Parks Pit Report: Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway

There’s just something about short-track racing that gets everyone so excited.  It’s either the feeling of being in close proximity to your closest rivals, or the insanity such racing brings. Whatever it may be, the fact is that a short track always excites the fans and the drivers.

Sunday afternoon, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series started it’s short-track season down in Tennessee, at a little place called Bristol.  High banks, high speeds, and close competition made this the ultimate draw for fans.  With nearly 140,000 fans in the grandstands, and under partly to mostly cloudy skies, Joey Logano and Kurt Busch led the field to the green flag in the Food City 500.

Busch got the jump out of the corner and grabbed the lead, but the driver on the hunt was Jimmie Johnson.  In rather quick fashion, the No. 48 got in front of Busch and took the lead on lap 6.  He would be the leader until lap 34 when Busch caught up to him in lapped traffic.  He would lead until the race’s first caution came out when Dave Blaney blew a tire and came to a stop on the racing surface.

Some of the leaders pitted, while others used strategy and stayed on-track.  Brad Keselowski, who was involved in the big debacle from Atlanta two weeks ago, found himself ahead of the pack when the field went back to green on lap 46.  But, new tires proved to be the big difference and once again, Johnson got in front two laps later.

The race’s second caution came on lap 57.  Clint Bowyer had a tire go down and he slammed the wall out of turn 2.  But, as he was trying to come to pit road, sparks came from under his BB&T Bank Chevy, showing a blown engine.  Crews then had to clean up the mess that his car left on the concrete.

The race went back full-throttle on lap 63, and Johnson again held the point.  This would be the normal occurrence until lap 97 when Kurt Busch made the move and got back out front.  His lead would continue until the race’s third caution came out on lap 117.

This time, it was Denny Hamlin who brought it out as he got into the wall in turn 2 following a blown tire.

This would be the first full round of pit stops for all the leaders, with most complaining of a tight condition.  Still, Busch found himself back out front when the field came off pit road.

It was lap 123 when the race went back under green, but just as quickly the field was slowed.  On lap 128, NASCAR threw the caution as rain had developed over the track.  There was a chance for most of the afternoon, but officials believed the entire race would be run as scheduled.  So, they didn’t throw a red flag and kept the cars on track.

After 20 laps under cation, the race restarted and this time it was Greg Biffle out front as he got the lead shortly after the previous restart.  This race would be emotional for the No. 16 team as one of their pit crew lost a family member during the off week, so they wanted to have a good run.

Biffle had a strong car and he held the lead until lap 178 when Juan Pablo Montoya made his presence felt by putting the No. 42 at the point.  Biffle would then get the lead back on lap 196, and held the lead until the fifth yellow flag flew on lap 205.

Kasey Kahne would be the unfortunate driver this time as he reported tire and brake issues to his crew.  It really came true as he hit the wall on the backstretch.

The round of pit stops put Montoya back out front for the restart on lap 210, but four laps later it was Biffle going by for the top spot.  He didn’t have a lot of time to enjoy it as Kurt Busch was there for the lead once more.  These two went at it for five laps until the Miller Lite Dodge of Busch found himself solidly out front at lap 222.

His lead would hold until lap 265 when yet another caution flew, this time for Busch’s brother, Kyle, who hit the wall in turn 2.  Pit stops did not do much to shuffle the field, as Busch led the field back to green on lap 271.  At that point, it was obvious that his car was even better when more laps got put on the tires.  He pulled out to a strong lead and would not yield.

The race’s big accident came on lap 325 involving 13 cars.  It started when both Biffle and Mark Martin got together in turn 2, and traffic backed up behind them.  Among those involved were Montoya, Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Marcos Ambrose and Carl Edwards.

The clean-up would last 15 laps before the race would restart, and once again it would be Busch leading the way.

His lead would last until the race’s next caution on lap 392.  Once again, there was no wreck, but there was rain at the track.  It wasn’t heavy, but enough to cause risks.  Still, officials had their eyes on the radar and believed the heaviest rain was still a long ways out from the track.  Given that laps take only 17 seconds, they felt the race would be run in full before then.

It was lap 411 for the restart, and it was Brad Keselowski out front for the green flag.  Again, it didn’t last as Busch again made his way to the front.  It was a stranglehold that everyone knew would be tough to beat.  The only hope anyone had of getting past Busch was if a caution flew, as everyone had enough fuel to make it to the finish.

Not surprisingly, that opportunity came with 16 laps left in the race.  Part of the brake system of a car came off, and was seen rolling across turn 2.

The leaders decided to pit, and some gambled and took just two tires.  Winning the race off pit road would be Biffle, with Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards right behind.  Busch would restart fifth alongside Johnson, both of who took new tires all around their cars.

The final restart came with ten laps to go, and Biffle got a good jump on the field, but Johnson got an even better run.  He managed to find open lanes and quickly moved into second.  By that time, Tony Stewart found his way to the front having also taken two tires.

But, much like Las Vegas three weeks ago, the four new tires were the difference.  Johnson got the lead on lap 494, but still knew Busch was coming with his new tires.  Unfortunately, he got held up behind Stewart and just couldn’t make up the time.  For the first time in 17 tries, the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson took the checkered flag, winning the Food City 500.

He would celebrate by not only smoking the tires around the track, but he did a burnout the entire way up the ramp to victory lane.  His win leaves just three tracks on the circuit that Johnson has yet to win at, which are the Infineon and Watkins Glen road courses and Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Next week, there’s more short-track racing on the bill as NASCAR heads to Virginia to race at Martinsville Speedway.  Nicknamed the “Paperclip,” this track has tight corners, fast straightaways, and is a killer on brakes.

But, for the first time in three years, the Sprint Cup cars will run with a spoiler on the back instead of a wing.  Should make things interesting for the Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500.  FOX once again will handle the coverage with the pre-race show starting at Noon ET.

The green flag is set for shortly after 1 p.m.

RESULTS: 1-Johnson  2-Stewart  3-Kurt Busch  4-Biffle  5-Kenseth  6-Edwards  7-Earnhardt Jr.  8-McMurray  9-Kyle Busch  10-Burton

NOTABLE FINISHES: 11-Harvick  14-Gordon  16-Newman  19-Hamlin  27-Logano  34-Kahne  35-Martin

CAUTIONS: 10 for 103 laps: Laps: 42-46 (#66 Stopped On The Track-T3; 57-63 (Fluid On The Track); 117-123 (#11 Accident-T2); 128-147 (Weather); 205-210 (#9 Stopped On The Track-BS); 265-271 (#18 Accident-T2); 324-331 (#78 Accident-T2; 343-358 (#5, 6, 16, 20, 24, 29, 37, 39, 42, 47, 56, 83, 99 Accident-T33 [71]); 392-411 (Weather); 484-490 (Debris-T2)

LEADERS: 29 among 8 drivers: J. Logano POLE; Kurt Busch 1; J. Logano 2; Kurt Busch 3-5; J. Johnson 6-33; Kurt Busch 34-42; J. Logano 43; B. Keselowski 44-47; J. Johnson 48-96; Kurt Busch 97-116; J. Montoya 117; Kurt Busch 118-123; G. Biffle 124-177; J. Montoya 178-195; G. Biffle 196-205; J. Montoya 206-214; G. Biffle 215-217; Kurt Busch 218; G. Biffle 219-221; Kurt Busch 222-264; J. Montoya 265; Kurt Busch 266-324; J. Burton 325; Kurt Busch 326-391; B. Keselowski 392-413; Kurt Busch 414-483; J. Burton 484; G. Biffle 485-492; T. Stewart 493; J. Johnson 494-500.

TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 20 Mins, 50 Secs.

AVERAGE SPEED: 79.618 MPH

MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.894 Seconds

POINT STANDINGS: 1-Kevin Harvick, 774 points  2-Kenseth, -1  3-Johnson, -14  4-Biffle, -24  5-Stewart, -89  6-Kurt Busch, -97  7-Burton, -97  8-Earnhardt Jr, -153  9-Menard, -160  10-Kyle Busch, -168  11-Gordon, -171  12-Bowyer, -173

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