Amanda Vincent, NASCAR Correspondent
"This is my biggest win," an excited Denny Hamlin said after driving his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota into victory lane at Bristol (Ten.) Motor Speedway on Saturday after winning the Irwin Tools Night Race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at the track.
"(Crew chief) Darian (Grubb) just came with a different set-up, and it hauled the mail," Hamlin said.
We're not done winning yet," Hamlin said. "There's still a few more to go.
A pair of Hendrick Motorsports drivers, Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Chevrolet and Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Chevy finished second and third.
"Great night," Johnson said. "Wish we could've been one spot better."
The win, Hamlin's first at Bristol, was his third victory of 2012.
"We're not done winning yet," Hamlin said. "There's still a few more to go."
Hamlin came into the Bristol race in somewhat of a slump, dropping to near the bottom of the top-10 in the championship points standings since his most recent win in April.
"We feel like we're making up for some of those that got away earlier this season," crew chief Darian Grubb said.
Johnson was among three drivers who officially locked-in their positions in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The others were Greg Biffle, who finished 19th in the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. who finished the Bristol race in the 12th spot in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
The first Sprint Cup event at the track since the banking at the top of the track was ground down in an attempt to recreate the field of the pre-2007 racing surface was an attrition-filled race, with the yellow flag waving 13 times.
"You still had to knock someone out of the way (to gain positions)," Hamlin said of the physical nature of the race.
Caution-inducing incidents included contact between the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Matt Kenseth and the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet of Tony Stewart that resulted in Stewart throwing his helmet at Kenseth's car during the yellow flag.
Thirteen cautions in the 500-lap race provided opportunities for a myriad of pit strategies. A different set of drivers pitted under each cautions, leading to several different leaders on race restarts. Most drivers headed down pit road either under the 10th caution of the race that came out on lap 347 or the 11th that came out with 87 to go for a final tank of fuel to go the rest of the way.
Carl Edwards, though, missed the call from crew chief Chad Norris to pit his No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford during the 11th caution. After the miscue, Edwards and his No. 99 team opted to go into fuel conservation mode and try to go the rest of the way.
After staying out and restarting up front, Edwards held on to the lead for a while, but was passed by Hamlin with 38 laps to go. That was the last pass for the lead, as Hamlin went on to lead the rest of the way.
Once he lost the top spot, Edwards drifted back through the field and eventually ran out of gas with five laps to go.
Brian Vickers finished fourth in a rare appearance behind the wheel of the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, and Marcos Ambrose was fifth in the No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford.
Finishing sixth through 10th were Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Clint Bowyer in the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, Joey Logano in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, Kasey Kahne in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and Paul Menard in the No. 27 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.