Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2016 Food City 500

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

I’ve got a pair of them this week. Well, make it three, because Matt DiBenedetto deserves all the accolades he can get after an impressive performance that Carl Edwards said afterward was probably more difficult for the No. 83 team than the win was for his. There’s more on him below, though.

Meanwhile, mid-race, another small team grabbed a piece of the spot light when Landon Cassill and his No. 38 team gambled on pit strategy, staying out under caution to lead 20 laps. He had a top-10 run going from there on out, and the only thing that derailed it was a tangle with Ty Dillon, who got loose in front of Cassill on a flat tire late in the race. The damage to the No. 38 car was minor, but it was enough to drop Cassill to 22nd, the last driver on the lead lap, instead getting him the finish he deserved.

Like DiBenedetto, Cassill is an extremely talented driver who has shown time and again that lack of money does not mean lack of talent. And for a small team with nothing to lose, making the gamble was an excellent call. Calls like that one make the racing better for the fans.

Finally, while his finish was underwhelming, Casey Mears had the save of the day (and perhaps of the season) on Lap 340, when AJ Allmendinger, frustrated with Michael Annett, got a little too aggressive and got into the No. 13 car instead, knocking Mears sideways.  Mears somehow managed to hold onto it and get it going straight after sliding all the way through Turns 1 and 2 facing the infield. He, like most others who come from an off-road background, has outstanding car control, which he got to show off on Sunday. As a result, there might be an extra dry-cleaning charge on his uniform, but Mears salvaged his race.

What… is the takeaway from this race?

The 2016 competition package continues to impress. There was some great racing all day long, including a little bumper tag, some fantastic saves, a sprinkling of tempers and overall, it was one of the best races at Bristol since the track was reconfigured. It was hot, and several drivers commented on how physically worn out they felt, and Jimmie Johnson battled cramping in his foot during the race.  Toughing it out when the track is hard on drivers should be a big part of the game, but it’s one we often overlook.

Another observation: this race was the first one actually run during the day at Bristol since 2013, as the previous two scheduled day races ran into the night after lengthy rain delays. And once again, racing in the sun put night racing to shame. Night racing is flashy, but day races provide better competition. If a second groove had come in better throughout the race Sunday, it would have been the best show at Bristol in years.

Where… did the pole sitter and the defending race winner wind up?

Carl Edwards didn’t dominate the entire race. However, he did for most of it. He led eight times for more than half the total laps of the day, including the last three. Kurt Busch threatened late in the going, but Edwards took advantage on the final restart and was the one doing backflip when it was over, his first win of 2016.

Matt Kenseth qualified second and it wasn’t long before he wanted a piece of the action, taking the lead for the first of three times on Lap 43, but a pair of accidents were his downfall Sunday. A tire issue sent him into the wall on Lap 188, and while there wasn’t extensive damage, he fell back to 20th. He climbed back into the top 5 by Lap 300 only to suffer a second issue soon afterward, and this one he couldn’t recover from. The No. 20 car was running at the end, but that’s about the best he’ll be able to say of his 36th-place run at the water cooler on Monday.

When… did it all go sideways?

Tires were public enemy No. 1 on Sunday, but the issues weren’t necessarily a product of actual failures but rather a mix of melted beads, cuts from debris and contact and loose wheels. A couple of tire-related issues did become clearer at Bristol.

One thing for sure is that there’s still work to be done. The softer tires we’ve seen in 2016 have made for improved racing as tire wear is once again something teams have to contend with. However, the tires are not laying rubber down on the racing surface, either. I’m not an engineer, nor do I play one on TV, so maybe a softer compound simply can’t be found that will rubber up a racing groove. But if it’s possible, it needs to happen. Creating a second groove would have made the racing on Sunday insanely exciting.

Why… did Carl Edwards win the race?

Some weeks this answer is more complex than others, and then there was this week. Nobody could touch the No. 19 car on the final restart. Edwards was strong when he was up front all day, leading 276 laps, and restarts were one chance to get a run on him. It didn’t hurt his chances that his closest competitors — namely his own Joe Gibbs Racing teammates — all suffered misfortune during the race. But in the end, he simply thumbed his nose at the competition as he drove away from them.

How… did the little guys do?

The three best:

Matt DiBenedetto; BK Racing: DiBenedetto is a talented short-track racer, and this week, the team was able to put him in exactly the position he needed to be in to bring home a career-best sixth-place finish. He ran near the back of the lead lap for the early part of the race, but moved up late.

DiBenedetto restarted eighth on what would prove to be the final green flag of the day, and worked his way to sixth on the five-lap shootout.  He’s shown some flashes of brilliance, and he’s showing them a bit more in 2016. He is one of the more underrated drivers in the garage in terms of his raw talent, but the competition can’t hold him down forever, and he’s got a bright future in the sport.

Clint Bowyer: HScott Motorsports: A week after saying he was “miserable” waiting for his seat in the No. 14 ride to open up next year, Bowyer found himself in the top 10 at Bristol. Short tracks are an equalizer of sorts, and he took advantage of being able to run with the leaders late in the race.  He avoided trouble all day and moved forward when he needed to. A strong run at Richmond would really be good medicine for this bunch.

Ryan Blaney; Wood Brothers Racing: Blaney just keeps on rolling. At one point, he climbed as high as second, only to fall back to 16th midrace. He had plenty of time to recover, and he raced back into the top 5 with 10 laps to go only to get shuffled on the final restart.  11th was by no means a bad finish, but it’s not indicative of how strong the team really was on Sunday.

All the rest:

No. Driver Team Car Start Finish +/- Points Position
83 Matt DiBenedetto BK Racing Cosmo Motors Toyota 30th 6th
Very good effort from this team; stayed on lead lap as laps wound down and raced to sixth on final restart
+24 30th
15 Clint Bowyer HScott Motorsports 5-hour Energy Chevy 36th 8th
On lead lap all day; top-10 a shot in the arm for the team
+28 29th
21 Ryan Blaney Wood Brothers Racing Motorcraft / Quick Lane Ford 18th 11th
Very fast, ran as high as second and was able to pass on the inside quite often early.
+ 7 19th
47 AJ Allmendinger JTG Daugherty Racing Bush’s Beans Chevy 9th 19th
Very strong early, lost track position due to unscheduled pit stop for loose wheel
-10 14th
34 Chris Buescher Front Row Motorsports Love’s Travel Stops Ford 21st 21st
Strong lead lap run—he says the team feels close to turning a corner; got shuffled late out of top 15
38 Landon Cassill Front Row Motorsports Snap Fitness Ford 28th 22nd
Stayed out under caution to take lead; led 20 laps and raced Edwards door-to-door for a lap and a half on old tires;  paid off on next caution, came out 5th and held in top 10 but tangled with Ty Dillon, who had a tire going down and fell to 22ns
+6 27th
13 Casey Mears Germain Racing GEICO Chevy 16th 24th
Reported the car was bouncing around a lot during first half—had a fantastic save after contact from Allmendinger on lap 340 but handling was damaged enough to make for a challenge for the rest of the day
-8 26th
98 Cole Whitt Premium Motorsports Chevy 39th 28th
Attrition and keeping his car clean resulted in a top-30 run—maybe not the best way to get one but they earned it
+11 37th
95 Michael McDowell Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing KLOVE Radio Chevy 31st 29th
Raced well within this group for most of the day; unscheduled stop for a tire late cost him two additional laps
+2 33rd
46 Michael Annett HScott Motorsports Pilot Flying J Chevy 40th 31st
Struggles continue; team may need to make unpleasant changes; late spin after racing Kevin Harvick, who was on the lead lap racing for position
+9 36th
32 Jeffrey Earnhardt GO FAS Racing  Keen Parts / Visone RVFord 37th 32nd
Stayed out of trouble but didn’t have the car to be competitive at all, not due to anything he’s doing
+5 38th
30 Josh Wise The Motorsports Group Curtis Key Plumbing Chevy 35th 33rd
Not a bad run early; tangled with Austin Dillon midrace and had damage afterward
+2 39th
7 Regan Smith Tommy Baldwin Racing APC Chevy 29th 37th
Spent multiple laps in the garage early for repairs, got back on track but was spun by Danica Patrick with eight laps to go
-8 31st
23 David Ragan BK Racing Dr. Pepper Toyota 24th 39th
Had issues from the start; engine failure ended day after 211 laps
-15 32nd
55 Reed Sorenson Premium Motorsports ChampionMachinery.com Chevy 38th 40th
Woefully underpowered; lost a lap before 20 were complete; out after 196 laps for suspension…start and park to help pay for the No. 98?
-2 42nd


About the author

Amy is an 18-year veteran NASCAR writer and a five-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found filling in from time to time on The Frontstretch 5 (Wednesdays) and her monthly commentary Holding A Pretty Wheel (Thursdays). A New Hampshire native living in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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Good showing for the underdogs.

Broken Arrow

Better showing for those who don’t hide under the cloak of being underdogs.


Hey Kyle Buusccchhh sack hugger…sorry your lover boy had a bad day (no not reallly), but it does concern me how you have taken every post out of context on this thread. SHUUUDDDAUUUPPPP. I was referring to the ones that normally don’t sniff the front of the field. Jerkoff. And shame on your angry self for not seeing how cool it was. Kyle blindness….like the severe problem of snow blindness in cats…..

Broken Arrow

And Amy continues her love-fest over Ryan Blaney even though he drives for Roger Penske, one of the most powerful and richest owners in the history of the sport. Take the blinders off Amy. Blaney is no more a “little guy” than Kevin Harvick or Danica Patrick with their HMS association. It is disgusting that FS writers continue to use this site to air their personal hates and loves. You are too old to be crushing on a child, Amy.


You really need to tone down the hate you have for anyone who doesn’t think the same way as you do. The reason Ryan Blaney is considered one of the “little guys”, is because he drives for a small team. While having a tie with Penske, the Wood Brothers are a single car team, and are nowhere near a powerhouse like SHR is. Hence, your comparing Blaney to the likes of Harvick and Danica is pure nonsense. Add to that, the Wood Brothers don’t have that precious charter to fall back on. So, they are “the little guys”.

Broken Arrow

Amy needs to tone down her hate for anyone who can actually think! The Wood Brothers have a similar association with Penske as SHR has had with HMS. And Amy’s emotional reaction to drivers she luvs and hates is unprofessional to the max and just what I expect from a site dedicated to put-downs and encouraging hatred among the fans. Your response is pure nonsense.

Bill B

I think your response is right on target. Someone didn’t get their nap today.

Broken Arrow

Bill B, Amy needs more than a nap – she needs a good frick. I wonder how many years it has been that she lusts after boy-children. Maybe all of you girly-boys and girls do!

Bill B

I wasn’t talking to Amy.

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