Parks Pit Report: Food City 500

One thing that practically every NASCAR fan looks forward to each year is when the Sprint Cup Series makes the trip to Bristol, Tennessee, to run on what is appropriately named the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile” track.  The high-banked Bristol Motor Speedway has been one of the most popular tracks for fans to watch racing.  Having sold out 53 consecutive races, this track is one of the hardest tickets to come by.  This year, because of the economy, the track officials were on the brink of not having a complete sell-out, new territory for a staple on the NASCAR circuit.  However, by the time the green flag flew on Sunday, it was standing-room only as a sold-out crowd of 160,000 fans extended the streak to 54 races to watch NASCAR’s finest battle in the Food City 500.

Pole-sitter Mark Martin jumped out to a quick lead over the field, but in a quick two laps relinquished the top spot to Stewart-Haas driver Ryan Newman.  The first caution flag of the day flew on lap 27 as John Andretti spun his Chevrolet in turn 2.  The leaders hit pit road early for service, but six drivers elected to stay out and get track position.  Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson took the lead during the caution and led the field to the restart on lap 33.  Unfortunately, just as quickly as the green flag flew, so did the caution as Dave Blaney got spun out in turn 3, ironically by Andretti.

Johnson held onto the lead through the first big wreck of the day on lap 60..  Todd Bodine got turned hard into the outside wall coming to the start/finish line by Michael Waltrip, while both Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch got slight nose damage in the aftermath.  Johnson once again elected to stay on the race track while several others came down pit road for tires and fuel.

The race restarted on lap 68, and quickly Johnson was challenged by the other Busch brother, Kyle, who officially took the lead on lap 70.  Kyle was looking to make it three-straight wins for the Busch boys as he extended his lead until catching up to lapped traffic, which at a half-mile race track didn’t take very long.  The event’s fourth yellow flag came on lap 124 after Jamie McMurray spins in turn 1 after contact with Juan Pablo Montoya.  Pit stops shook things up a little bit, however Kyle continued to hold the lead through this round of pit stops and the following round after the race’s fifth caution when McMurray spun his car out once again battling for position. Even before the half-way point, it was becoming clear that the 18 car was the one to beat.

Kyle would continue to lead the race until lap 318 when he got passed by his teammate, Denny Hamlin.  The yellow flag flew once again one lap later when Brian Vickers cut a tire on his Red Bull Toyota.  On the ensuing round of pit stops, Johnson won the race off pit road, beating both Hamlin and Busch to the line.  The green flag flew on lap 329 with Johnson leading, but Kyle was charging hard and bumping his way around some cars.  Finally, with Johnson in lapped traffic, he retook the lead on lap 369.

The field would not see a caution again until lap 440 as Harvick hit the wall in his Shell/Pennzoil Chevrolet after having a tire go down.  Kyle won the race off pit road, which would look to be the final stop for all cars on this day.

The race’s eighth caution came when David Stremme got spun out going into turn 3 following contact with the National Guard Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt Jr.  Still, Kyle held onto his lead despite having challenges from Hamlin and Johnson.

It seemed as if it was going to be another runaway win until the yellow flag flew one last time on lap 494 when Hamlin and Busch’s other teammate, rookie Joey Logano, lost the motor in his Home Depot Toyota.  This lead to the second straight week of going into “overdrive, as the field took the final green flag of the day on lap 501.

Unfortunately for the field, no one was going to deny the 18 car a victory as Kyle Busch took his Snickers Toyota to victory lane, his second of the season, and the second time that the Busch brothers have won three straight races.

Kurt and Kyle have a chance to tie their own record of four-straight victories next Sunday as the series travels to Martinsville, Virginia.  The Sprint Cup Series will visit three short-tracks in the next five weeks.  Keep an eye on both Hamlin and Johnson, who won the races at Martinsville last year, to do well, however the one driver to really watch out for here is Jeff Gordon.  He has always performed well at this track and has finished second the last two years in the spring event, ironically to both Johnson and Hamlin.  He is due for a win and will definitely be a contender.

Coverage next week begins at 1:30 p.m. on FOX.

TOP 10:  1.  Kyle Busch, 2. Hamlin, 3.  Johnson, 4.  Gordon, 5.  Kahne, 6.  Martin, 7.  Newman, 8.  Burton, 9.  Montoya, 10.  Ambrose

NOTABLE FINISHES:  11.  Kurt Busch, 14.  Earnhardt Jr, 15.  Edwards, 17.  Stewart, 30.  Harvick, 33.  Kenseth, 39.  Biffle

CAUTIONS: Laps 27-32, 33-38, 60-69, 123-131, 189-196, 319-329, 440-449, 453-460, 494-501.  9 cautions for 75 laps

LEADERS:  Martin 1-2, Newman 3-28, Johnson 29-69, Busch 70-124, Reutimann 125, Busch 126-190, Hamlin 191, Waltrip 192, Busch 193-317, Hamlin 318-320, Johnson 321-368, Busch 369-441, Hamlin 442, Busch 443-503.  13 lead changes among 7 drivers

POINTS (position change from last race):  1.  Jeff Gordon 794 points (no change), 2.  Kurt Busch -76 (up 1), 3.  Clint Bowyer -79 (down 1), 4.  Kyle Busch -85 (up 3), 5.  Carl Edwards -129 (down 1), 6.  Kasey Kahne -155 (up 3), 7.  Tony Stewart -161 (down 1), 8.  Denny Hamlin -163 (up 6), 9.  Jimmie Johnson -165 (up 4), 10.  Matt Kenseth -184 (down 5), 11.  David Reutimann -187 (up 1), 12.  Kevin Harvick -219 (down 4)

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