Joe Gibbs Racing teammates battle to the end

Denny Hamlin wins Sunday’s Food City 500 NASCAR Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Photo by David Barks.

Denny Hamlin beats teammate Martin Truex Jr. to the finish line to win the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway

BRISTOL, Tenn. – It was a wild St. Patrick’s Day in Bristol, Tenn.

A record number of lead changes, tires wearing down early with NASCAR brought out extra tires, cars bouncing off the wall and each other, and Joe Gibbs Racing teammates trying to go 1-2-3-4.

For most of the race, Gibbs’ racers Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Ty Gibbs, and Christopher Bell led the most laps but, in the end, they would only finish 1-2.

Denny Hamlin salutes the crowd after winning Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Photo by David Barks.

Hamlin beat Truex to the finish line by 1.083 seconds to win NASCAR’s 34th annual Food City 500 Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon.

“It was challenging. A different kind of challenge, for sure. Certainly not something we’ve had to do for a very long time in managing tires,” said Hamlin. “Lesson learned early on. I kind of ran a certain pace, a certain line, wore my tires out. From that point on made some adjustments internally. He (crew Chief Chris Gabehart) made some adjustments to the car that allowed me to just manage it from that point on.

“Once it got into that tire management type of race, certainly my history in late models where you had to do that big-time certainly paid off.

“it was challenging. A different kind of challenge, for sure. Certainly, not something we’ve had to do for a very long time in managing tires.” 

“Lesson learned early on. I kind of ran a certain pace, a certain line, wore my tires out. From that point on made some adjustments internally. He (Gabehart) made some adjustments to the car that allowed me to just manage it from that point on. Once it got into that tire management type of race, certainly my history in late models where you had to do that big-time certainly paid off.”

It gives Hamlin his first win of the year and back-to-back wins in Bristol, having won last Fall’s playoff race.

It was his fourth win in Bristol and 52nd of his career – good for 13th on the all-time wins list.

It was the second of the year for the Gibbs team following Bell’s win last week in Phoenix, and the 210th Cup win overall for Joe Gibbs Racing.

“It was fantastic. The whole weekend was nothing what any of us expected, the driver, the crew chiefs, the engineers, the pit crew, the team, the spotter. I mean, from the minute practice was over, we suspected something was going to be different. I think a lot of us thought maybe 80, 100 (laps) in, this place would rubber in and get a little more familiar. But it did not,” said Gabehart. “It was a blast. I’m not just saying that because we won. I’m saying that because it was fun to have to do something so unrefined. Everything about our business gets to be 16th of a round and 10th of an air pressure. If you just maneuver this three inches, you’ll be perfect. It was not going to be perfect this weekend ever. I think that made for a fantastic show.”

“Coming here, we love coming to Bristol. It was just one of those days,” said team owner Joe Gibbs. “I was really proud from the standpoint of all of our cars. I think that’s the encouraging thing, is all four of ’em at different times obviously very fast. It’s a big deal for us.”

Brad Keselowski crosses the finish line in third place in Sunday’s Food City 500. Photo by David Barks.

The race produced a short track record 54 lead changes among 16 different drivers (also a track record) but it was Gibbs four that were the class of the field.

The quartet led 33 different times for a total of 383 laps over the 500-lap race on Bristol’s 0.533-mile short track oval.

Hamlin led the most, 13 times for 163 laps. Gibbs led nine times for 137 laps before falling to ninth at the finish. Truex led eight times covering 54 laps, and Bell led three times over 29 laps.

It was also the first race since Dover in 2004 to have five or fewer cars finish on the lead lap.

Following Hamlin and Truex were Brad Keselowski, Alex Bowman, and Kyle Larson, on the lead lap, and John Hunter Nemechek, Chris Buescher, Chase Elliott, Gibbs, and Bell all one lap back.

It was a race where tire management was the key to staying in contention.

The track was chewing up the tires – the same tires teams used in last Fall’s race.

But whether it was the ‘marbles’ (small balls of rubber formed when the tires wear down) that clogged the top lane and making it untraceable, the cool weather, or the sun on the track, tires – especially the right side – were wearing down sooner than expected.
“That’s what I grew up here doing in the short tracks in the Mid Atlantic, South Boston (Va.), Martinsville,” said Chesterfield, Va., native Hamlin. “Once it became a tire-management race, I really liked our chances.   

“Obviously, the veteran in Martin, he knew how to do it as well. We just had a great car, great team. The pit crew just did a phenomenal job all day. Man, it feels so good to win in Bristol.” 

Joey Logano (22) passes Kyle Larson (50, with Christopher Bell (20) and Harrison Burton (21) inn pursuit during Sunday’s Food City 500; Photo by David Barks.

Truex’s tires began to fade late, ending his chances of catching Hamlin.

“I guess this tire management thing fit into my wheelhouse here at Bristol,” Truex said. “The difference was just coming out of the pits so far behind Denny (after the final green-flag pit stop). I had to use mine up more on the last run. The last four, five laps of the race, was cord.”  

At the start of the race, teams had 11 sets of tires available; 10 new and the used (scuffs) tires from qualifying.

Teams were on their eighth set of tires before lap 300 and NASCAR okayed Goodyear to prepare an extra set for each team to help get through the 500 laps.

The tires lasted about 45 laps before wearing thin.

Zane Smith blew a tire on lap 71, crashed, and was out of the race.

Kyle Busch, the driver with the most Bristol wins, felt a tire going on Lap 114, fell back from second place, and then found himself two laps down after a right-side tire blew out on Lap 123, sending him spinning and into the wall.

Another tire failure, on Lap 229, saw Busch spin out without hitting anything or anyone. It still sent him further back in the field.

NASCAR rookie Josh Berry (4) passes Ryan Blaney (12) for the lead early in Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Photo by David Barks.

Gibbs was able to avoid trouble and won both Stages 1 and 2.

Gibbs kept the lead at the start of Stage 3.

Truex and Bell quickly joined him at the front.

By Lap 303, Hamlin joined the party.

On Lap 379, Hamlin was in the lead followed by Bell, Gibbs, and Truex.

Tires were wearing down and everyone was waiting, saving their tires, and hoping for a caution.

It didn’t come.

Finally, drivers started hitting pit road for green flag pit stops which shook up the running order.

That left Truex chasing Hamlin for the win while teammates Gibbs and Bell fell to the back of the Top 10.

The Cup Series heads to Austin, TX, next weekend for the first road course race of the season at the Circuit of the Americas (COTA).

Ryan Blaney (12) leads Josh Berry (4) and Joey Logano (22) at the start of Sunday’s Food City 500. Photo by David Barks.

NASCAR Cup Series Race – Food City 500 

Bristol Motor Speedway 

Bristol, Tennessee 

Sunday, March 17, 2024 

Statistics provided by NASCAR

  1. (3) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 500. 
  2. (11) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 500. 
  3. (17) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 500. 
  4. (29) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 500. 
  5. (10) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 500. 
  6. (26) John Hunter Nemechek, Toyota, 499. 
  7. (34) Chris Buescher, Ford, 499. 
  8. (5) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 499. 
  9. (19) Ty Gibbs, Toyota, 499. 
  10. (12) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 499. 
  11. (7) Michael McDowell, Ford, 499. 
  12. (2) Josh Berry #, Ford, 499. 
  13. (6) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 498. 
  14. (25) Ryan Preece, Ford, 498. 
  15. (36) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 498. 
  16. (1) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 498. 
  17. (32) Justin Haley, Ford, 498. 
  18. (28) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 498. 
  19. (33) Kaz Grala #, Ford, 498. 
  20. (15) Erik Jones, Toyota, 498. 
  21. (18) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 498. 
  22. (4) Joey Logano, Ford, 498. 
  23. (30) AJ Allmendinger(i), Chevrolet, 498. 
  24. (31) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 498. 
  25. (14) Kyle Busch, Chevrolet, 498. 
  26. (24) Todd Gilliland, Ford, 497. 
  27. (35) Carson Hocevar #, Chevrolet, 497. 
  28. (20) Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, 496. 
  29. (9) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 496. 
  30. (23) Tyler Reddick, Toyota, 495. 
  31. (21) Austin Cindric, Ford, 495. 
  32. (13) Harrison Burton, Ford, 495. 
  33. (27) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 495. 
  34. (22) Noah Gragson, Ford, 494. 
  35. (8) William Byron, Chevrolet, 492. 
  36. (16) Zane Smith #, Chevrolet, Engine, 192. 

Average Speed of Race Winner: 79.678 mph. 

Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 20 Mins, 41 Secs.

Margin of Victory: 1.083 Seconds. 

Caution Flags: 9 for 98 laps. 

Lead Changes: 54 among 16 drivers. 

Lap Leaders:  R. Blaney 1-2;J. Berry # 3-20;D. Hamlin 21-25;C. Elliott 26;T. Reddick 27-30;B. Wallace 31-40;J. Berry # 41-47;B. Wallace 48-52;D. Hamlin 53-60;C. Elliott 61-64;R. Blaney 65-68;K. Busch 69-73;R. Blaney 74;D. Hamlin 75-82;R. Blaney 83-88;D. Hamlin 89-119;T. Gibbs 120-130;R. Blaney 131;K. Larson 132-140;T. Gibbs 141-145;M. Truex Jr. 146-149;T. Gibbs 150-153;K. Larson 154-156;T. Gibbs 157-158;D. Hamlin 159-162;K. Larson 163-165;D. Hamlin 166;K. Larson 167-170;T. Gibbs 171-181;M. Truex Jr. 182;C. Buescher 183-199;C. Bell 200-223;M. Truex Jr. 224-235;C. LaJoie 236-239;C. Bell 240-243;J. Logano 244-248;T. Gibbs 249-256;M. Truex Jr. 257;T. Gibbs 258-284;M. Truex Jr. 285-317;D. Hamlin 318-322;T. Gibbs 323-364;D. Hamlin 365-372;M. Truex Jr. 373;D. Hamlin 374-379;C. Bell 380;D. Hamlin 381-398;T. Gibbs 399-425;D. Hamlin 426-447;M. Truex Jr. 448;B. Keselowski 449;A. Bowman 450-452;D. Hamlin 453-482;M. Truex Jr. 483;D. Hamlin 484-500. 

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Denny Hamlin 13 times for 163 laps; Ty Gibbs 9 times for 137 laps; Martin Truex Jr. 8 times for 54 laps; Christopher Bell 3 times for 29 laps; Josh Berry # 2 times for 25 laps; Kyle Larson 4 times for 19 laps; Chris Buescher 1 time for 17 laps; Bubba Wallace 2 times for 15 laps; Ryan Blaney 5 times for 14 laps; Joey Logano 1 time for 5 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 5 laps; Chase Elliott 2 times for 5 laps; Corey LaJoie 1 time for 4 laps; Tyler Reddick 1 time for 4 laps; Alex Bowman 1 time for 3 laps; Brad Keselowski 1 time for 1 lap. 

Stage #1 Top Ten: 54,5,17,6,42,12,19,20,41,4 

Stage #2 Top Ten: 54,6,22,42,20,19,11,5,23,41 

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