Denny Hamlin picked up his third win of the 2023 NASCAR season on Saturday night under the lights at Bristol Motor Speedway and catapulted himself into the next round of the playoffs.
Hamlin finished in second last week at Kansas and had a good angle to get to the next round but a victory in Tennessee would leave no question about his standing.
But it didn’t change the minds of fans who booed him as he exited his car.
“Hey, I beat your favorite driver,” Hamlin said. “… All of them.”
Hamlin enters the next round of the playoffs in third place behind William Byron and Martin Truex Jr. Hamlin has never won a NASCAR Cup Series title despite having three wins in the Daytona 500 and a victory at the Coca-Cola 600 in his career.
The focus now will be to buckle up and make sure he can put himself into the Championship Four by the time fall is in full swing.
The Round of 12 will also feature Kyle Larson, Chris Buescher, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Ross Chastain, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney and Bubba Wallace. The last four drivers start on the bubble as the next round will feature only eight drivers.
Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Michael McDowell were eliminated on Saturday night.
“We’ve been like that all year, hit or miss, and tonight we just missed by a mile,” said Harvick, who is retiring at the end of the season. “I’ve had some good days, some bad days, but that’s definitely the worst day with fenders. I didn’t really have many expectations, as up and down as the year has been. It is what it is, that’s probably what we deserved.”
The next race is at Texas Motor Speedway. There will be three races in total in the Round of 12. The Round of 8 begins on Oct. 15 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.