Week 31 GFT NASCAR AI Driver Rankings: Hamlin wins at Bristol, Byron P1 to start Round of 12

Bob Francis - Go Full Throttle
3 min readSep 18, 2023

16 September 2023
By Bob Francis, Managing Editor
Go Full Throttle Racing News

BRISTOL, TN — Another EPIC night race at ‘The World’s Fastest Half Mile” was 500 laps of drama with Denny Hamlin taking home the trophy and the coveted Bristol Motor Speedway winners' sword. The Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway saw NASCAR Cup Series regular-season champion Martin Truex Jr. rescue his season, earning enough points (combined with other driver’s misfortunes) to jump from the Round of 16 cut line to P2 in NASCAR’s Playoff points and P2 in our GFT NASCAR AI Rankings. Bubba Wallace also survived playoff elimination and advanced to the Round of 12 by four points.

Week 31 — Updated after Race 3 of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Round of 16 at Bristol GFT NASCAR AI Driver Rankings (Image Credit: Go Full Throttle Digital)

Four drivers were eliminated from Championship contention as Joey Logano, Michael McDowell, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, and Kevin Harvick all failed to make the Round of 12 which starts next Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. McDowell was in the hunt all night and finished strong in 6th place, but entered the night with such a points deficit that only a win would have moved him on to the Round of 12.

100,000 + fans watch racing during the NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway September 16, 2023. (Image Credit: Getty Images/nascar.com)

Joe Gibbs Racing came to win and showed their power during qualifying with Bell winning the Pole, Hamlin P2, just -0.008 behind, Truex qualified P5 just -0.101. The Chevy camp was headed by William Byron in qualifying with a P3 effort, but finished the race in 9th. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson put on a show. Larson had botched his qualifying run and started dead last (36th) but as Larson usually does, he fought his way through the field and spent most of the final 100 laps up front battling for the lead with Hamlin, Bell, and Buescher. Larson finished 2nd after getting slowed up in traffic as he and Hamlin sliced through the lappers in the final run.

Kyle Larson, driver of the №5 Valvoline/Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet, Denny Hamlin, driver of the №11 FedEx Freight Direct Toyota, Chris Buescher, driver of the №17 BuildSubmarines.com Ford, Christopher Bell, driver of the №20 Reser’s Fine Foods Toyota, Michael McDowell, driver of the №34 Love’s/Delo Ford, and Ty Gibbs, driver of the №54 Monster Energy Toyota, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. (Image Credit: Jared C. Tilton Getty Images)

HAMLIN vs. The Crowd, Denny embraces the boos from the Bristol fans

“Can’t thank this whole FedEx team enough,” said Hamlin, who won for the third time this season, the third time at Bristol and the 51st time in his career. “They’ve really kicked ass this whole first round. Really amazing how our team has been. So happy about the way we’re running. Can’t wait to keep going.”

Hamlin went on to say “It’s our year. I just feel like we’ve got it all put together. We’ve got the speed (at) every single type of race track. Nothing to stop us at this point.”

Denny Hamlin, driver of the №11 FedEx Freight Direct Toyota, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. (Image Credit: Alejandro Alvarez, NASCAR Studios)

“It’s our year”

Denny Hamlin, driver of the №11 FedEx Freight Direct Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Image Credit: Jared C. Tilton Getty Images)
NASCAR 2023 Cup Series Playoffs — Round of 12 (Image Credit: nascar.com)

NEXT RACE

SUNDAY, SEPT. 24 3:30 PM ET

AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400

TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY

Fort Worth, Texas- 267 laps / 400 miles

Catch the race on:

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Bob Francis - Go Full Throttle

Go Full Throttle editors and reporters bring you news & commentary on NASCAR, F1, IndyCar, and World of Outlaws. Member: National Motorsports Press Association