The Food City 500 at Bristol took more than a day to complete. The start time was scheduled for 1 pm on Sunday afternoon, but the finish came shortly after 3 pm on Monday. Fans who waited out the rain on Sunday and stayed for the conclusion of the race on Monday were rewarded. They were treated to a great finish between a few of the sport’s best drivers. For the second straight week, the race featured several cautions and even a few red flags. Throughout the race, many good cars with enough speed to win were wrecked beyond repair.
The race kicked off with last week’s winner, Kyle Busch, on the pole. Kurt Busch, who qualified second, was forced to start at the rear of the field. This moved Brad Keselowski up to the second starting position and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. up to third.
On lap three, the first caution of the day occurred as Micheal McDowell spun and collected several cars. Caught up in the wreck was Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr. and AJ Allmendinger. The damage sustained by Elliott and Truex Jr. was enough to set them several laps back for the remainder of the day. Allmendinger was able to stay on the lead lap.
Just as Ryan Blaney made a pass for the lead on lap 17, the caution would come out a lap later as Ryan Newman spun Allmendinger.
After another 30 green flag laps, the caution flag would fly again on lap 48 as Reed Sorenson got into the wall. NASCAR would mandate this caution as the “competition caution.” As this occurred, it began to rain and NASCAR brought out the red flag, bringing all cars on the track to a stand still.
After 25 minutes, NASCAR lifted the red flag since the rain had stopped. Once NASCAR dried the track, the race got back underway.
Shortly after the restart, Erik Jones in third made contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in second and spun him in front of the field, bringing out the yellow. Remarkably, no one hit anyone and all cars involved were able to continue relatively damage-free.
With only seven laps remaining in the first stage, tragedy struck for leader Ryan Blaney. As himself and teammate Brad Keselowski were battling for the lead and cutting through lap cars, drivers began to wreck in front of them.
Trevor Bayne, Jamie McMurray, Chris Buescher, and Harrison Rhodes all made contact and wrecked in front of the race leaders. Blaney was unable to avoid it and slammed hard into Buescher. Keselowski dove low and was able to avoid the wreck. The clean up for this crash brought out a short red flag.
Once NASCAR cleaned the track, they lifted the red flag. After the drivers completed their pit stops, there was a one lap shootout to end the stage. Keselowski held on for the stage win, with Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, AJ Allmendinger and Kyle Larson rounding out the top-5.
To start the second stage, Kyle Larson held the lead with Erik Jones second and Jimmie Johnson third.
31 laps into the stage, Trevor Bayne brought out the caution as he got up too high in the corner, lost control, and spun into the wall.
10 laps later, NASCAR again brought out the red flag due to the rain falling on the track. This red flag lasted roughly 30 minutes until the rain stopped and the track was quickly dried.
After another 40 laps were run under green, rain brought out the caution at lap 203. NASCAR rules state that once the second stage is completed, the race is over immediately if it starts to rain. With still another 47 laps to go in the second stage, NASCAR officially postponed the race until 1 pm on Monday afternoon as rain filled the forecast for the remainder of Sunday.
With rain still falling on Monday afternoon, the race didn’t get back underway until roughly 1:40 pm. Larson led the way with Hamlin sliding into second.
With roughly only 35 green flag laps to run, it was a dash to the end of stage two.
After a five-way battle for the lead, Brad Keselowski was able to secure his second stage win of the day. Kyle Busch followed in second, Jimmie Johnson third, Denny Hamlin fourth, and Kyle Larson in fifth.
The final stage of the day, 250 laps long, began with Keselowski first and Johnson second on the outside.
Off the restart, Denny Hamlin fought his way into the lead for a few laps until Johnson challenged him for it. As Johnson pushed him for the lead, Hamlin realized he had a loose wheel and was forced to bring his car down pit road under green.
Keselowski, Busch and Larson continued to trade the lead between the three of them until Larson opened up a gap between them on lap 293.
The leader of the race brought out the caution after a long green flag run. Larson was slicing through lap traffic but cut it too close with Ryan Newman. He turned across the nose of Newman’s car as he lapped him, spinning himself down the front stretch. Somehow he kept it off the wall and everyone was able to avoid him. Kyle Busch did an incredible job of avoiding Larson as he spun right in front of him.
Under this caution, most all cars pitted except for Daniel Suarez. On the restart, Keselowski jumped out front with Darrell Wallace Jr. behind him in second. Suarez plummeted down the leaderboard outside the top-10.
With 126 laps to go, “Bubba” Wallace Jr. bumped Keselowski and took the lead. He led six laps before Kyle Busch would move him out of the way for the lead with 120 to go. Bubba’s six laps led were his first in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS).
With only 63 laps to go, Keselowski fell a lap down to Busch. One lap later, Kyle Larson slipped underneath Busch to take the lead back once again. After another seven laps, Larson lapped the former leader, Darrell Wallace Jr.
The caution flag flew for the final time with 31 laps to go. Brad Keselowski had fallen a lap down and his left front tire blew, resulting in the caution.
After the pit stops, Larson restarted first with Busch, Johnson, and Stenhouse Jr. in tow. On the restart with 22 to go, Stenhouse Jr. jumped up to second behind Larson, and Busch fell back to third. But just seven laps later Kyle was able to get back into the second position.
Busch ran down Larson for the next 10 laps and made his move with just six to go. He got his nose underneath Larson and gave him a small nudge to slide him up the track.
Busch took the lead and was able to hold off Larson for the remaining five laps as they both cut through lap traffic.
The win at Bristol marked Busch’s second of the season, and his second in as many weeks. The win also made him the winningest active driver at Bristol Motor Speedway, with seven career MENCS wins.
Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-10.
The third place finish for Johnson was his best in 2018 and his first top-5 run of the year.
Bowman’s fifth place finish was the best finish of his young career and also his first career top-5.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s fourth place run marked his first top-5 and top-10 of the 2018 season, a huge step in the right direction.
Next week, NASCAR travels to Richmond for a Saturday night race under the lights. The field will need to watch out for Kyle Busch once again. With the momentum Busch is riding, he’ll have a great shot at his third straight win. He has four career wins at Richmond and an astounding average finish of 7.40.
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