Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After Denny Hamlin’s Bristol Masterclass

Who… should you be talking about after the race?

On a day when it came down to managing the car for the entire race and knowing when to push and when to back off, it should be no surprise that it came down to a pair of veterans in the end. And when the dust cleared at Bristol Motor Speedway (which didn’t take too long as the race was back on the concrete surface), it was Denny Hamlin edging out veteran teammate Martin Truex Jr. for the win in the Food City 500.

Tire management was the phrase of the day (not once was “clean air” uttered as a factor), and while it’s easy to say that’s why Hamlin won, it’s only part of the truth. In the closing laps, Hamlin had to work a mass of lapped traffic, including putting all but the top five a lap in arrears, so he was racing some very good cars all while having to hold off Truex. Hamlin chose his lines carefully and masterfully, picking off the lappers while also using them to create a buffer between him and Truex.

In a race that was put on the backs of the teams and which came down to the drivers making it work, Hamlin did it best. Sometimes it’s really that simple.

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

And don’t forget John Hunter Nemechek. Nemechek was in the mix for most of the day, and while Hamlin put him a lap down in the final minutes, Nemechek’s sixth-place finish is a career-best as well as the top finish for Legacy Motor Club so far in 2024.

Nemechek ran a smart race, and while he faded late in a few runs, he was able to chase the leaders with fresh tires and in the final run, managed his Goodyears well to snag his top finish to date.

What… is the big question leaving this race in the rearview?

One thing you can’t say about Sunday’s race was that it was boring — it was classic short track racing with the added bonus that drivers could work their way to the front from the back of the field. It was easily the best race at Bristol in years and the best of 2023 as well.

And yes, tire wear had a lot to do with that. 

Tire management should be a part of racing. By stage two, teams had done a decent job of figuring out how to save tires without sacrificing the racing. Tires that last an entire fuel run should not be a thing.

But of course there were complaints, despite the race being one of the best in recent memory. Why? Because apparently while people seem to want the races to be in the teams’ and drivers’ hands, they don’t want them to have to manage their equipment to do it.

So, will NASCAR and Goodyear bend to the complainers and change the tires before the fall race?

Let’s hope not. Sure, a compound that allowed maybe 10 more laps would be ideal, but hardening them to the point where Fred Flintstone would be proud will do nothing for the racing. Nothing about this race needed to be “fixed.” It was the best race of the year so far. Nothing’s broken.

Please don’t change a thing.

Where… did the other key players wind up? 

Pole winner Ryan Blaney was among the drivers who struggled with tire management. On new tires, Blaney could compete with the leaders, but that went away quickly and when it did, so did Blaney’s run. A late pit road penalty put him at the back of the pack, mitigating his tire woes as he had to race hard to move up. An early stop in the last cycle made Blaney fly for a few laps, but it also meant falling off sooner, and Blaney finished 16th.

The last spring race run on concrete was won by Brad Keselowski. Keselowski was once again a threat to win, though he said after the race that a bit of minor damage suffered earlier in the race hurt his handling enough that he wasn’t able to try and run down Hamlin and Truex. Keselowski finished a solid third, a much-needed shot in the arm for his No. 6 team.

Active Bristol win leader Kyle Busch might just as soon like to forget about this one. He led early on, but a pair of spins in the first half saw him start the third stage in 31st, last on the lead lap. From there, Busch struggled through the second half. He rolled through his pit on a late stop, hitting a crewman (who was able to complete the stop), which again mired him at the back. He ran near the back of the field from then on and had to settle for finishing two laps down in 25th.

When… was the moment of truth?

I wanted to hate the resin. I really did, because treating the track to make the racing closer seems like a gimmick, and the PJ1 Trackbite product normally used hasn’t been successful. But from an observer’s standpoint, the resin, combined with tires that wore out very quickly if not managed expertly, worked.

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

The first half of the race was a barnburner, with more lead changes in the first stage alone than the entire fall race last year. The day ended with a short-track record 54 lead changes, and with only one green-flag pit cycle, that means there were a lot of on-track passes for the point.

It looked a little like old Bristol, with some chain reaction incidents and a little like something different, because drivers could pass in either groove. Drivers who struggled early came around, and some early favorites faded.

NASCAR made a good call to allow teams an extra set of tires as they saw the amount of wear, and an equally good call to say no more (even if there had been enough tires on site for that).

What made the race so exciting was that it was in the hands of race teams and drivers to find a line that worked, conserve their equipment and decide when to race hard and how hard to go. In other words, it was pretty much everything fans have been asking for. 

It’s not surprising that a veteran driver with many, many short-track miles won this one. 

Why… should you be paying attention this week?

It’s the first road course of the year at Circuit of the Americas, which has shown to be a good addition to the Cup schedule. The three Cup races have seen three different winners: Chase Elliott, Ross Chastain, and most recently, Tyler Reddick.

Those three are ones to watch next Sunday, along with Alex Bowman, as all four have an impressive fifth-place or better average finish in three races at COTA (Elliott has run just two, missing last year due to injury).

Also keep an eye on Ty Gibbs, who finished a solid ninth in his only start last year and who has been knocking on the door to victory lane harder every week. Michael McDowell had a dominant race on the Indianapolis road course last year and has run well at COTA as well.

How… good is Kevin Harvick in the booth?

Kevin Harvick is quickly proving himself to be a fantastic race analyst. He sees the race with a driver’s eye but is excellent at explaining things the way fans see them. He has brought out the best in Clint Bowyer, toning Bowyer down a notch while Bowyer’s enthusiasm is still evident.

Harvick is a master at seeing what needs to be explained, explaining it in a way that newer fans easily understand and still keeping the interest of longtime fans. He doesn’t talk down to viewers. He’s a good storyteller. He doesn’t play favorites.
In other words, he’s very, very good — possibly the best FOX has ever had in the booth.

About the author

Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-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 working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is 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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Christopher

Completely agree on Harvick. He’s damn good and brings out the best from Bowyer and has reenergized Mike Joy.

As to resin or PJ1, just stop putting crap on tracks. And they did this without even telling Goodyear, so we will never know if the new tire compound worked as intended. As it was, it was indeed a great race but it came dangerously close to becoming a repeat of the infamous Brickyard disaster of 2007.

Last edited 1 month ago by Christopher
Daytona-520

Harvick is very similar to McMurray, but not as good. Unfortunately he’s a much bigger name so Fox put him in the booth,

janice

i enjoy harvick in the booth. but i did notice bowyer having to bring out the boogity…..when they took the green

i still do not understand why race in bristol had to start at 3:30 pm.

DoninAjax

The West Coast start time was 12:30 pm! West Coast events start at 12:30 pm so the East Coast time has to be 3:30 pm. That is when the broadcast starts. The green flag is about 20 minutes later after 15 minutes of commercials.

Christopher

Used to be different, with East coast start times at 1PM, which I quite liked when I lived in the Pacific time zone, getting to watch a race at 10AM. NASCAR even advertised this (briefly, when fans started complaining about inconsistent start times around 2007) with East races always starting at 1PM and West races always starting at 12PM (for a 3PM broadcast start in the east). These days, of course, NASCAR is deaf to fans and dances to the tunes of the networks exclusively.

DoninAjax

NA$CAR wants the West Coasters to have time for church on Sunday morning before their “entertainment” puts them to sleep for the afternoon. At least they don’t have to have dinner during the event.

Echo

Keep telling them that. Also keep talking about the truck speed versus cup speed. Someone high up somewhere just might start pounding the story. You need a bigger hammer.

John

Before the season, I didn’t know what to think about Harvick in the booth, but in just a few races, he is the best of the bunch of all the networks.

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