Denny Hamlin has described his victory in the IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway as the biggest of his now 20-win career.
The Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driver recorded his third success of the season by beating home Hendrick Motorsports duo Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon after 500 laps of the Tennessee venue.
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The win is the 200th for the #11 in NASCAR’s premier division having previously been used by the likes of Carl Yarborough, Ned Jarret, Darrel Waltrip and Junior Johnson. The #11 is now two clear of Richard Petty’s famed #43 on the all-time winning numbers tally.
According to Hamlin, the chequered history of the Bristol event makes tonight’s victory his best yet.
“For me it’s difficult to say just how much this means because I grew up watching this race so many times with all the great finishes and memories,” he said.
“It’s just a milestone race that everyone wants to win. It’s got one of the best trophies of all the tracks, which is now going to be one of my most prized possessions because this is obviously my biggest win.”
Pre-event revisions to the Bristol circuit saw the top groove of the track reduced from 30 to 28 degrees of banking proved to have a considerable effect on the style of racing witnessed.
“It was a different type of racing, for sure,” noted Hamlin.
“You had to be very aware of what was going on behind you before you even attempted to pass the guy in front of you. That was the biggest thing I noticed.
“You had to have at least a two-car length gap behind you to actually work a guy to the low side, because if you got pinned down there for a couple of laps the guy behind you would fill the hole and you’d go backwards.
“It was just a constant freight-train of cars up high, and we were really the only car that could make ground on the bottom. The best car won tonight because nobody could pass like we could.”
Despite enduring an inconsistent season so far, Hamlin is confident that he can string together 10 solid races in the Chase, but remains wary of unforeseen issues arising.
“I think I did a good job in 2010 of working the Chase to have a shot to win at Homestead (where he lost the title to Jimmie Johnson), but it’s the x-factors – if you have failures or you have wrecks – that’s going to put a kink in everything,” he said.
“Reliability is our number goal because the 48 points that you lose by having something go wrong is hard to make up by having a faster car.
“I think we can string 10 races together in the Chase. Other than Dover I feel that I can win at any race track that we go to.”
The 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season continues next weekend at Atlanta.