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Srigley Stats: Joe Gibbs Racing Continues NASCAR Cup Series Dominance at Bristol

This week, #SrigleyStats touches on early-season dominance from Joe Gibbs Racing, a banner weekend for Rick Ware Racing, a Bristol barn-burner, and the end of the top-10 hunt for Chase Elliott.

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hero image for Srigley Stats: Joe Gibbs Racing Continues NASCAR Cup Series Dominance at Bristol

Over the last two weeks, the entire narrative surrounding the NASCAR Cup Series has been flipped on its head, with a complete role reversal at the front of the field with manufacturers Chevrolet and Toyota.

After a quiet start to the 2024 season, Toyota has asserted itself as a contender over the last two weeks, putting together two dominant performances with factory-supported teams Joe Gibbs Racing, 23XI Racing, and LEGACY MOTOR CLUB.

Though, as many would expect, the organization in the spotlight continued to be Joe Gibbs Racing, with the last two race winners Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin combing from the stables of the championship-caliber team.

In fact, during the final stage of Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series event at Bristol Motor Speedway, there was a substantial period in which Joe Gibbs Racing had a stranglehold on the top four spots.

That didn't last, though, due to the extreme tire wear teams faced in Sunday's Food City 500, leaving Christopher Bell and Ty Gibbs to lose massive amounts of time in the green-flag pit cycle.

Denny Hamlin, the veteran of the four-car brigade, conserved his Goodyear tires just enough to score his 52nd victory in the NASCAR Cup Series, and his fourth at the half-mile facility.

The Chesterfield, Virginia native led a race-high 183 laps en route to his first victory of the 2024 season, extending an impressive streak of nine NASCAR Cup Series events where the driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry XSE has led at least a lap.

Finishing close behind in second place, Martin Truex, Jr. snapped a 17-race streak of finishing outside the top five -- the longest such streak the Mayetta, New Jersey native has encountered since 2011.

Ty Gibbs and Christopher Bell also recorded top-10 finishes in the Food City 500, after leading 137 and 29 laps, respectively. It's the first time that the second-year driver has led in back-to-back NASCAR Cup Series events, while also setting a single-race record for the driver of the No. 54 Toyota Camry XSE.

With sensational performances at both Phoenix and Bristol, Joe Gibbs Racing has accumulated 689 laps led in 2024, the most by any organization through the opening five races of a NASCAR Cup Series season since 2008, when the team led 755 laps in the opening five races.

With more short-track events on the horizon and the team's overall strength, there's no reason to believe the tally of laps led won't further increase, along with the organization's win count.

Photo Credit: Tyson Gifford, TobyChristie.com

IT'S BRISTOL BABY!

After several years of lackluster NASCAR Cup Series races at Bristol Motor Speedway, Sunday's Food City 500 delivered a much-needed reintroduction to old-school NASCAR and the storied history of the half-mile short-track located in Bristol, Tennessee -- further deciding that no suggestion that includes putting dirt on a perfectly adequate racing surface should ever be taken seriously.

The drastic change in product year-over-year came as the result of NASCAR choosing to put resin on the inside lane of the racetrack, rather than the PJ1 that had been applied in recent years. That small change prohibited the historic facility from keeping rubber down, making the Goodyear tires wear dramatically and NASCAR's elite to conserve their tires all afternoon.

What followed was a chaotic 500-lap gauntlet from Bristol Motor Speedway, which when the dust settled featured a record-smashing 54 lead changes -- destroying the previous record of 40 from 1991 -- and one of the most captivating events in quite some time. The event featured 3,589 green flag passes per NASCAR's Loop Data statistics, by far the most at the half-mile facility since the beginning of Loop Data records in 2005.

At times, the race looked like a high-speed game of hot potato, with drivers passing the lead back and forth among themselves to avoid wearing out their Goodyear tires, and potentially destroying any semblance of long-run speed in their racecars. In fact, throughout the event, nobody held the lead for more than 42 consecutive laps, setting a Bristol Motor Speedway record.

When the checkered flag was displayed after 500 laps, there was no odd-ball winner, or crazy last-lap sequence that left cars in a heap at the inside wall on the fronstretch, but rather, the driver who managed his tires the best during the final 50-plus lap run to the finish, Denny Hamlin, hoisting the trophy over experienced veterans Martin Truex, Jr. and Brad Keselowski.

To make things even more incredible, despite all of the close calls, spins, and tire problems throughout the event, only one driver - Zane Smith - failed to finish the 2024 Food City 500. Although, only five drivers finished on the lead lap - the fewest in a NASCAR Cup Series event since 2004, that's not the indicator of what makes a race an instant classic.

Photo Credit: Jonathan McCoy, TobyChristie.com

RICK WARE? RICK AT THE FRONT

With the addition of Justin Haley and Kaz Grala, plus the continuing support of race-winning organization RFK Racing, many have been wondering when the spike in performance will come for Rick Ware Racing. The answer to that question: now.

Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series event at Bristol Motor Speedway marked, without opposition, the best performance for the organization in its tenure at NASCAR's top level, with both Justin Haley (17th) and Kaz Grala (19th) recording top-20 finishes -- the first time Rick Ware Racing has put multiple cars inside the top-20 on a non-drafting track.

Both Haley and Grala spent a significant portion of the Food City 500 running inside the top-10, on merit, with Haley getting as high as sixth place during the race's final green-flag run, while Grala reached his race-high seventh-place position at the halfway point. At times throughout the middle portion of the event, both the No. 15 and No. 51 Ford Mustang Dark Horses were flirting with a spot in the top-10 at the same time.

Haley, tapped as the full-time driver of the organization's flagship No. 51 entry in the NASCAR Cup Series, spent an incredible 319 of 500 laps running inside the top-15, while his teammate and off-track buddy Grala, driving the No. 15, spent 208 laps inside the top-15.

Before Sunday, the fifth NASCAR Cup Series event of 2024, no driver had ever spent more than 65 laps running inside the top-15 for Rick Ware Racing in a single event -- that being Haley in the second event of the year at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Between the organization's two anchor drivers, it's the fifth time that a Rick Ware Racing entry has spent more than 45 laps running inside the top-15 this season, surpassing the old benchmark for the organization in the NASCAR Cup Series, set by Joey Hand, David Ragan, and JJ Yeley - in three separate events.

While P17 and P19 aren't necessarily flashy, it's a massive step in the right direction for Rick Ware Racing, who has spent several years fighting and clawing their way to gain any position possible on the track.

Photo Credit: Tyson Gifford, TobyChristie.com

THE TOP-10 'CHASE' ENDS FOR ELLIOTT

After the opening five races of the NASCAR Cup Series campaign, it can officially be said that NASCAR's Most Popular Driver has a top-10 finish, with the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro finishing eighth place Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

While it's always a positive thing for a driver to get that monkey off of their backs, it's not like Elliott was having a horrendous season leading into the Food City 500, having scored top-20 finishes in every event to start the season -- a streak which will continue through at least COTA.

That goose egg, which was sitting in the top-10s column, is now gone, but even with one such finish, the Dawsonville, Georgia-native is sitting sixth in NASCAR Cup Series points, on account of a consistent start to the year.

For reference, that's higher than Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron, who won the Daytona 500, and Alex Bowman, who finished runner-up in the season-opener.

Heading to Circuit of The Americas, statistically one of Elliott's best tracks on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit, the 28-year-old driver is the only driver inside the top 14 in points that has yet to score a top-five, a stat likely to change very soon.

Photo Credit: Tyson Gifford, TobyChristie.com

#SrigleyStats is a weekly feature piece on Racing America, written by Joseph Srigley, that highlights some of the most interesting stats from the NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series, and Truck Series race weekend.

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