Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick were battling hard for the race lead when the two came together at the exit of Turn 4 on Lap 161.
With Hamlin holding on to the lead, Harvick came up off the bottom on Turn 4 and clipped the No. 11 in the left rear, sending Hamlin hard into the inside wall. After making contact with the wall, Hamlin shot back up the banking in Turn 1 and right into the path of Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The two cars made hard contact, ripping the nose off Hamlin’s car and the left side door off Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet.
Standing on the apron with safety workers and NASCAR officials, Hamlin threw his HANS device at Harvick.
While Harvick was able to maintain the lead, the cars of both Hamlin and Earnhardt Jr. sat behind the wall. Harvick did apologize for the incident over the radio under the caution.
This was not the first time Harvick and Hamlin have had a run-in during the Bristol night race. Last year, the two were involved in a multi-car wreck. After the wreck, Harvick stopped his wrecked car in Hamlin’s pit and climbed out. Hamlin then pushed Harvick’s car as Harvick then walked over and the two had words.
Fast-forward to this year’s incident and Hamlin said Harvick "probably just misjudged."
"I think I know Kevin pretty well and he’s not just going to take somebody out early in the race, and I’ve got no problems with Kevin. I really don’t," Hamlin said. "I think he just misjudged, just trying too hard too early. Both of us had really fast cars. These short tracks are all about patience, and you’ve got to show patience. That’s what’s got us the short-track success that we’ve got, and we aren’t going to get an opportunity tonight."
That didn’t stop Hamlin from being as mad as he has been in quite some time, saying he wished he "had some kind of car left" so he could "show the favor back."
"I was just so mad," he said. "Man, I don’t know. I’m trying to think of when I’ve been that mad in the past. Maybe never. It’s just the circumstances. I’m OK with wrecking for the lead or getting taken out on the white-flag lap but not, I don’t even know, Lap 100 and something. That part is very, very frustrating, but proud of (interim crew chief) Mike Wheeler and Darian (Grubb, crew chief) and everything they did to prepare us a race-winning car today. I had that feeling within a couple laps we had a car that could contend for a win, and it’s just not going to pan out today."
So frustrated man.. Mistakes happen. Just not usually that early. Good job by our team to give me a piece to win with. We will get em in ATL
For Earnhardt Jr., there was just no place he could go to avoid hitting Hamlin’s car as it shot back across the track.
"I couldn’t see what happened to Denny (Hamlin), but he got turned around or something and was coming up the track," said Earnhardt. "There was a lot of smoke so I couldn’t really judge the speed of his car to know whether I needed to be going up there and go around him on the top. I had to make that choice. I just went ahead and went to the top and ended up getting into him. It wasn’t too hard of a hit just did a lot of damage and tore the lower (control arm) off the left-front. We are going to have our hands full when we get it back out there. We are going to try to fix it, but I don’t know. Obviously we are many laps down. We will see if we can run a decent speed."
Despite making an attempt to get back on track, Earnhardt Jr. would eventually pull the car behind the wall for good, recording a 39th-place finish.
We had a damn good car tonight. Real fast. Bristol was rough on us this year. Brand new car next week @amsupdates. We are ready.