Rain, rain, go away and quit coming back on Bristol Day!
For 5 years in a row, the spring race at Bristol Motor speedway has either been delayed or outright postponed. This year, the Food City 500 was started one hour earlier in an effort to get at least half the race in before the skies down-poured. Unfortunately, the race was still affected several times by the rain on Sunday and was eventually was held over for completion on Monday.
Under threatening skies on Sunday, pole-sitter Kyle Busch quickly pulled away with the lead as soon as the green-flag dropped. The first caution came at Lap 3 when Michael McDowell in the #34 Ford got loose in Turn 4 and spun sideways in front of the rest of the field. With nowhere to go, Chase Elliott spun as well and sustained damage that caused multiple pit stops and multiple lost laps. At the end of the race, Elliott finished 29th. Also caught up in the wreck was Martin Truex Jr. The second caution came only a few laps later on Lap 16 when Jamie McMurray came plowing through Turn 2 and spun AJ Allmendinger. McMurray sustained some damage while Allmendinger was able to keep it out of the wall and both continued the race.
The race resumed with Ryan Blaney taking over the lead, but the weather intervened on Lap 50 and a caution quickly turned into a red flag. Car were brought down pit road and drivers exited their cars for roughly 30 minutes as crews dried the track. Drivers no sooner went back racing, when the caution came out on Lap 60 for Ricky Stenhouse Jr in the #17. Erik Jones got loose underneath the #17 and tapped the left rear. Stenhouse spun up the track and all other drivers were able to avoid him.
With 7 to go in the 1st stage, Trevor Bayne erratically shot up the track and pinched Chris Buescher into the wall. Bayne shot back down the track where he hit Harrison Burton and Jamie McMurray and spun back up where he took out leader Ryan Blaney in the #12. Blaney took a hard hit that crunched the entire front end of the car and the #12 was out for the day. The stage was briefly red-flagged for cleanup but resumed for a 1-lap shoot-out that saw Brad Keselowski take the green-white checkered.
Only 25 laps into the second stage, Trevor Bayne brought out the caution once again when he ran into the wall. NASCAR held off on the restart as rain was passing through the area yet again. The race was red-flagged for 15-minutes and cars returned to the track for another 50 laps of racing. But as of Lap 204, there were no more showers left in the forecast, only storms. NASCAR officials deemed that the rest of the race would continue the following day (Monday April 16th).
A notable mention goes to Canadian driver DJ Kennington, who managed to avoid most collisions in his #95 . On his car was a tribute to the Humbolt Broncos junior hockey team from Saskatchewan, Canada. While en-route to a game, sixteen players died in a fatal bus crash with a double-trailer semi truck last week. Kennington’s team, Gaunt Brother’s Racing, has said they will be auctioning off the hood of the car after the race to support a fund designed to assist families impacted by the tragedy.
After a red flag for 21 hours and 28 minutes, you could say Stage 2 was exhausting. NASCAR made the right decision when put the race on hold considering the rain had continued past midnight and even into the following afternoon. Engines were fired half an hour after they were scheduled due to track drying but soon they were underway and it was worth the wait!
The race resumed with 25 laps to go in Stage 2. The track was cold, the tires were cold, the groove was slippery and the drivers were aggressive because nobody knew if the race would end at Stage 2 at the half-way point, especially as the track had seen sleet earlier. Even though Kyle Larson was leading when the green flag dropped and he was in a league of his own, Brad Keselowski fought his way to the front and moved Larson out of the groove to get lead. Keselowski won Stage 2.
Stage 3 got underway in a hurry with 3 drivers – Larson, Keselowski, and Busch all fighting for the lead. Kyle Larson in the #42 McDonald’s Chevrolet held the lead and began coming up on lapped traffic when Ryan Newman clipped the right-rear quarter-panel of the #42 and sent him spinning down the front stretch.
Thirty laps later, Reed Sorenson hit the wall and brought out the 15th caution of the day. Drivers then experienced the longer green-flag run of the day that saw aggressive racing from rookies and veterans alike. Everyone got nervous when the 16th yellow flag was displayed for weather. Luckily, the track only received a few drops and were back racing in no time. As drivers were panicking about their tire wear and begging their crew chiefs for the new tires Goodyear had promised, Brad Keselowski, who had one of the best cars all day, had a tire go down on his #2 Ford and brought out caution on Lap 469. Keselowski finished 23rd, 3 laps down.
With a 20 lap shoot-out left to go in what felt like a never-ending race, it came down to Kyle and Kyle… Busch and Larson, that is. An intense battle took place and finished with a dump and run from Busch with 6 laps to go. Busch moved Larson out of the grove and took off to capture his second win in a row this season.
The Minster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will be at Richmond Raceway on Saturday for the first night race of the regular season. Get your tickets HERE!