Bristol experiment pays off

Denny Hamlin held off Jimmie Johnson to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol...

Denny Hamlin held off Jimmie Johnson to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday night. (AFP)

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:33 PM ET

The biggest question mark leading into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Irwin Tools 400 on Saturday night was how the changes made to Bristol Motor Speedway would affect the racing.

The top groove of the track had been ground down in the hopes of forcing drivers to a single lane near the bottom of the half-mile oval.

It didn’t quite work out that way, however, but it did have the desired effect of creating an atmosphere where beating and banging were the order of the day.

Winner Denny Hamlin and the No. 11 Toyota team had it figured out that even though the top groove was the fastest line, he still needed to run good on the bottom if he was going to pass anyone over the 500-lap distance.

And like all good stock car drivers learn early in their careers — the chrome horn is the best weapon when space is at a premium.

“You still had the old Bristol — it’s still one line and you had to knock someone out of the way to make them move,” Hamlin said. “That’s the way Bristol racing is supposed to be — rooting and gouging.”

Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who finished second Saturday night in the No. 48 Chevrolet, said that track owner Bruton Smith may have had the right idea — to create a single racing line — it just didn’t work out the way he expected.

“We had a period of time where it was easy to run side by side and now there is a big effort to get it back to a single-file (racing) again,” Johnson said. “So in some ways it’s the same, we are just racing on different parts of the race track.”

For Brad Keselowski, who got caught up in some of the bump-and-run tactics at the “new” Bristol in his No. 22 Dodge and finished 30th, it was not such a pleasant experience.

In fact he called the whole re-configuration stupid.

“We weren’t prepared for the track to drive this stupid and that’s what it is,” he said. “I know the goal was to make a one-groove race track so there’d be more action. But it had an inverse effect to where now everybody is running up against the wall.”

Jeff Gordon, on the other hand, loved the way the track raced, even the unintended consequence of making the top groove the fastest way around the track.

“So I say they grind the whole place,” he said after finishing third in the No. 24 Chevrolet. “I hope they do that next time.

Even though it was really tough to pass, is it just reminded me of old school Bristol.”

LESSON LEARNED

Defending Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart was a victim of the Bristol experiment, when his No. 14 Chevrolet was bumped into the wall by the No. 17 Ford of Matt Kenseth, after racing his way from the back all the way into the top 10.

He ended up targeting Kenseth with a very accurate heave of his helmet that hit he No. 17 Ford square in the nose.

Stewart promises payback before the season is over.

“I checked-up twice to not run over him, and I learned my lesson there,” Stewart said. “I’m going to run over him every chance I’ve got from now until the end of the year — every chance I get.

“We ran on the restart faster than him each lap, so we just learned our lesson that next time — just drive through him. We’re not going to give him that chance again.”

FINISH LINES

A second-place finish at the Mopar Canadian Superbike Championship at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park Saturday for Jordan Szoke, of Brantford, Ont., earned him a record eighth Superbike title. Szoke finished second in the race to Kevin Lacombe, of St-Cesaire, Que., with Alex Welsh of Uxbridge, Ont., third ... Toronto’s Robert Wickens had his DTM Series race at the Zandvoort Circuit in the Netherlands Sunday end in less than a lap when his Mercedes AMG C-Coupe was rear-ended on the third turn, breaking one of the rear wheels ... It was a good weekend for Danica Patrick, who finished ninth in the Nationwide Series on Friday and was running a respectable Sprint Cup race Saturday — with a possible top 20 finish — until she was taken out by Regan Smith.

NUTS AND BOLTS

IZOD INDYCAR Series

Ryan Briscoe caught and passed teammate Will Power — who had dominated the race — after a bad pit stop put Power’s No. 12 Penske Chevrolet behind some lap cars with a dozen laps left in the IZOD IndyCar Series GoPro Indy Grand Prix at California’s Sonoma Raceway on Sunday.

It was Briscoe’s first win of 2012 in the No. 2 Chevrolet this season

Dario Franchitti finished third in the No. 10 Honda.

Rubens Barrichello was fourth in the No. 8 Chevrolet with Graham Rahal rounding out the top five in the No. 38 Honda.

Alex Tagliani, of Montreal, looked like he might get a top-five finish until he was issued an avoidable contact penalty after hitting Ryan Hunter-Reay with 11 laps left. He ended up ninth.

Oakville’s James Hinchcliffe’s bad luck continued when the engine in his No. 27 Chevrolet expired in lap 40 leaving him in 26th spot.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP

Denny Hamlin did some late race beating and banging in the No. 11 Toyota with the No. 99 Ford of Carl Edwards to earn the win in a wild NASCAR Sprint Cup Irwin Tools 400 Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Edwards ended up running out of gas and finishing 22nd, all but ending his Chase for the Championship dreams.

Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who finished second in the No. 48 Chevrolet, tried to catch Hamlin in the final laps but could no get close enough to attempt a pass.

Jeff Gordon ran third in the No. 24 Chevrolet, followed by Brian Vickers in he No. 55 Toyota with Marcos Ambrose rounding out the top five in the No. 9 Ford.


Videos

Photos