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Hamlin dances to Bristol victory

As the cars circulated past the scene of Patrick's crash, it looked for a minute that she was going to follow her team boss Tony Stewart's lead and throw her helmet at the car she deemed responsible for her wreck. Instead, she just stood close to the passing train of cars and waggled her finger - at Regan Smith.

"I just pushed up into her," Smith admitted to reporters later, adding that no one wanted to be the driver to take Danica Patrick out of a race given the media spotlight on the driver of the #10. ""Everybody was racing hard all night long. You had to, because you couldn't pass. It certainly wasn't intentional."

"Bristol is a place where you find out who's playing fair and who's not," observed Patrick dryly when she got back to pit lane. However, she had her anger firmly in check by then: "We're all racing hard. This is Bristol and this is why people love this track is because you see a lot of that and you see tempers flare," she pointed out. "It was just a bummer because I really felt like the GoDaddy car was going to get a solid, maybe a top 20 finish and on the lead lap. And that wouldn't have been something that I thought would happen tonight ... It's a shame that we lost that."

That incident left 57 laps to go at the restart, and somewhat against expectations at this point they were completed under green without further interruption. Edwards still had point, with Vickers finally almost crashing out as he tried everything he could to get past the #99 without success.

That allowed Denny Hamlin the opportunity to contest the lead with Edwards, and he finally pulled it off on lap 461 - with Edwards seeming none too pleased and giving the #11 a thump from behind in retaliation. Hamlin was probably relieved to see Edwards then shuffled backwards by Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, ensuring there would be no more grudge matches deciding the outcome tonight. In any case, it transpired that Edwards didn't have the gas to make it to the end of the race without another caution, and when one didn't arise he ended up limping onto pit road three laps from the end, consigning him to 22nd place.

"I made the decision to stay out, which in hindsight that was the wrong decision because we probably would have finished better than we are right now, but I wanted a chance to win the race.," he explained. "If we would have had one more caution or a couple cautions and short runs, we were up there in a position to win this thing ... It's all you can do is gamble like that. If we would have pitted when we should have pitted we were going to run 10th or 15th anyway."

With Edwards out of the way, Hamlin pulled out over a second ahead of the Hendrick Motorsports duo - and as there were no more cautions, that was enough to see him home to the chequered flag in first place.

"I'm so damn happy," he beamed as he drove into victory lane. "It's Bristol; I don't know what to say, man."

Despite claiming his third win of the season, Hamlin isn't quite yet locked into the Chase with two races to go to the cut-off. Championship leader Greg Biffle is, despite a disappointing 19th place finish at Bristol.

"This wasn't the run we were looking for," he admitted. "We pitted at the end to try and make the car better and learn something, but it was probably the wrong thing to do because we lost about eight spots. We weren't going to win, so we thought we might as well try what we can.

“It feels really good to be locked in with two races to go," he added. "It was a tough night here, but we did lock ourselves in and still have the point lead."




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