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Tire Terror Leads to Denny Hamlin Win at Bristol

auto mar 17 nascar cup series food city 500
Tire Terror Leads to Denny Hamlin Win at BristolIcon Sportswire - Getty Images

For anyone crying for NASCAR to return to its roots, their wish was granted in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday night.

With Bristol Motor Speedway's return to concrete in the Spring race, so did a past era of NASCAR racing. Drivers fought with the track all race as they had to push to preserve their tires more than in any recent NASCAR race. Denny Hamlin, who cut his teeth on the short tracks in the Mid-Atlantic region, held on to win his fourth Cup race at Bristol ahead of his teammate Martin Truex Jr. Hamlin would lead in 13 separate intervals for a total of 163 laps.

This was NASCAR’s third-only attempt on the concrete track with the Gen 7 car since last year’s spring date was raced on dirt, and it behaved extremely differently than it did in the fall race, even though both races ended with the same result of a Hamlin win.

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Early on, drivers were running through tires at an unprecedented rate, leading NASCAR to allow each team an extra set of tires to hopefully make it to the end of the race. NASCAR took away a set of tires from the overall allotment between the Fall and Spring races and had to adjust their mistake mid-race.

Tire management is a telltale sign of a good short-track racer, and it’s no surprise that the series veterans were the few who were able to hold on until the end of the race.

Besides the two Joe Gibbs Racing teammates in front, only three others stayed on the lead lap to end the race. RFK Racing’s Brad Keselowski finished third, and Hendrick Motorsports drivers Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson rounded out the top five, although if given a few more laps, chances are the Hendrick drivers would’ve been lapped as well based on the differential in the leader's lap times and advantage of clean air.

auto mar 17 nascar cup series food city 500
Mid-race extreme tire wear at Bristol Motor Speedway, Sunday March 17th, 2024Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

This was the first time since Dover in 2004 that five cars or fewer finished on the lead lap.

Throughout the race, the track would not take rubber, and a narrow racing line could be created at the bottom, but there was little to no grip as the cars moved up the track. Greg Stuckler, the Director of Race Tires Sales for Goodyear, was on location to give perspective to the tire situation.

“We tested here last year with the intent to come up with a tire package that generated more tire wear,” Stuckler told NASCAR on FOX’s Bob Pockrass. “That was the request from NASCAR and the teams. We feel like we had a very successful test, we feel like we had a very successful race in the fall of last year. We ran a full fuel stop and definitely saw wear, but we thought it was spot on.

We’re trying to understand what’s different and why the race track is behaving differently than it did a year ago. It’s the same package; it’s the same tire combination. Obviously, the difference is that resin was placed on the lower grove instead of PJ1. I still think that the racetrack should’ve been taking rubber as it did last fall. It took rubber immediately during that race."