The Return Of Tire Management Made Bristol The Best NASCAR Next-Gen Short Track Race Yet

Photo: Meg Oliphant (Getty Images)
Photo: Meg Oliphant (Getty Images)

The 2024 Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway turned into one of the most exceptional NASCAR Cup Series short track races in Next-Gen history thanks to one key factor: tire management. As the Goodyear tires eroded at a faster-than-expected pace, we saw a track record of 54 lead changes and side-by-side action from flag to flag. It was a great reminder that all-out, balls-to-the-wall racing isn’t necessary to create a compelling event.

When tire wear started to become a concern in the early parts of the race, plenty of fans were skeptical; in the past, tire management races have become processional slogs as drivers try to preserve their tire life — but at Bristol, we saw the exact opposite. Sure, during longer runs, drivers slowed their pace by a few seconds to prevent the concrete track from totally demolishing the rubber, but there was still plenty of passing and side-by-side action to keep things compelling.

The spring Bristol race has been run on dirt for the past three years, but the fall races have all featured the concrete surface. Goodyear claimed that it brought the same tire combination to this event as it did during last fall’s race, but instead of the tires laying rubber onto the racing surface, the rubber instead just marbled off and collected on the high side of the track. Halfway through the race, NASCAR gave Goodyear the go-ahead to give teams an additional set of tires.


Again, this could have become a procession; instead, drivers and crews were tasked with figuring out how to deploy their arsenal of new, sticker (or, used), and qualifying tires in order to set themselves up for the best possible finish.

At the end of the day, Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota proved to have the right strategy. He led 13 different times for a total of 163 of 500 laps, but his late-race green-flag pit stop proved to be the right call. He and teammate Martin Truex Jr. battled it out for the lead in the final 20 laps, weaving through traffic. Only five cars finished on the lead lap.

After the race, the drivers had nothing but praise for the wild event.

“I have never seen anything like that,” Josh Berry said, as reported in Racer. “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 shitshow I’ve ever been a part of, but it was kind of fun.”

Brad Keselowski, meanwhile, praised the “discipline” required of drivers during the race, while Justin Haley “thought it was fun because you had to manage [the tires].”

One common thread throughout the post-race press was the fact that, normally, NASCAR drivers tend to run races as if every lap is a qualifying lap. This is the kind of competition that many fans at home expect to see, and it came as something of a disappointment to a certain segment of viewers. But as the race progressed and the racing remained compelling, many of those same viewers found themselves caught up trying to predict the different strategies that the drivers might implement.

“I don’t know what social media says, but as a driver, I thought it was fun because you had to manage it,” said Justin Haley, driver of the No. 51 Ford. “You weren’t all-out the whole time, so it was fun to have a major part in how the car ran.”

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