Hamlin Masters Bristol Tire Wear For Food City 500 Win


Denny Hamlin celebrates his Food City 500 win Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway. (Jacob Seelman photo)

BRISTOL, Tenn. – In a cagey duel to the finish where tires mattered as much as traffic did, Denny Hamlin outlasted teammate Martin Truex Jr. to win Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The pair traded the lead twice inside the final 20 laps in the most competitive race in track history, but it was Hamlin who made the winning move with 17 to go and held control when it mattered most.

Ultimately, the Chesterfield, Va., native crossed the finish line in front by 1.083 seconds for his 52nd career NASCAR Cup Series win, fourth at Bristol, and second in a row at The Last Great Colosseum.

It was also the first time Hamlin triumphed in a springtime visit to the Bristol high banks.

“Man, it feels so good to win here at Bristol!” a jubilant Hamlin exclaimed after climbing from his car.

On a day that started with many questions, due to a new resin applied to the track compared to previous years and qualifying conditions that several drivers termed “sketchy” the day before, the crux of Sunday’s race was a good, old-fashioned war of tire conservation that led to a wild affair.

A track-record 54 lead changes among 16 different drivers highlighted the day, with seven cautions in the first half of the race, but once the field settled into a racing rhythm down the stretch the key was simple: save and survive.

Sophomore Cup Series driver Ty Gibbs swept the first two stages, in a race where Joe Gibbs Racing’s four drivers led a combined 33 times for 383 laps, but as the laps wound down Hamlin’s experience shone through.

With an extended 121-lap green flag run closing the race, crew chiefs worked to figure out when to put fresh tires on to maximize lap time late but not lose too much ground in the process.

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Hamlin’s final pit stop came with 52 to go, and Truex pitted one lap later, with the pair cycling back to first and second despite being two of the final drivers to come down for service because they’d managed their pace throughout the entire run.

That led to a deft dance through traffic over the final 50 laps, as both Hamlin and Truex made daring moves both two- and sometimes three-wide in an effort to outwit the other and prevail.

Though Truex pinned Hamlin behind a lap car and made a sneaky pass for the lead on lap 483, Hamlin returned the favor one lap later and left Truex to settle for the runner-up honors.

“This tire management thing fit into my wheelhouse here at Bristol. Man, the difference was just coming out of the pits so far behind Denny [on the final stop],” lamented Truex. “I had to use [the tires] up more on the last run. The last four or five laps of the race, it was all cord. I gave it a hell of an effort, though.

“Congrats to Denny, and what a job by everybody at JGR. Our Toyotas are working really well right now,” Truex added. “I had a lot of fun today. Wish we could have come up one spot better, but this is a good run for us. It’s been a great season for us so far and we want it to continue.”

RFK Racing co-owner Brad Keselowski crossed third as the highest-finishing Ford driver, followed by the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets of Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson.

Hamlin Wallace

Denny Hamlin (11) battles Bubba Wallace Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway. (Scotte Sprinkle/RFD photo)

Those five drivers were the only drivers to end the day on the lead lap, the first time in two decades that five or less cars completed the entire race distance.

Among those who fell by the wayside were early leaders Josh Berry and Bubba Wallace – who were damaged in a multi-car crash on lap 32 when Reddick got loose and spun in front of the field – as well as active Bristol wins leader Kyle Busch, who spun twice in the first half and was never a factor after that.

Despite that tire wear leading to issues for many, 35 of the 36 cars were running at the finish.

John Hunter Nemechek, Chris Buescher, Chase Elliott, Gibbs, and Christopher Bell closed the top 10.

Polesitter Ryan Blaney led the first two laps and 12 circuits overall, but ended the day two laps down in 16th place. Busch ended up 25th after his pair of spins.

The NASCAR Cup Series season continues March 24 at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, with the running of the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix. Tyler Reddick is the defending event winner.

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About Jacob Seelman

Jacob Seelman is Motorsports Hotspot’s News Editor and Race Face Digital’s Director of Content, as well as a veteran of more than a decade in the racing industry as a professional, though he’s spent his entire life in the garage and pit area.