One hot night, and 140,000 strong at Bristol Motor Speedway!
Denny Hamlin and crew chief Darian Grubb celebrate their third Sprint Cup tour win of the season (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Among the highlights:
Tony Stewart rallying from a lap down early to challenge Matt Kenseth for the lead 330 laps into the 500-lapper.
And for two or three laps Stewart and Kenseth went at each other hard....and then both crashed while doing cross-overs.
Stewart got the worst of it. When he crawled from his banged up car, he took off his helmet and carefully took aim at Kenseth's car as he rolled back around under the yellow, and Stewart launched a perfect throw at Kenseth. Rivals crews even marveled on the radio at Stewart's accuracy.
And when he emerged from the infield hospital, Stewart vowed to wreck Kenseth "every chance I get."
Kenseth himself apologized to his crew for getting so caught up in the battle of emotions with Stewart. Kenseth, who had a car good enough to win, finished 25th, just two spots ahead of Stewart.
Danica Patrick, running admirably, still on the lead lap and running 20th in her first Sprint Cup start here, tangled with Regan Smith and crashed. And she was very angry with Smith, complaining that he had been racing disagreeably all night.
After crawling from her car, Patrick -- Stewart's teammate -- took off her helmet and walked to the edge of the track to confront Smith, still driving slowly under caution. And for a moment she appeared ready to throw her helmet at Smith, though she settled for just wagging her finger at him. The radio chatter from rival crews at that moment was hilarious -- with a series of crewmen yelling for her to throw the helmet too.
It was that kind of night -- drama, theatrics and emotion.
Patrick, who also did a good job in Friday's Nationwide race, emerged from the infield hospital a bit cooler than Stewart:
"From what I hear, this is why people love this track -- tempers flare.
Hamlin called the action "interesting. It was a different type of racing, for sure. You had to be very aware of what was behind you before you even attempted to pass the guy in front of you.
"You had to have at least a two‑car length gap behind you before you could actually work a guy to the low side, because if you got pinned down there for a couple laps, the guy behind you would fill the hole every time and you would end up going backwards.
"So it was a constant freight train up high of cars.
"We were one of the only cars that could really make ground on the bottom. So the best car won, no doubt about it."
However it was no easy feat for Hamlin, who had some major problems early.
"We had no water in the car -- We were 300 degrees early on in the race, and all of the gauges pegged, and it was shooting water out like it's a superspeedway race. Evidently we had an electrical fan -- our radio fan -- go bad.
"Then we hit the wall pretty good. We hit, landed on pit road... and I told Darian(Grubb, his crew chief) 'The more stuff we hit, the faster it went.'
"As soon as you think it's over, it's like 'Damn, we hit something'....and 'Oh man, this thing's awesome."
Jimmie Johnson somehow wound up second, and he called the race "intense.
"To start that deep in the field (37th), when they drop the green, you're half a lap behind.
"We had to get some track position somehow. So we pitted a few times and tried to get some fuel in the car and set up a strategy for us later in the race.
"We had a fast car, and it at times I think maybe a race‑winning car, certainly top‑three all night long. It was just a matter of getting to the front and surviving.
"I'm not sure what played into the fans watching, but inside the car, to complete a pass, you had to set someone up and make a banzai pass to slide up in front of them.
"Strategy‑wise, it was tough to know what was going on. But Chad (Knaus, his crew chief) did a great job of putting us in position.
"I would say the eye‑opening experience for me was 50 laps in -- Chad told me Kasey got up on to the ground surface and was making up a ton of time there. I started playing with it. And then you could see every car flirting with it, and off we went.
"That was the big moment in the race.
"From there you just had to be very, very smart and strategic about when you tried to pass the car in front of you.
"And it was tough to be patient."