Race Weekend Central

Fire on Mondays: Tire Problems Were Best Thing to Happen to NASCAR

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Now that was a race at Bristol Motor Speedway, baby!

The Food City 500 on Sunday afternoon (March 17) not only was the best race at Bristol in years, not only the best short track race of the Next Gen era, but it may very well have been the best pure race of the past decade.

I was entertained from the drop of the green flag to the waving of the black-and-white checkered. I was on the edge of my seat nearly all 500 laps.

See also
Denny Hamlin Survives Chaos in Thunder Valley, Wins at Bristol

And the huge factor that made this race so great was the extreme tire wear. Tires didn’t last much more than 40 laps before they started cording. Teams only got nine sets of tires. You do the math.

Goodyear did allow the teams to use one additional set of tires, but outside of that, teams had to make it work. And that made the race frickin’ awesome.

Because the teams had to make it work, drivers had to manage how much they were abusing the tires in order to make them last until the end. That right there is quintessential NASCAR.

NASCAR was founded as being the ultimate test of man and machine. Not only did the driver have to last the distance while being better than their peers, but the car had to hold up for the entirety. That was the case much throughout the first 50 years or so of NASCAR, but in the last 25 years, it had gone away. Cars became more durable to the point where now you have races where the entire field finishes sometimes.

All but one car held up in Sunday’s race, but the tires falling apart was a throwback to the days of NASCAR old. As race winner Denny Hamlin and his crew chief Chris Gabehart mentioned in their postrace presser, for once we had a race where the big thing wasn’t how well you air-blocked.

It was also a connector to grassroots racing. It’s common in late model racing around the country for a race to come down to tire management.

See also
Josh Berry Ends Up 12th After Roller Coaster Day at Bristol

You notice who looked the best on Sunday? Hamlin and Gabehart have strong late model backgrounds, as well as Josh Berry and his crew chief Rodney Childers, who showed a lot of speed before ultimately finishing 12th. Martin Truex Jr. finished second — and his dad was a great grassroots racer.

Every lap wasn’t a qualifying lap, like NASCAR seems to have become in recent years. A driver could be aggressive and burn up his tires getting to the front, or he could be conservative and rise up the ranks as others had tire issues.

That led to a lot of comers and goers, and it also led to the race setting a new record for lead changes in a short track. The longest run of consecutive laps led by anyone was Ty Gibbs with 42 straight laps led. There was a 60-lap run in the middle of the race where no driver led more than 11 consecutive laps.

That led to the race feeling almost like a superspeedway race with the whole field practically stacked on top of each other. Except it was at a short track, and there was beating and banging aplenty.

From that perspective, it felt like the Bristol of old except even better. A driver could do the bump and run to pass or they could use the outside thanks to the progressive banking. Once the leaders hit lapped traffic or came upon someone slowing with tire issues, it was complete mayhem.

But it wasn’t a wreck-fest. Despite the entire field having tire issues and several cars spinning out, Zane Smith was the only driver who failed to finish. The race ended with a 121-lap green flag run, and yet it was still super tight with Hamlin getting the better of Truex at the very end.

That’s great racing. And yes, maybe the tires could’ve worn slightly less. It would’ve been nice if the tires laid down rubber on the track on other lanes besides just the bottom where the resin was put down.

But the combination of close competition and problem solving in real time made for riveting content.

Gabehart said the race basically played out like a football game where your entire game plan is lost right at kickoff. Seeing the drivers and crew chiefs have to come up with a plan on the fly displayed just how good they really are. Hamlin said this win meant a lot because he had a lot more to do with the performance than normal.

Fans appreciate when they can tell a driver is working hard behind the wheel. That’s what made this year’s Atlanta Motor Speedway race so popular. And on Sunday, you could tell the drivers had their work cut out for them.

I couldn’t have asked for a better race at Bristol. It honestly reminded me of the NASCAR and Bristol I fell in love with back in the early 2000s.

So while some may heavily criticize Goodyear for what happened on Sunday, I plead that they bring tires with similar falloff to all of the short tracks. Think how great Richmond Raceway and Martinsville Speedway could be in a few weeks.

Please, Goodyear, please give us more races with tons of tire wear.

About the author

Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.

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Christopher

It’s WAVING of flags, not WAIVING of flags (which would mean no flags were waved). If you’re going to be a professional writer learn how to spell and what similar sounding words mean.

DoninAjax

NA$CAR hasn’t “waived” a flag since Emperor Brian ascended the throne of his new toy!

DoninAjax

If teams were expecting to make the tires last for a 175 lap fuel run, how much SLOWER do they have to run to make them last more than 40? Wait until they get to Indy.

janice

exactly what i thought!

RCFX1

What was the minimum speed on Sunday? Did everyone meet that? Cars were dropping through the pack like they were stopped. That can’t be safe either.

Shayne

So, an unintentional outcome becomes a great race? Riding around waiting for a tire to blow isn’t my idea of a good race. What I witnessed yesterday had nothing to do with good vs. bad tire management. The teams were provided with an inferior tire and told to deal with it. That’s a far cry from having a decent tire that can be managed.

Meanwhile, the NASCAR controlled media tells us what a great race it was.

NASCAR and Goodyear should use this same awesome tire management fluke prior to the next scheduled races at Daytona and Talladega.

Now that would be exciting.

John

Just what I’d want to do. Pay all that money to watch these guys drive at slower speeds. I thought the idea of going to a race was to watch guys race each other at speed, not for that fiasco. Clearly that writer here hasn’t a clue about racing. NASCAR is fading and it’s sad. Too many changes.

Kevin

By far the worst Bristol race ever now we see why nascar can no longer fill the seats at any track HELLO Earth to Nascar we know Bill France is rolling over in his grave what poor management nascar. Nascar and Goodyear owes everyone at Bristol a TOTAL REFUND You can take tire wear and stick it where the sun don’t shine same tire from last fall BS Race Hub tried to sugar coat a shitty Race

DesertRat42

I’ve been watching Nascar for over 50 years and that the worst example of a non-race I’ve ever seen
No matter how great Nascar tries to tell me it is.

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