Sunday’s Supermarket Heroes 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway was the first short track race of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season. A fan favourite on the calendar, Bristol continued to live up to the hype with a caution-filled race that ended with a chaotic finish as Brad Keselowski slipped by the battling Chase Elliott and Joey Logano for the win.
Like when the season resumed at Darlington Raceway in early May, Keselowski started on the pole after winning the random draw. Aric Almirola started second. Ryan Preece and Gray Gaulding were sent to the rear after failing inspection twice.
After seven laps of racing, Ryan Newman spun while running twenty-second. Everyone but Quin Houff stayed out as the green flag waved on lap 13 with Keselowski leading. Martin Truex Jr. eventually took second from Almirola.
The first of two competition cautions came out on lap 20. Although a specific reason for adding a second competition yellow was not revealed, it is assumed they are to help teams adjust to a concrete surface on a track that had not seen NASCAR since last summer, followed by an additional check as tyre rubber is applied to the track.
The top seventeen did not pit, while Corey LaJoie was penalised for being too fast entering pit road. Chris Buescher had an extended stop to change a transponder on his car.
The race resumed on lap 30 with Keselowski and Truex on the front row. The former quickly pulled away and led until the second competition caution on lap 60. During their stops, Kyle Busch and Daniel Suárez were slapped with speeding penalties, with the latter receiving a black flag for an improper penalty service procedure.
Matt DiBenedetto, the runner-up in the last Bristol Cup race, stayed out to take the lead for the restart. On older tyres, he eventually fell back to Ryan Blaney. Elliott took the lead from Blaney on lap 104 and faced little opposition en route to the stage victory.
Blaney finished second, followed by Keselowski, Almirola, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, DiBenedetto, Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Jimmie Johnson.
Between stages, DiBenedetto suffered a speeding penalty and Alex Bowman had to pit again for a loose wheel. Blaney and Elliott paced the field to the green on lap 137.
Blaney led the next 33 laps before losing the positions to Team Penske team-mate Keselowski on lap 170. Meanwhile, lapped cars began serving as traffic to the top cars, prompting Fox play-by-play announcer Mike Joy to remark they were “moving chicanes” to the leaders.
As the race neared the 200-lap counter, Blaney’s day came to an end after getting loose on the outside in turn two and spun. Ty Dillon was unable to avoid the parked Blaney and impacted his front end. Elliott was the first off pit road during the ensuing caution.
When the race resumed, Elliott led Harvick. On lap 212, Joey Gase spun on the backstretch for another yellow. Gase’s Rick Ware Racing team-mate Bayley Currey was also responsible for a caution when his car stalled on the backstretch moments after the green flag on lap 216.
Another restart commenced five laps later as Elliott took off. Logano chased down the leader and attempted a pass, but was unable to clear Elliott as they collided, sending Logano back.
On lap 230, Stenhouse was sandwiched between Matt Kenseth and Johnson, with Johnson clipping Stenhouse from behind and sending him into a spin. Stenhouse spun down and hit the pit wall, then slid up the banking and hit Kurt Busch. Bowman and rookies Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick could not avoid the sideways Stenhouse. The wreck eventually led to a 20-minute red flag.
Elliott led the grid to the restart with 15 laps remaining in the stage. A strong charge by Hamlin pushed him past Logano and into second.
After three laps of green-flag racing, another caution came out for Preece hitting the wall in turn three. The race resumed with seven laps to go, and Elliott once again stormed off to the stage victory.
It was Elliott’s fifth stage win of 2020, tying his total from 2019. Behind were Hamlin, Harvick, Logano, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, William Byron, Erik Jones, Keselowski, and Buescher.
Elliott beat Logano off pit road, but Hamlin and the top eleven stayed out to begin the final stage.
On lap 269, Buescher impacted the wall, resulting in a caution. Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Hamlin and Busch led the field to the lap 276 green flag.
Busch eventually took the lead from his team-mate. DiBenedetto exited the race with a broken tie rod. At the front, Johnson claimed second from Hamlin.
The next caution of the day came out when Austin Dillon, who was running in the top ten, began suffering from tyre issues and could not reach pit road. Meanwhile, Gase was parked after failing to maintain minimum speed.
Lap 334 saw the next restart as Busch led Hamlin.
On lap 355, Newman spun again in a similar manner to Blaney’s wreck, getting loose on the high groove. Unlike Blaney, he avoided further damage and recovered. Busch kept the lead before losing it to Hamlin on lap 361, though Busch fought back to reclaim the position.
With 68 laps to go, Harvick and Jones collided for the caution. On pit road, Dillon and Christopher Bell received penalties for speeding and an uncontrolled tyre, respectively.
Hamlin led at the green flag but quickly faced pressure from a duo of Hendrick Motorsports racers in Elliott and Johnson.
Gray Gaulding hit the wall on lap 458 resulted in the race’s fifteenth yellow. Yet another caution occurred seven laps later when Truex and Almirola—the latter being pushed by Bubba Wallace—collided, with Michael McDowell being caught in the crossfire.
Hamlin and Logano comprised the front row for the restart on lap 471. The former preferred to run on the outside line, a strategy that may have bitten him when he hit the wall. Logano came up to block, causing him to also brush the wall. Hamlin was then boxed in by Logano and Elliott, causing him to spin and hit B.J. McLeod.
The final restart of the day came with five laps to go. Elliott and Logano battled with one another before the former slid up, squeezing Logano into the wall. With the two taking each other out of contention, Keselowski slipped by to take the victory, his second of 2020. Bowyer also drove past to finish second, his best finish since Texas Motor Speedway‘s spring race in 2019.
Elliott and Logano spent the post-race discussing the matter.
“I think everyone on this Discount Tire team is gonna go to Vegas,” Keselowski remarked.