How appropriate.

On a day where tire management was the essential element in a NASCAR Cup Series race, three veterans swept the podium positions, with Denny Hamlin winning Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

In a race that produced 54 lead changes—a record for Cup Series short tracks—Hamlin lost the lead briefly to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. in the closing laps but regained it in traffic and beat Truex to the finish line by 1.083 seconds.

In a return to concrete after three straight spring races on dirt, Hamlin won his second straight race at the 0.533-mile speedway and his fourth overall, second most among active drivers to Kyle Busch’s eight.
The victory was the 52nd of Hamlin’s career, 13th all-time, and his first this season.

But the story was the tires and the mysterious way they behaved in a race that saw the track start to eat through to the cords 45 laps into a green-flag run.

Goodyear brought the same tire that ran without issues in last fall’s Night Race, but on Sunday, the concrete surface did not take rubber. Instead, marbles (small balls of rubber from degraded tires) accumulated high in the corners, making the top of the track untenable.

There were two variables that might have helped to account for the tire issues. The temperature was roughly 10-15 degrees cooler than it was for last year’s Night Race, which was run on Sept. 16.

NASCAR also opted for a different resin the bottom lane from the PJ1 traction compound previously in use.

Whatever the cause, with his short-track background, Hamlin was best equipped to deal with the surprising situation.

“That’s what I grew up here doing in the short tracks in the Mid Atlantic, South Boston (Va.), Martinsville,” said Hamlin, who grew up in Chesterfield, Va. “Once it became a tire-management race, I really liked our chances.

“Obviously, the veteran in Martin, he knew how to do it as well. We just had a great car, great team. The pit crew just did a phenomenal job all day. Can’t say enough about them… Man, it feels so good to win in Bristol.”

Truex passed Hamlin for the lead in traffic on Lap 483 but surrendered the top spot to the race winner one lap later, as the teammates worked around slower cars. Truex’s tires gave up the ghost on the last few circuits, as Hamlin pulled away.

“Apparently, that’s what I needed to have happen here at Bristol to have a shot at winning—I guess this tire management thing fit into my wheelhouse here at Bristol,” Truex said.

“Man, the difference was just coming out of the pits so far behind Denny (after green-flag pit stops during the final run). I had to use mine up more on the last run. The last four, five laps of the race, was cord.”

Hamlin led a race-high 163 laps, as the four JGR drivers spent a combined 383 of 500 laps at the front field, with Ty Gibbs leading 137, Truex 54 and Christopher Bell 29.

Brad Keselowski, a three-time winner at the track, finished third, 7.284 seconds behind Hamlin. Hendrick Motorsports drivers Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson were fourth and fifth, respectively, as only five drivers finished on the lead lap.

The last time five or fewer drivers finished on the lead lap was the June 6, 2004 race at Dover.

John Hunter Nemechek, Chris Buescher, Chase Elliott, Gibbs and Bell came home sixth through 10th, respectively.

Larson and Truex leave Bristol tied for the series lead, passing defending series champion Ryan Blaney, who finished 16th.

— NASCAR Newswire —

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