BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — The winner climbed from his car and immediately apologized for denying an underdog his first career victory. The runner-up, in tears over his near miss, was raucously embraced by the crowd for his oh-so-close effort.
Bristol Motor Speedway was a bizarre mix of emotions Saturday night after Denny Hamlin chased down Matt DiBenedetto to spoil a Saturday night upset. DiBenedetto learned this week that Leavine Family Racing won’t bring him back for a second season, and he has no job lined up for 2020.
“I’m so sorry to Matt DiBenedetto, (crew chief) Mike Wheeler. I hate it. I know what a win would mean to that team,” Hamlin said as soon as he exited his car. “But I’ve got to give 110 percent.”
Hamlin was the first Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing driver to start from the pole this season but his race was a roller-coaster that began when his car was damaged when he bounced off of Jimmie Johnson. He later had a loose wheel, fell down a lap and seemed out of contention for his second career victory at Bristol.
At the same time, DiBenedetto was working his way toward the front and put his Toyota out front for a race-high 93 laps. He needed redemption — and a win would have put him in the playoffs, no less — but he again wound up victim to the Gibbs juggernaut. Gibbs has a logjam of talent, Leavine is a Gibbs partner, and Gibbs needs DiBenedetto’s seat next year to promote Christopher Bell from the Xfinity Series.