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Denny Hamlin Triumphs in Old-School-Feeling Food City 500 at Bristol

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver put on a masterclass of tire conservation on Sunday to win the Food City 500, the 52nd win of his NASCAR Cup Series career.


hero image for Denny Hamlin Triumphs in Old-School-Feeling Food City 500 at Bristol

In an extremely intense and old-school-feeling event at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday, Denny Hamlin and the veterans of the NASCAR Cup Series rose to the occasion, taking control of the top-five spots on the leaderboard once the 500-lap gauntlet at the half-mile short-track had come to an end.

The Chesterfield, Virginia native, who last triumphed in the NASCAR Cup Series at this exact racetrack last September, scored his 52nd victory at NASCAR’s top level in the return of the Food City 500, the first Spring race on the concrete surface of Bristol Motor Speedway since 2020.

Due to the astronomically different feel to Sunday’s event, it’s hard to say that Hamlin, despite leading a race-high 163 laps, was the class of the field, with several drivers taking their turns at the front of the pack throughout the event, highlighted for the second week in a row by Joe Gibbs Racing, whose four drivers combined to lead 383 of 500 laps.

Though, without further context, just saying that makes Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series event out to be a run-of-the-mill short track event, when in reality, it was anything but, and one of the most bizarre races that the series has seen in quite some time.

Within the first 50 laps of Sunday’s Food City 500, there were some red flags displayed, with drivers fading significantly after burning their tires off — to the point where some drivers ended up two-to-three seconds off the pace, per lap.

That alone shook the field up in a massive way, with a notable fall-off coming in the primary run of the race, when Kyle Busch took the lead at lap 69, and within the next 50 laps, had not only fallen multiple laps down, but eventually spun around as a result of a flat tire.

The drop-off was so intense that during the event, drivers were forced to nurse their tires in the opening laps of each run, just so that they wouldn’t suffer a dramatic drop in pace about 40 laps later — making things look similar to a CARS Tour event where teams have a limited number of tires.

Whether or not that’s seen as a problem, comes down to your point of view, but Goodyear, the maker of these tires, wasn’t over the moon with how things turned out on Sunday, sending Greg Stucker to talk to the media about how they viewed this race as an upsetting one.

After climbing from his No. 11 Mavis Express Oil Change Toyota Camry XSE, Denny Hamlin didn’t seem to mind how the race played out. Of course, he ended up in Victory Lane at the end of the afternoon, as well.

“That’s what I grew up here doing in the short tracks in the Mid-Atlantic, South Boston, Martinsville. Once it became a tire management race, I really liked our chances,” said Hamlin post-race. “Obviously the veteran in Martin, he knew how to do it as well. We just had a great car, a great team. The pit crew just did a phenomenal job all day. Can’t say enough about them.”

Hamlin had to defend against his veteran teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, Martin Truex, who finished in the runner-up spot. The two drivers had their other teammates Ty Gibbs and Christopher Bell with them in the race’s final run, until that run forced an odd cycle of green-flag pit stops.

After eclipsing the 55-lap mark on the set of tires, Bell’s No. 20 Toyota Camry shed all of its speed, and a couple of laps later, Gibbs, who led a career-high 137 laps, suffered the same fate, eventually having to come down pit road for a flat tire.

Brad Keselowski, another veteran of the NASCAR Cup Series, finished in third place for RFK Racing, on a track in which the organization has had success as of late. Meanwhile, Hendrick Motorsports teammates Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson were able to stretch the life of their Goodyear tires to score top-five results.

John Hunter Nemechek had an incredible showing for LEGACY MOTOR CLUB on Sunday, finishing a career-high sixth place on the afternoon, after spending time inside the top five and battling for the lead throughout the event. Chris Buescher finished seventh after having to start shotgun on the field with Chase Elliott in eighth, and Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Ty Gibbs and Christopher Bell finishing ninth and 10th.

The event featured a mind-blowing 54 lead changes on the afternoon (between 16 different drivers) a record for the NASCAR Cup Series both at Bristol Motor Speedway and on short tracks in general.

Leaving Bristol, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex, Jr are tied at the top of the NASCAR Cup Series point standings, with a seven-point advantage over second-year driver Ty Gibbs. Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin round out the top five in points.

Next, the NASCAR Cup Series travels to Circuit of The Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas, for the first road course event of 2024.

Photo Credit: Will Bellamy, Racing America

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