After 204 laps, the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway was postponed to Monday afternoon due to rain. The next day, fans were treated to an entertaining short track showdown as Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson battled for the victory; by the end, Busch was victorious.
As Monday loomed, so did the threat of snow and sleet. The track was plagued by more weather concerns, though NASCAR was able to get the race started under caution. Various drivers elected to pit, though Larson – who was the leader when the race was red-flagged on Sunday – stayed out.
Larson remained in first as the green flag waved to resume the race, building a lead as high as 2.5 seconds until Brad Keselowski caught up to him. Keselowski, who won the first stage, applied the bump-and-run tactic to pass Larson with seven laps to go. As Larson had not pitted since lap 121, his older tires could not keep up with the fresher set of the #2, allowing Keselowski to win the second stage. The #42 continued to falter on older tires, but managed to salvage stage points as he finished fifth. Other stage finishers included Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and Denny Hamlin in the top five, along with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Alex Bowman, Kevin Harvick, Austin Dillon, and Darrell Wallace Jr. rounding out the top ten. With the second stage complete, should rain strike the track again, NASCAR could declare it official.
Keselowski won the race off pit road ahead of Johnson to become the new leaders. Stage #3 began on lap 262 as Keselowski briefly led until Hamlin took the lead. Hamlin’s lead only lasted four laps until he was forced to pit for a loose wheel, which gave Johnson first place, which he momentarily held until he was passed by Keselowski and Busch. Busch began closing on Keselowski, while Larson moved up to third. Larson passed both for the lead on lap 293, but could not establish a similar dominant run as in Stage #2 due to lapped traffic hindering his momentum.
On lap 324, Larson was turned by Ryan Newman as he came down on the #31 while lapping him, bringing out the caution. Despite this incident, Larson remained in the top five and was the second driver to leave pit road behind Busch.
The restart took place on lap 329 with Keselowski and Busch on the front row, the latter occupying the outside line that proved to be the dominant groove as he pulled ahead. Busch and Johnson were the top two until the yellow flag came out on lap 343 for Reed Sorenson‘s spin in turn three. Daniel Suárez decided to stay out to lead the field to the green on lap 365, but was quickly passed by Keselowski. Wallace eventually moved up to second and took first on lap 374 to lead his first laps as a Cup driver. The rookie also became the first #43 driver to lead laps at Bristol since John Andretti led 51 at the 2001 Food City 500 en route to a second-place finish. Wallace would lead six laps before Busch reclaimed the lead, and began to fall as Larson and Newman passed him.
Rain arrived on lap 389 to bring out the yellow flag. While some drivers like Stenhouse, Harvick, and Joey Logano pitted, others remained out as they expected the end of the race. The end did not come as the rain subsided to set up a restart on lap 399. Busch continued to lead as Larson passed Johnson for second with 100 laps to go. Larson chased down Busch, while Stenhouse – who had spun during Sunday’s action – entered the top four with 75 laps remaining. On lap 438, Larson made his move to take the lead, and by the 50-to-go mark, held a two-second advantage. Meanwhile, Keselowski was marred by tire problems, which reached the tipping point on lap 471 when a tire went down in turn two, causing him to hit the wall.
During the ensuing caution, Larson and others pitted, while Keselowski’s day worsened when he was penalized a lap for passing the leader under caution. The lap 479 restart featured an all-Kyle front row as Larson proved the outside line’s superiority with a good restart ahead of Stenhouse. The two drivers, seeking their first wins of the 2018 season, made contact as they battled for the lead, though Larson remained in first. Busch subsequently passed Stenhouse for second and mounted a charge on Larson.
With five laps left, Larson’s car began to exhibit signs of oversteer. Busch took advantage to bump Larson and pass him on what would became the race-winning move. In addition to winning his second straight race, it is Busch’s seventh Cup win at Bristol.
“It’s just the long, long delays and things that happen that kind of get you in and out of your game, but you just gotta stay focused for the entirety of it and try to keep going,” Busch stated in Victory Lane. “We knew [the #18 car] was going to be good in the long run. We weren’t quite as good as the 42 on that long run before that last caution came out – I actually thought I had a tire going down – but we were able to get some tires on it and go give it everything we had.”
Larson was forced to settle for second, his sixteenth career Cup runner-up finish and second in which he finished behind the triumphant Busch. In the Xfinity Series, Larson had also finished second behind Busch at Bristol in three races across three consecutive seasons.
“I was really, really good that long run,” Larson commented. “As soon as we restarted, I was extremely loose. The 17 got to my inside, I just didn’t really have any grip, and I thought it would tighten up for me and I could get going, but it never really did and I was just really loose. Hate that I didn’t win. It’s another one at Bristol. Feel like every time I race here, I almost get a win. […] We’ve been beat by Kyle about every time I race here too, so that gets frustrating after a while.”
Johnson finished third for his best run and first top five of the season, while Stenhouse and Bowman also scored top fives for the latter’s best career finish. The top ten consisted of Aric Almirola, Harvick, Bowyer, Logano, and Newman. Other notable finishes include David Ragan recording his best finish of the year of twelfth, Wallace finishing sixteenth, and Landon Cassill‘s twentieth-place run for StarCom Racing‘s best Cup finish.
“Top 20 at Bristol for @StarComRacing is exciting and all, but the real story is that we did it on the same right side tires for the last 125 laps of the race because we ran out of tires in the pits,” Cassill tweeted after the race. “What a car!”
D.J. Kennington finished twenty-seventh for his third-best run in the series. Kennington’s #96 Gaunt Brothers Racing car featured the logo of the Humboldt Broncos Canadian junior league hockey team, which was affected by tragedy a week prior in a bus accident. Xfinity Series rookie Chad Finchum, making his Cup Series debut for MBM Motorsports, ended his day in thirty-third.
Next week, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to another short track: Richmond Raceway for the Toyota Owners 400. Logano is the defending winner.
2018 Food City 500 results
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