Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Drivers Get What They Asked For … Sort Of

What Happened?

The Food City 500 returned to Bristol Motor Speedway’s concrete surface for the first time since spring 2020 on Sunday (March 17) and Denny Hamlin bested the field, taking home his first win of the season.

The race came down between Hamlin and his teammate Martin Truex Jr. as they worked their way through lapped traffic. Truex briefly took the lead with under 20 laps left, but Hamlin jumped back to the front for good on lap 484.

Just like last week, the Toyotas, specifically from Joe Gibbs Racing, led the majority of the race. This week, though, one Toyota seemingly led significantly more than the rest. Ty Gibbs looked poised to score his first NASCAR Cup Series victory until he began having tire issues with around 76 laps to go.

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

What Really Happened?

Okay. Maybe I missed a few details. Gibbs and the No. 54 team were not alone with their tire issues. Everybody — let me say again — everybody had tire problems.

A rash of cautions in the opening stage masked major tire issues until the first longer green flag run of the day. Kyle Busch drove through the field and nearly to the lead when he suddenly started dropping positions. First Busch, then Hamlin, then polesitter Ryan Blaney and more until Busch spun out. At the pit stops, tires all up and down pit road showed lots of wear.

An odd game of “how slow can you go” commenced in stage two, as the track turned into a mini-superspeedway while drivers fought to maintain position while milking the tire life.

By the time the final stage rolled around, drivers knew how hard they could push, and the Joe Gibbs Racing cars looked like they could push the hardest with less repercussions. That all changed in the final 80 laps.

To this point, the game of tire roulette began around 50 laps into a run and resulted in a yellow flag. Toward the end, however, drivers managed to hang on to the car without crashing, but just barely by creeping around the racetrack. 

Drivers tried to stay out as long as they could without pitting, anticipating a caution. They all gave up so much time trying to hold out that maybe some should have tried to pit early. 

Because of this extreme tire wear, the race came down to who could manage their tires the best. The cars at the top of the pylon at the end of the day all had drivers with tire management experience. 

Hamlin, who has long advocated for more tire falloff, won the race. Veterans Truex and Brad Keselowski finished just behind. An abysmal day for Chevrolet ended with great results, as Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson managed their way into top-five finishes.

Fans and drivers finally had one of their two main wishes granted. These tires fell off. But the falloff was too extreme.

Whether the blame goes to the tire, the track, or the resin, Bristol’s concrete surface did not rubber up like it typically does. Instead, the little rubber marbles gathered by the outside wall, taking away that high groove and keeping drivers down low. 

The race itself provided plenty of entertainment, as dirty air did not seem to have a massive hindrance on cars in the pack like past races. Turns out that perhaps the drivers know what they are talking about. Tire falloff and tire management definitely causes the action to be much better. 

But this took things to a slightly extreme level.

Drivers should be rewarded for how well they manage their tires, and we saw a little of that today. It definitely felt refreshing to see drivers challenged with more than dirty air. The man and the mind behind the wheel played more of a role than we’ve seen in a while, and more control went to the drivers.

However, the tires still had a very short lifespan, going just over 70 laps maximum. That shouldn’t happen, especially at a track like Bristol.

A step in the right direction? Absolutely. We saw lots of action. Should it stay this way going forward? No — though we also can’t go back to insanely hard tires, and hopefully Goodyear doesn’t overreact.

Sunday’s issues stemmed from a combination of things. Goodyear claimed the tire did not change from last fall. Instead, it seemed like a the track conditions caused more problems than anything. The resin, new to Bristol, combined with the lack of practice to muck everything up. Still, we can’t do this again in the future, and definitely not in the playoffs. 

Like Brad Keselowski said after the race, “maybe there’s a middle ground somewhere.”

Who Stood Out?

John Hunter Nemechek might as well have been in a JGR Toyota all day, because he followed the foursome to the front of the field and ran just behind them all day. While the competition drove away and then faded, Nemechek stayed consistent.

The No. 42 needed a caution to possibly have a shot to finish better, and Nemechek finished in sixth. The only potential blemish to a fantastic day is the fact that Nemechek was a lap down at the end, but everyone outside of Hamlin and Truex were well off the pace at the end. 

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

Josh Berry didn’t reap the reward of his most complete Cup weekend when he finished 12th, but he certainly played to his short track strengths for most of the afternoon. After a solid qualifying effort, Berry led laps early and hung around the top 10 all day. 

Berry even had multiple brushes with disaster through the race, only to return back to the front. Unfortunately, his car had some of the worst tire wear. He ran second late in the event after pitting earlier than his competition, but his older tires resulted in a big drop at the end. 

Who Fell Flat?

William Byron started inside the top 10 and held fifth on the opening lap. He became stranded in the middle line and slid to 15th. A battle with Joey Logano and Christopher Bell sent Byron into the wall and he broke a toe link, taking him out of contention for the rest of the day.

Byron has shown speed each week again this season, but misfortune has found him in many forms after his Daytona 500 triumph, and he ended in 35th.

Just ahead of Byron, Noah Gragson’s impressive two weeks ended with troubles today with a 34th-place finish. While some drivers sounded off on the tire, Gragson had more criticism toward himself for not managing his Goodyears better.

As good as the JGR Toyotas ran, the 23XI Racing teammates finished a dismal 29th and 30th, both multiple laps down. Tyler Reddick, of course, did spin out and receive damage early in the race from Zane Smith, who seemingly decided not to slow down as Reddick slid onto the frontstretch apron. Smith finished 36th, and his average finish since a top 15 at Daytona is 34th.

Better Than Last Time?

Whether comparing to the night race last fall or the last spring concrete event in 2020, this weekend certainly provided more action than those two races combined. As the tire issues became more apparent, each lap had growing importance as the tires became a ticking time bomb.

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

All of the tire drama contributed to an intriguing race. Incredibly, this race set a record for passes for the lead, and it also ended with only five cars on the lead lap.

The tire strategy and management from the drivers made for a mixed-up field and some super compelling story lines. While this was very enjoyable and better than the last few concrete races at Bristol, hopefully future races do not contain the same issues.

Paint Scheme of the Race

Who says paint scheme of the race only applies to the cars? This weekend, the Bristol barriers sported a retro red and white look instead of the black paint. The walls looked a lot like they did in the days of old, a neat tribute to the history of the track and of the Food City 500.

As for the cars on track, Trackhouse Racing went fishing this weekend as the sponsors for the No. 1 and the No. 99 both incorporated the fishing theme into their paint schemes. Busch Light promoted its limited-edition cans with fishing designs covering the aluminum on Ross Chastain’s car.

Meanwhile, Jockey Outdoors has a role in sponsoring the Bassmaster Classic, which made an appearance on Daniel Suarez’s machine.

What’s Next?

The NASCAR Cup Series travels to its first road course of the season, the Circuit of the Americas, for just the fourth time. The EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix begins Sunday, March 24 at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX.

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wildcatsfan2016

I do like races where tire management and fuel management play a part in the strategy but having tires completely fail like the photo you showed, well, that’s not good for anyone. It’s a shame that the tire failures were such a big part of the race. On top of that Hamlin won. Yuck!

janice

some of those tires that they took off the cars looked horrible. they were very lucky there weren’t any more blow outs when they got down past the cords.

reminded me of the indy race of days gone by.

DoninAjax

I guess some people were “entertained” but it wasn’t a “race.”

MikeinAZ

What a pathetic race. NASCAR should be embarrassed. There sure were a lot of empty seats too, what’s up with that?

WD

The truck race was very competitive and no tire issues At what point does sanctioning body realize this car is the problem The contact area of the tire is too large Let the teams have more input along with practice

Bill B

LOL.. Public Relations damage control in full force. The people will believe what we tell them to believe. LOL

DoninAjax

I wonder what price Larson will pay?

Bill B

Sounds like I picked a good week to miss the race. I got to spend the day helping my niece move instead. Listen to a little on PRN and checked the running order on NASCAR.com a few times, but otherwise, I only know what I just read here.

Between what most are saying and Douchebag winning, I wouldn’t have got much joy out of watching that. I agree, tire wear is desired, tires failing continuously is not.

I have it recorded so I will watch some of the first stage and a bit of the second just to see what happened. No need to watch the end. That would just piss me off.

Ronald Thornton

Once again. Goodyear and Nascar. Wow. Why do we keep watching? We are gear heads. Did you see the grandstands? What used to be the hardest ticket in nascar is now just walk up and get a seat. Amazing how this governing body has ruined the greatest show on concrete. What a joke. Nascar and Goodyear should be ashamed, but they won’t be because Fox has already paid for the show, regardless of how bad it is. Drivers are paid to go all out. If only Goodyear could provide a tire that would let them

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