Bristol tire management leaves drivers bemused but happy

NASCAR Cup Series drivers were tasked with an unexpected challenge at Bristol Motor Speedway, and most came away with positive reactions.

Sunday’s Food City 500 was a tire management race. A quick pace around the half-mile concrete oval produced high tire wear, with some teams experiencing blown tires or cording.

“I have never seen anything like that,” Josh Berry said. “I guess we got our wish with the tires falling off, but I don’t know. They fell off but it’s like they fell off a little bit and then all at once when they went to cords. I don’t know what the change is that you need there. Obviously, they need more rubber on them because we were running on fabric at the end.


“I think I finished with like three flat tires, and the car was on fire in 11th. I kind of had fun, though. I’m not going to lie. That might be the biggest (expletive) show I’ve ever been a part of, but it was kind of fun.”

There was a track record of 54 lead changes. At times, the field was packed together and running side-by-side for multiple laps as if at a superspeedway race.

“It was an interesting day,” Brad Keselowski said. “There was a lot of discipline required, and it was a fun race, to be honest, because you just had to be so smart behind the wheel. It would bite you in a heartbeat, and you had to have a good setup. I think we had a good setup and tried to run the smartest race I could.”

During longer green flag runs, when tire conservation came into play, drivers slowed the pace of the race down to over an 18-second lap time. But Keselowski noted that looks can be deceiving.

“It ain’t no parade lap,” he said. “You’re still hauling the mail. It’s different, but you’re just managing.”

Goodyear felt the tire wear was too drastic and will be digging into the data. NASCAR’s John Probst, however, thought it was one of the best short-track races he’d ever seen, and his initial reaction was not to make changes for the fall race aside from giving teams more tires.

“That was definitely the craziest race I feel like I’ve ever been a part of in the Cup series,” Chase Briscoe said. “We normally just run every lap as a qualifying lap and you might save a little bit, but you’re never going that slow to save tires. It was definitely bizarre how it all played out, and green flag pit stops, and it was like you had 1000 more horsepower than the field when you were on new tires.

“It was nuts. It was unfortunate circumstances from a racing standpoint, but for us to end up 13th for as crazy of a race as it was, we were definitely way better than 13th.”

Justin Haley said he loved Sunday’s race.

“I don’t know what social media says, but as a driver, I thought it was fun because you had to manage it,” Haley said. “You weren’t all-out the whole time, so it was fun to have a major part in how the car ran.”

A few drivers equated Sunday to grassroots short-track racing. It’s not uncommon to be limited on tires or have to manage tires at a local short track on a Saturday night.

“I was joking with the guys that it’s just an oversized Pensacola with tire wear,” John Hunter Nemechek said. “I grew up short track late model racing – places that you had to manage tire wear till the end of the run. We were able to do so.”

Said Keselowski said, “The drivers have been asking for the tires to wear out more and we got it. If we were like a two on a 10 scale, this was a nine or a 10. Maybe there’s a middle ground somewhere. It was definitely a different race.

“I had a lot of fun. I felt like you had to be really smart. It’s good to have something different every once in a while.”

Todd Gilliland said, “For the middle part of the race, it gave me really big flashbacks of a Myrtle Beach race back in the day (where) you see guys go three-wide and there’s just going up (the track), and then you kind of get stuck and there’s nowhere to go. But a place like that it’s different because you kind of wear out and just slowly lose spots. But this, you would really fall off a cliff. It was tough.”

Kyle Larson, however, was the outlier in his opinion of the experience.

“If I knew I was only doing this one time, I would say that was kind of fun,” Larson said. “It was weird to have to manage, guess on how hard to run, guess how each run was going to play out. You were kind of constantly in traffic and managing distance to people in front and behind. So, the strategy side of that in the driver’s seat was kind of fun, but I would never want to do that again.

“To have to run a race like that every week would be not good, and it’s honestly probably a black eye to Goodyear just with all the rubber that couldn’t get laid down and just wearing through tires and all that. It was different and we somehow made the most of it and somehow got to fifth.”

A few other notes from Sunday’s race:

It did not feature the new short-track package teams ran at Phoenix Raceway last weekend. It was the same package run at Bristol last year, the race package NASCAR uses at every track (except where the short-track/road course rules package is run).

The left-side tire was the same one that’s been run at Bristol since the fall of 2022 and the right-side tire ran at Bristol in the fall of 2023.

Resin was sprayed at Bristol in the lower lane of each corner.

The high temperature on Sunday in Bristol was 62 degrees.

Story originally appeared on Racer