Almirola going for Kanye West.

There were some humorous ones - Juan Montoya recalling Daytona with Jerry Lee Lewis hit "Great Balls of Fire" - and there were statements of intent from Joey Logano ("Can't Touch This" from MC Hammer) and Tony Stewart ("How You Like Me Now" by The Heavy), but Jimmie Johnson got a mixed reception for his choice of "Howlin'" by The Black Keys, and Kyle Busch received resoundingly more jeers than cheers for the cheeky selection of Raytona 500's "Rowdy Busch".

But at the end of the pre-race proceedings, it was Denny Hamlin who won the first prize of the night, after showing some impressive dance moves as "Wobble" by VICs blasted out of the speakers. That sent him skipping over to climb into the #11 car for the start of the race, where he was beginning from eighth on the grid after qualifying on Friday afternoon had been rained off by a heavy thunderstorm arriving at just the wrong moment.

That disruption had left Casey Mears with a surprise pole position, and he converted that to a solid lead for the first 26 laps of the 500-lap race at the short half mile oval Bristol Motor Speedway under the floodlights. Mears resisted initial pressure from first Brad Keselowski and then Joey Logano and dealt with an early caution on lap 9 for a crash by Ken Schrader on the frontstrech after contact with Jason Leffler that led to a restart on lap 18, after which it was just a matter of time before Logano finally got a successful run on Mears and claimed the lead.

Logano quickly pulled out a very comfortable lead while Mears was clearly holding up a train of cars behind him. Aric Almirola was next to pass Mears, followed next time around by Jeff Burton, and after that the floodgates opened and Mears toppled out of the top ten in short order as the race entered an extended period of fairly stable green flag running.

There were problems reported up and down the field - Kyle Busch had radioed in with complaints about a terrible vibration, while Matt Kenseth was concerned about his brakes and was clearly struggling with the handling of the #17. Fortunately for Kenseth a caution came out on lap 81 for debris on the track after Sam Hornish Jr. scraped the wall in turn 2, which allowed the leaders to make their first stop of the evening on pit road. Denny Hamlin likely wished he'd stayed away, not even his light-footedness able to avoid getting crunched in the right hand side of his car from Landon Cassill on the entry to his pit stall. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch were also left ruing their pit stops after getting a drive-thru for speeding.

Logano led at the restart on lap 90 ahead of Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski and Jeff Burton, and 18 laps later Kahne finally managed to get a good enough run on the leader to claim the top spot, and stayed there through the third caution (Hornish finding the wall again) through to the lap 148. That's when David Ragan's #34 suddenly spun, and a fire briefly ignited underneath the car betraying leaking fluids spilling out, which immediately caught out race leader Kasey Kahne who ended up in the wall.




Related Pictures

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Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 25, 2012, in Bristol, Tenn. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Ryan Newman, driver of the #39 Outback Steak House Chevrolet, spins out in front of Dave Blaney, driver of the #36 SealWrap Chevrolet, and Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, after an incident in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 25, 2012, in Bristol, Tenn. (Photo Credit: Tyler Barrick/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 25, 2012, in Bristol, Tenn. (Photo Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Brian Scott. (Picture Credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
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Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
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Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race with a burnout after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race in Victory Lane after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race with his team after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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