It took eight events and two days but NASCAR finally got the best race of the year.
The weather-challenged Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway was truly a tale of two races. The first half was a stop and start affair that included four red flag, three for weather and a fourth to clean-up the aftermath of a multi-car accident. When Mother Nature finally said enough Sunday, NASCAR was forced to punt the remainder of the race to Monday and pick things up with 204 laps in the book.
Not that Monday was any bargain weather-wise. Frigid temperatures, rain, snow and even a little sleet made conditions less than idea. But the show went on and in the end Bristol delivered.
The basically second half of the 500-lap race was completely different than the opening 204 circuits and in a good way. The intensity level, no doubt ratcheted up by the possibility of weather shortening the race, was sky high. The basically one groove racing surface, enhanced by the application of PJ1 traction substance, made the low side the preferred route around the .533-mile track but there were still some hearty souls who used a higher line to create passing and side by side racing.
But Bristol ultimately came down to what has made the Tennessee track a fan favorite – the “bump and run.” That was the move Kyle Busch put on Kyle Larson six laps from the finish to take the lead and eventually the win. Larson was frustrated but understood and no doubt had the No. 42 car caught the rear bumper of Busch’s Toyota the favor would have been returned.
In a season looking for moments, Bristol provided several of the memorable variety.
- There will be a number of drivers leaving Bristol disappointed, which is usually the case at the Tennessee short track. But Ryan Blaney’s name is no doubt high on the list. The Team Penske driver had a very strong outing and led 100 laps when he was truly a victim of circumstance getting swept up in an accident where Blaney literally had nowhere to go. While his numbers over the first eight races might not be eye-popping and Blaney continues to seek Victory Lane for the first time since Pocono last year, his transition to Roger Penske’s team has been seamless and it appears Cup career win number two is inevitable.
- Air gun issues again plagued Joe Gibbs Racing with both Denny Hamlin and Daniel Suarez experiencing loose wheels because of bad problems during pit stops. Hamlin and team owner Joe Gibbs maintained the problems were because of the common air guns being used this year. Hamlin went so far as to say he believes it will cost someone a race or even a championship. Gibbs said the situation has warranted more discussion with NASCAR. “NASCAR has been very good about working with us, and when we come up against a problem, we’ve been good about working hard to solve it,” he said. “I think we have a number of meetings this week with NASCAR, and I think we’ll be working on this and hopefully working towards a solution.”
- If there’s a track on the NASCAR schedule that deserves a break from Mother Nature it has to be Bristol Motor Speedway. Two years ago the August night race was postponed to Sunday afternoon thanks to rain. Last year’s spring race suffered a similar fate and the 2018 edition of the Food City 500 was plagued by the wet stuff from the drop of the green flag. After perfect conditions both Friday and Saturday, the Sunday forecast unfortunately lived up to the prediction that had been in place since earlier in the week. No track should have to endure what Bristol has in the weather department. Kudos to the fans that braved the elements, which will hopefully be the last such challenge of the season.
- Speaking of Saturday, the Xfinity Series race was about as entertaining as could be and it was in no small part due to the lack of Cup drivers in the field. The Dash 4 Cash race was for series regulars only and that group made the most of the opportunity to race without any Cup interlopers. There was plenty of action from start to finish and a great story with Ryan Preece winning, adding to his impressive Xfinity Series body of work in a very small sample size. Unfortunately there was a confusing controversy thrown into the mix when Daniel Hemric was originally rules ineligible for next week’s Dash 4 Cash $100,000 prize as one of four drivers qualified because his car failed post-race inspection. NASCAR officials admitted a mistake in that assertion Sunday morning and put Hemric back into the mix removing Brandon Jones, who would have taken the spot. That mix-up aside, the series will have a ways to go to top this year’s Bristol spring race.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.