Joey Logano was cruising to victory when a late-race accident brought out a caution and sent the race into a two-lap overtime.
On the restart, Hamlin went high in Turns 1 and 2 hoping to gain momentum for a pass for the lead but couldn’t make any progress. Martin Truex Jr., who was running third, also drifted high but with a flat tire that sent him falling back through the field.
That left Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as Logano’s only serious challenger over the final two laps but Logano had little trouble holding on for the victory in the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
The win is Logano’s first of the 2021 season and he is the seventh different winner in the season’s first seven races. It’s also the 27th win of Logano’s career.
“Man, it’s incredible. How about Bristol on dirt? This is incredible, unbelievable race track – great job by everyone that prepped the track,” Logano said. “Obviously, a lot of work over here the last few days. We did a lot of work in the dirt department here the last few weeks. My buddy Ryan Flores and my car chief Jerry Kelley doing a good job with the modified and just making laps and learning where I was going. A lot of that helped.
“Paul Wolfe (crew chief), this team, great car obviously to be able to execute the race that we did and get a win. I was getting nervous. There were so many first-time winners and different winners than there has typically been I said, ‘We’ve got to get a win to make sure we get in the playoffs,’ so it’s amazing to get this Shell/Pennzoil Mustang into Victory Lane at Bristol.
“There’s nothing like winning at Bristol but putting dirt on it and being the first to do it is really special.”
Logano said the changing track conditions with the dirt – even more so than running typical asphalt tracks – made Sunday’s race a big challenge.
“When they watered the track the last stage that kind of changed everything. Denny and I had a heck of a race because he found grip up top and I was like, ‘Well, I don’t know how to do that,’ so I had to go up there and try to figure that out to defend the lead position and then eventually just worked the lapped cars. That was very hard as well as it should be.
“Everyone at Team Penske really put together some really good cars to come here and wing it. That’s what this is about. Nobody really knew what to put in the car and we were able to adjust the right way throughout practice and get into Victory Lane. It’s great.”
Truex – who led the most laps in the race – ended up finishing 19th.
Hamlin ended up third, Daniel Suarez fourth and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-five.
Completing the top-10 finishers were William Byron, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones and Chase Elliott.
Following the break between Stages 2 and 3, all cars elected to pit during the 10-minute break, which also included work by the track to prep the dirt surface.
When the race returned to green on Lap 203, Logano led the way followed by Suarez, Hamlin, Truex and Newman.
With 35 laps remaining in the race, Logano remained out front despite multiple challenges from Hamlin to get around him for the lead.
On Lap 217, Wallace spun off Turn 2 after contact from Stenhouse but no caution was called. Wallace was forced to pit under green.
With 15 laps to go, Hamlin remained right behind Logano’s rear bumper as Truex had moved into third.
Right after Hamlin tagged the wall and Truex moved into second, Mike Marlar hit the inside of the frontstretch wall on Lap 246 to bring out a caution and set up a shootout to the finish.
On the start of overtime, Logano was followed by Hamlin, Truex, Stenhouse and Suarez.
Logano got around Suarez with eight laps remaining and held on for the Stage 2 victory.
Hamlin finished third, Truex was fourth and Newman rounded out the top-five.
Following the break between Stages 1 and 2, all the teams elected to pit during the controlled stops.
Truex continued to lead the way when the race returned to green on Lap 103 followed by Byron, Hamlin, Suarez and Ryan Blaney.
On Lap 135, after running behind Truex for several laps, Suarez made contact with Truex and passed him off Turn 4 to take the lead for the first time in the race.
NASCAR displayed a competition caution on Lap 152 – the second of the race – to allow teams to change tires if they so desired.
All the teams pit and when the race returned to green conditions on Lap 153, Suarez led the way followed by Byron, Truex, Logano and Newman.
As the cars exiting Turn 4, Elliott and Wallace got together which triggered a multi-car crash behind them that included Blaney, Austin Dillon, Alex Bowman, Kyle Larson, Michael McDowell, Quin Houff and J.J. Yeley.
The race returned to green on Lap 158 with Suarez still in command. Chase Briscoe looped it around off Turn 4 after the restart and placed the race back under caution.
Suarez remained out front on the restart on Lap 170.
With 25 laps to go in the second stage, Suarez maintained a small but steady lead over Logano. They were followed by Truex, Hamlin and Byron.
Cody Ware spun off Turn 2 to force another caution on Lap 186. The race returned to green with 10 laps remaining.
With seven laps remaining in the stage, Logano got to the inside of Suarez and took over the race lead for the first time in the race.
Truex took command of the race early and easily held off Byron to claim the Stage 1 win, his first stage victory of the 2021 season.
Hamlin was third, Suarez was fourth and Blaney rounded out the top-five.
Blaney started on the pole but Hamlin quickly powered ahead to lead Lap 1.
Kyle Busch got around Hamlin to take the lead on Lap 2.
With Kyle Busch complaining his temperatures were on the rise, Truex passed him for the lead on Lap 9. Busch was forced to pit under green to address his overheating issue.
On Lap 32, Bowman had moved into second as Byron and Blaney flight for third.
On Lap 41, Aric Almirola spun on the backstretch but also got hit by Corey LaJoie, Anthony Alfredo and Shane Golobic and Stewart Friesen both got caught up in the incident as well. The race was red flagged for nearly seven minutes to clean the track of debris.
The race returned to green on Lap 46 with Truex in command followed by Bowman and Byron.
Newman spun off Turn 2 on Lap 48, which triggered a multi-car incident that also collected Briscoe, Kevin Harvick, Chris Windom, Houff and Cody Ware. NASCAR decided to make this the first of two competition cautions planned for the race.
All of the teams elected to pit under the caution. When the race returned to green on Lap 52, Truex remained out front followed by Christopher Bell, Hamlin and Bowman.
Bell spun off Turn 2 on Lap 53 right in front of Larson. Larson ran into Bell and Ross Chastain also piled into the incident to bring out a caution.
The race returned to green on Lap 60 with Truex out front and Suarez close behind.
With 20 laps remaining in the first stage, Truex had moved out to a 1.9-second lead over Suarez with Byron in third.
With eight laps to go, Byron got around Suarez and took over the second position, 3.3 seconds behind Truex.
Three drivers had to start the race from the rear of the field – Larson for an engine change and McDowell and Matt DiBendetto for unapproved adjustments.