Race Weekend Central

Monday Morning Pit Box: Tire Wear is Talk of the Town at Bristol

The spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway for the NASCAR Cup Series returned to the concrete surface on Sunday (March 17). The result was a day filled with 54 lead changes, the most in any short track race in series history, and numerous tire failures.

When the dust and loose rubber settled, Denny Hamlin emerged with his first victory of 2024, his second straight win at Bristol, and the 52nd checkered flag of his Cup Series career. Keep reading for all the tire talk and other pit road stories from The World’s Fastest Half-Mile.

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

Tires Management the Theme of the Day

It was the one topic on everyone’s lips all race: tires. It became evident early on that the drivers could go about 50 laps on a set of sticker tires before they began having issues, especially on the right side. Crew chiefs up and down pit road took tire wear into account in their race plans.

“Tire wear is an issue,” Drew Blickensderfer, crew chief for the Stewart Haas Racing No. 10 Ford driven by Noah Gragson, said in a pre-race team meeting filmed by Fox Sports. “There is more fall-off than there has been with resin vs. PJ1. We can go 50 laps on your right front tire. It happens fast here.”

Blickensderfer’s statement proved to be prophetic. Josh Berry, Kyle Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were just a few of the many drivers who experienced tire failures in the concrete jungle of Bristol. The tire concern grew so loud that NASCAR made an additional set of Goodyear tires available to every team.

Because of the tire wear, the race pace slowed significantly as teams focused more on tire conservation rather than making their way to the front. It was also a choppy race, featuring nine caution flags and only one green flag run longer than 50 laps, with tire-related issues more often than not the reason for the yellow flag.

This type of tire management-style race favored cagey veterans over young guns. Only five drivers finished the Food City 500 on the lead lap; of those five drivers, Martin Truex Jr. (second), Brad Keselowski (third) and Kyle Larson (fifth) are past champions, and Hamlin is a future NASCAR Hall of Famer despite his lack of a championship. These drivers’ prior experience and success served them well in managing their tires and saving some rubber for the end.

It will be interesting to follow the fallout and reactions from the tire problems at Bristol. The postrace reactions from drivers about the tires were decidedly mixed. Bristol is not only a playoff race but also the cutoff race from the opening Round of 16.

It is probable that drivers, teams and fans alike will be wary about tire issues at such an important track on the schedule. Goodyear will certainly take a close look at the tires and data from this weekend, and it may make adjustments to the tire compound for Bristol before the return trip in September.

See also
NASCAR Drivers, Teams Caught Off Guard by Bristol’s Goodyear Gremlins

Keselowski Bounces Back from Pit Road Collison

Keselowski overcame more than tire wear on his way to a podium finish. While pitting under caution on lap 256, Keselowski got hit in the right side of his No. 6 RFK Racing Ford while exiting his pit stall. Ironically, the other driver involved was Austin Cindric, the driver of the No. 2 Penske Racing Ford, Keselowski’s long-time former ride.

While Cindric floundered to a 31st-place showing five laps off the pace, Keselowski remained unfazed. The damage from the pit road incident turned out to be minor, and the 2012 Cup Series champion did an exemplary job in managing tires over the second half of the race to take the checkered flag in third.

With two top-five finishes in a row, Keselowski and RFK Racing are trending in the right direction after stumbling in the first two races of the season at Daytona and Atlanta.

Look Ahead to Next Week

The NASCAR Cup Series will go road course racing for the first time in 2024 with the running of the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. With stage cautions still in play at road courses, teams will need to think about whether to accrue stage points or craft a pit strategy that focuses on the end goal of the checkered flag. With a race length of only 68 laps/231.88 miles, any mistakes on pit stops will be further magnified.

About the author

Andrew Stoddard joined Frontstretch in May of 2022 as an iRacing contributor. He is a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College, the University of Richmond, and VCU. He has a new day job as an athletic communications specialist at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.

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