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Toby's Take: Sometimes Accidental Discoveries Lead to Great Things

While NASCAR and Goodyear did not set out to have the insane levels of tire wear that NASCAR Cup Series teams experienced in Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol, what it resulted in was one hell of a race.


hero image for Toby's Take: Sometimes Accidental Discoveries Lead to Great Things

Penicillin, the microwave, and the tire wear at the 2024 Food City 500 at Bristol. Sometimes the most beneficial things in life are discovered by complete accident.

Short track racing, by and large, has become super stale in the NASCAR Cup Series since the Next Gen car was adopted in 2022, and everyone within the sport has been debating the solution for what to do to put on a good race ever since. While Sunday's race wasn't utilizing the short track aerodynamic package, I still think we got our answer -- Tire wear.

In a wildly unpredictable race at Bristol Motor Speedway, we saw a good mix of names near the front of the field throughout the entire race. And while the level of tire wear on display in the Food City 500 may have been just ever-so-slightly too extreme, I preferred the skill needed by the drivers to manage their tires on Sunday over the blocking-other-drivers-with-dirty-air aerodynamic games that we've grown accustomed to in the NASCAR Cup Series.

In the end, there were only five drivers left on the lead lap, and hardly anyone complained. Why? Because the race was incredible! That's why.

We saw 54 lead changes -- you read that right, 54 lead changes at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday, a track record. Before Sunday's race, the most lead changes we had seen at Bristol in a race with the Next Gen car was 12 in the 2022 Night Race.

To put the vast difference in perspective, the difference between the lead changes in the 2022 Night Race at Bristol and Sunday's race (42) is higher than the previous Bristol track record for lead changes (40).

Hell, the Food City 500 currently sits as the race with the highest lead change total so far in the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season. That statistic is made even more impressive when you factor in that we've had two superspeedway races (Daytona 500 and Atlanta), where massive amounts of lead changes are not just expected, they are guaranteed.

That's incredible.

Not only were drivers constantly passing for the lead as the tires began to hit different stages of wear throughout the run, but so many different drivers and teams found themselves at the front of the field on Sunday.

In all, 16 different drivers held the lead on Sunday for at least one circuit around the 0.533-mile high-banked oval. That's two shy of half the field leading a lap.

And while not everyone led a lap on Sunday, just about everybody in the field looked like they had a car capable of finishing near the front of the field at one point or another, aside from William Byron and Zane Smith, who were involved in accidents very early in the race.

Eight different organizations had at least one car that took the lead during the race. Only five teams didn't lead a lap: LEGACY MOTOR CLUB, Front Row Motorsports, Rick Ware Racing, Trackhouse Racing, and Kaulig Racing -- and just about all of them had really decent outings in the Food City 500.

John Hunter Nemechek took home a career-best finish of sixth for LMC, while Michael McDowell took home a solid 11th-place finish for Front Row Motorsports.

While Rick Ware Racing didn't get the finishes that they deserved, saw both of their cars with a shot at a top-10 run for the majority of the event before settling for finishes of 17th and 19th respectively.

While Joe Gibbs Racing dominated the event, overall, the parity on display was incredible. The Next Gen car was labeled the great equalizer when it was introduced, and excessive tire wear does nothing but accentuate that for the entire field.

Honestly, it felt like a throwback to the 1980s and 1990s, where you would typically journeymen racers like Hut Stricklin emerge as a random threat to win at high-tire-wear races like in 1996 at Darlington Raceway.

And even though a powerhouse team like JGR, which combined to lead 383 laps between its four drivers, won the race, it was never a slam-dunk as to which of the JGR guys would reach victory lane on Sunday.

It was a truly compelling race from start to finish.

Goodyear's Greg Stucker had a discussion with the media at Bristol Motor Speedway mid-race on Sunday, as it became obvious that tire wear was far more prevalent than the tire manufacturer expected. At the time, Stucker's talk with the media felt like an apology to the fans. However, was there any real reason to feel an apology was necessary?

There was never any catastrophic tire failure that resulted in someone retiring from the race. In fact, only one car was not running at the conclusion of the race, and that DNF was not due to tire wear.

I honestly feel, after seeing how the race played out, that Stucker needs to call another press conference. This time, to call Sunday's race what it ultimately was -- a success.

There will probably be changes to the tire compound for the NASCAR Cup Series Night Race at Bristol in the fall, but I caution that NASCAR and Goodyear not make too massive of a swing. Sunday's race was great in all of the areas that short track racing in the NASCAR Cup Series has been bad in recent years.

Photo Credit: Will Bellamy, Racing America

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