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Everything That Happened in the Cup Race at Bristol

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Armany DePaul

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What’s Happening?

With the West Coast Swing in the rearview mirror, the Cup Series travels to Bristol Motor Speedway for the return of the Food City 500. After three years of covering the track in dirt for the spring race, the traditional concrete layout makes its return for the first visit to the Last Great Colosseum. Brad Keselowski won the last Food City 500 back in 2020, in the infamous finish that saw Chase Elliott take out himself and Joey Logano, which allowed the former driver of the two to sneak by and claim the victory.

The new short track package made its debut last week at Phoenix Raceway, where it was met with mixed reviews. However, due to the high speeds of Bristol Motor Speedway, it is the one short track that will not run the new short track aero package. Something else to keep in mind is, who will come out on top. Ty Gibbs has been on a great run to start the year, and he returns to the track where he led 102 laps and finished 5th back in the fall. Can the sophomore phenom claim Cup Series win number one after 500 laps? What about Denny Hamlin? He won the Bristol Night Race in the fall, leading 142 laps to punch his ticket into the Round of 12. Phoenix winner Christopher Bell led the most laps in the fall with 187 en route to a 3rd place finish. His quest for back-to-back victories begins from outside the top 10 Here is everything that happened in the Cup race in Bristol. Check it out!

You need to know:

  • The Toyota trio of Ty Gibbs, Denny Hamlin, and Christopher Bell lead 431 of 500 laps back in the fall. Hamlin had the best starting spot in 3rd, while Bell and Gibbs started 12th and 19th. Hamlin is the winner of the night race in the fall while Bell won the last race at Phoenix a week ago.
  • This marks the first race on concrete Bristol in the Spring since 2020. Fans and drivers have vouched for the concrete to return and after a three-year hiatus, the Last Great Colosseum returns to its traditional two paved dates. With fan turnout being the demise of the event originally, the success of this race can determine if this race returns as a permanent fixture or a temporary stopgap.
  • Defending champ Ryan Blaney started from pole position. He’s qualified inside the top 15 all but once in his career at the half-mile. While he has had some strong runs, he tends to find bad luck that derails could-be good days at Bristol. The defending champ looked to change that as he had the best seat in the house to start the race.

Berry Leads Early in Bristol

2024 Rookie of the Year contender Josh Berry took the lead from pole-sitter Ryan Blaney on lap 4, after passing the defending champion on the inside. Blaney stayed within half a second of the 4 car, while the Ford duo pulled away from the rest of the field by over two-and-a-half seconds after 10 laps. Berry would lead 18 laps before being passed by Denny Hamlin on lap 21. A strong start to the race for the Stewart-Haas Racing rookie.

Berry’s strong start was cut short on lap 110 when he cut a tire that dropped him to 20th.

Byron Into the Outside Wall

William Byron slammed the wall after a battle with Joey Logano and Christopher Bell on lap 21. The debris from the contact would bring out the caution flag just a few laps later, as Byron would be forced to pit due to a bent rear toe link.

Reddick Causes Massive Stack Cup

Tyler Reddick was the only car that stayed out on the Byron caution, but the lack of grip from his old tires caused him to spin from the lead and bring out another caution. Zane Smith, in an attempt to avoid the chaos, had nowhere to go on the apron and hit the side of Reddick’s 45 machine, causing damage and another blow to a struggling start to his season.

The spin from Reddick caused a stack-up behind him which involved multiple drivers including Corey LaJoie and AJ Allmendinger. Allmendinger would go one lap down following the incident while Reddick would go two laps down as the team fixed the damage.

Many Lead Changes Early

Bristol Night Race winner Denny Hamlin picked up right where he left off, quickly taking the lead from Berry on lap 21. Despite two yellows that saw drivers stay out, the 11 wasted no time working his way through the field to retake the top spot. He looked to pull away before he was met by some new challengers.

Chase Elliott took the lead from Hamlin on lap 54, bringing the field with him as he had pole-sitter Ryan Blaney right on his tail. Before the lap 71 caution, Kyle Busch made his way through Elliott and Blaney to take the lead himself! In the first 71 laps of the race, there were 11 lead changes with multiple new faces up at the front of the pack.

After the lap 71 yellow, Ryan Blaney took the lead from Denny Hamlin, who immediately took the lead back just a few laps later. After lap 91, there were 15 lead changes in the race! The top four were all within one second of each other, as they exchanged the lead multiple times in stage one.

Ty Gibbs Steals Stage One

Ty Gibbs stayed patient throughout stage one. Working his way into the top 10 and finally to the top five. Gibbs made his move on Ryan Blaney for the lead with five laps to go and held on for the stage one win after Kyle Busch brought out the stage-ending caution. It’s the first stage win of the season for Ty Gibbs and the first stage win of his career.

Gibbs won a chaotic stage that saw many lead changes, but also saw many tire failures that bit multiple drivers.

Tire Issues Bite Drivers One By One

While the racing was fantastic, the tire issues were not. Multiple drivers reported cording issues with their tires that brought the drivers down pit road any opportunity they could. Even during the green flag, the marbles caused more issues for drivers as they struggled to find the right line to conserve their equipment.

Multiple drivers ran into issues. Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin cut tires while racing for the lead. Josh Berry ran into a cut tire issue as well, dropping him to 20th before working back into the top five in stage two. This replay of Kyle Busch backward came after a cut tire while battling for the lead at the end of stage one.

This tire compound is the same compound used in the night race last fall. That race did not see many tire issues, which led many to be confused as to where the issues persisted.

With all of the tire issues, drivers had to decide on track whether to race hard and risk cording tires or conserve their stuff so they don’t risk cutting a tire and ending their race early. This allowed for multiple comers and goers as no one held the lead for more than a few laps at a time. As the race reached the halfway mark, most drivers began to slow the pace down in an effort to conserve their tires. Well, most besides Ty Gibbs, who charged through the field.

NASCAR allowed Goodyear to release one extra set of tires for each team, in order to help the teams with their tire issues. Only one set could be provided as that was all the tires that Goodyear had at the track, but some drivers and teams questioned if there would be enough tires to even finish the race.

During the race, Goodyear’s Greg Stucker spoke to the media to discuss the tire issues. He described the situation and how Goodyear is searching for where the problem came from.

The tire run was determined to be 45 laps before cording became an issue. The driver would hold out past the 45 lap mark to try to beat the caution, with some drivers like Kyle Larson getting caught by the tire failures, alongside pole-sitter Ryan Blaney.

Three Car Crash Brings Out Yellow

Ricky Stenhouse, Daniel Hemric, and Zane Smith brought out the caution after a three-car crash involving all drivers. Zane Smith would go 18 laps down while Stenhouse went seven laps down and Hemric stayed on the lead lap.

Kyle Busch Spins off of Turn 2

Kyle Busch brought out the next caution, after spinning off of turn two. Busch did not flat a tire as the spin was just the driver battling a loose race car while battling with Austin Cindric for the free pass. Kyle avoided the wall and continued after the 360 spin. Busch was running 31st, one lap down.

Gibbs Penalized on Pit Road, Charges Through the Field

Pitting from the lead, Ty Gibbs was hit with an equipment interference penalty, for his tire rolling into the next stall. This moved the leader to the rear of the field, where the team elected to put their qualifying tire set on for the next restart.

The 54 charged through the field, as other drivers conserved tires with all of the cording issues. Gibbs got as high as third before the Kyle Busch caution brought everyone to pit road. Gibbs would come onto pit road along with everyone else, losing six spots on pit road and coming out 11th after some drivers stayed out.

With the fastest car on track, Gibbs would make quick work of the rest of the field as he charged to the top in stage two.

Gibbs Sweeps Stages at Bristol

Ty Gibbs restarted the race 11th with 10 laps to go and used his fast Toyota to quickly work his way back into the top five. With two laps to go, he made quick work of race leader Joey Logano to retake the lead and claim the stage two win, sweeping the opening stages for the first time in his career.

Keselowski and Cindric Clash on Pit Road

During stage two pit stops, Brad Keselowski and Austin Cindric made big contact on pit road. The 2 hit the 6 as he was coming out of his pit stall causing damage to the right front of the RFK Ford. Keselowski continued to compete inside the top 10 while Cindric would be mired back in traffic in 26th.

Berry Spins Out on Lap 311

Josh Berry’s roller-coaster race continued as he spun out coming out of turn two on lap 311. Berry had been running eighth before the 360 spin, which looked similar to Kyle Busch’s spin earlier in the race. Berry came out 16th after the spin, staying on the lead lap.

Stenhouse and Cindric Spin Late in Tire Runs

With over 40 laps on their tires, many drivers began to experience tire issues once again. This culminated in Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Cindric spinning on lap 368, right in front of race leader Denny Hamlin. Cindric was the last car on the lead lap while Stenhouse was one lap down.

Justin Haley & JHN Shows Out at Bristol

Justin Haley had his best performance of the season at Bristol. The new addition to Rick Ware Racing worked his way inside the top 10 and stayed in the top 10 in the final stage of the race. Haley raced alongside Brad Keselowski, Michael McDowell, and John Hunter Nemechek inside the top 10 and while the JGR fleet pulled away up front, Haley battled with the rest of the top 10 in one of the best showings for Rick Ware Racing and Haley.

John Hunter Nemechek also showed up during the race. The new Legacy Motor Club addition raced inside the top 10 all day long and raced inside the top five during portions of the race. Nemechek outran his LMC teammate Erik Jones since the start of the race for the best run the 42 car has had since the merger between Richard Petty Motorsports and GMS Racing.

Tire Issues Create Chaos in Stage 3

With less than 60 laps to go, many drivers experienced tire failures, including Ty Gibbs, Kyle Larson, and Ryan Blaney. Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. stayed on the track as long as they could before finally coming onto pit road with 52 laps to go. All the tires looked as if they were shredded with a cheese grader, as the entire field struggled to keep their cars in control with just over 50 laps to go. Drivers ran their tires until they went flat, which made the fact that no one brought out a yellow even more impressive.

After the improbable green flag pit stop cycle, Denny Hamlin held a 1.5-second lead over Martin Truex Jr., with only 11 cars on the lead lap.

Record-setting lead changes

The most amount of lead changes a short track race has had was 40 back in 1991 at Bristol. Today’s race at Bristol destroyed that record with over 50 lead changes in the Food City 500. This was caused by a mix of aggressive racing, tire issues, and comers and goers throughout the race.

Hamlin Nurses His Tires to Bristol Win

In the return to Spring concrete, the three oldest drivers in the series ran 1-3 during the tire chaos. In the end, it came down to Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr., or more it came down to who’s tires will wear the quickest. In the end, it was the driver of the 11 that prevailed as Denny Hamlin outlasted the field to win the Food City 500 over his JGR teammate. It’s the 52nd win of Hamlin’s career and he has now won back-to-back races at the Last Great Colosseum.

The win makes it back-to-back for Joe Gibbs Racing after Bell won the Phoenix race last week. JGR is a perfect two-for-two at tracks one mile or less this year (three of three if the Clash at the Colosseum is counted).

Conclusion

This race will be remembered for many years to come. The return of the Spring concrete will go down as one of the wildest races in NASCAR history. Over 50 lead changes, a new record for short track racing, will be something that NASCAR is proud of. The tire issues however will be something to watch for and how Goodyear will react to this once the Cup Series returns to Bristol during the playoffs.

Toyota continues to dominate the short tracks. After dominating Phoenix, the JGR fleet picked up right where they left off with another masterclass on the short ovals. At one point, it looked like all four JGR cars were going to finish 1-2-3-4 before the tire problem plagued them. Chevy and Ford have a long way to go if they want to match the speed of the Toyotas at short tracks. As for Ty Gibbs, his first win is coming. Very soon.

That concludes this weekend at Bristol. Be sure to check out the rest of DailyDownforce.com for recaps for all races as well as all the latest storylines and fan discussions.

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Picture of Armany DePaul

Armany DePaul

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