Inside The Battle for the Bristol Dirt Race Win

For years, NASCAR fans had clamored for classic Bristol Motor Speedway, the one with drivers wrapped single-file around the bottom and completing passes with the bump-and-run.

It took roughly 150 laps on a clay surface, but fans were treated to a retro finish on Monday evening and NASCAR even brought back single-file restarts for good measure. Granted, that was due to the poor visibility emanating from the sandy Bluff City Clay, but even that was retro too — the first Cup Series dirt race since 1970.

As the track took rubber, it increasingly morphed from a multiple-laned dirt track, to one that locked down single-file on the bottom.

“There towards the end, the rubber that got down on the racetrack was just too fast around the bottom,” Ricky Stenhouse said.

Joey Logano used the bumper to get around Daniel Suarez in the closing laps before the final competition caution. Denny Hamlin gave several nudges to get beside Logano on the ensuing restart.

Logano won that battle, and he eventually won the war, surviving a green-white-checkered that left Hamlin second-guessing his entire approach at the end of the Food City Dirt Race.

Hamlin moved up the track after Logano moved clear with 35 laps to go. The frontrunners were approaching lapped traffic and Hamlin had hoped to clear off enough of a top groove to make ground on Logano when he was unable to move forward.

Instead, the outside was just the long way around the racetrack, and it just didn’t close the gap.

It was old school Bristol.

Worse, Hamlin even slapped the wall in Turn 4, and was only given a second chance at the checkered flag by the final caution with four to go when Mike Marlar spun in Turn 4.

During that yellow flag, Hamlin was reminded that Logano had chopped him off several times during the previous run and that the bump-and-run would be expected if their positions were reversed.

Hamlin launched well on the final restart and was locked on Logano’s rear bumper entering Turn 1. When the winning move was so clearly set-up to be the classic Bristol bump and run, Hamlin again chose the high line and lost three car lengths.

It allowed Logano to sail away towards the checkered flag and even allowed Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to take second by the end of the race.

Why didn’t Logano execute the bump-and-run, especially if it would have happened if he were the leader?

“Because I think me and the 22 race differently,” Hamlin said. “I don’t have that mentality.”

Logano certainly expected it.

“I was fully prepared to get the bumper,” Logano said. “I figured that was going to come at some point. You have a green-white-checkered at Bristol, I don’t care if it’s dirt, concrete, you name it, there’s probably going to be contact.”

I wanna re-do.

In hindsight, Hamlin wishes he could have that one back, all of it — both the restart and the green flag run before it.

Hamlin was under Logano for five laps with minimal contact.

If he pushes Logano into the fluff, the best way to describe a cushion that never materialized, he’s the leader on that final restart.

“He’s doing what he has to do to protect the lead,” Hamlin said. “I’m trying to get it from him. I just wasn’t aggressive enough. I should have shoved him out. When I had position on the bottom, I should have just moved up and got him in the dust and got rid of him. I just wanted to pass him clean. I didn’t, so I didn’t win.”

Of course, if Hamlin is the leader and Logano is notoriously aggressive, who knows if the result isn’t the same.

“I feel like everybody is aggressive right now,” Logano said. “Honestly, when I look at what everybody is doing on the racetrack, maybe I was the first to it, so that reputation stuck with me. …

“But the competitors have changed and evolved over time to where everybody is aggressive. Nobody gives up spots. There’s not much give-and-take out there on the racetrack anymore. We’re racing.

“That’s what the fans buy tickets to see, racing. That’s what we’re going to continue to do. That might be a reputation that stays with me, but I don’t feel like it’s the most truthful thing anymore these days.”

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