Beaten-up cars, emotion-filled drivers, numerous cautions, close bumper-to-bumper racing. Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway lived up to what fans have come to expect when NASCAR rolls into the famed half-mile oval.
Carl Edwards led the field to the green flag for the 500 lap race, and was able to keep his nose out front for a majority of the event. Some drivers, including Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth, put up strong challenges to Edwards during the race, but the No.19 Comcast Toyota was as smooth as velvet.
The caution flag flew fifteen times in Sunday’s race, the most of any race so far this season. A majority of them were for Edwards’ Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, who all three had tires issues at some point, or points, of the event.
The No.19 was never affected by tire issues however, and the No.19 ended up having a pretty much flawless race. Edwards was able to hold off the field through numerous late race restarts to capture his 26th career NASCAR Sprint Cup victory.
“I at no point felt comfortable,” said Edwards. “Even the last lap I felt pretty good, but it’s just so easy to mess up here. I guess I was on edge the entire time. For me it was a really tough race in the car. I felt like I had to go really hard.”
The Colombia, MO native led a race high 276 laps en route to his fourth victory at Bristol Motor Speedway. Edwards is the sixth different winner of the 2016 season and the sixth different driver to be locked into the Chase.
“…The car was really fast, and Dave (crew-chief) did a good job of managing everything,” said Edwards. “We didn’t have any trouble, and really it’s just a testament to everybody at the shop and our whole team. Really awesome to have a win so now we can really have some fun and focus on this championship.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, Trevor Bayne, Matt DiBenedetto, Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, and Joey Logano rounded out the rest of the top-10 finishers.
The race didn’t go as smoothly for the second-place finisher, Dale Jr.
At the start of the race, the No.88 machine lost power and failed to accelerate. The Nationwide Chevy immediately dropped back through the pack and onto pit road. Jr. fell two laps down to the field, leaving the team with a big hole to dig out of.
“…I was warming the brakes up like I always do, and apparently I applied too much pressure and it killed the motor,” said Jr. “We’ll work on that and maybe raise that threshold a little bit because I wasn’t really using the brake that much.”
The No.88 Nationwide Chevy wound up working the strategy right, receiving two wave-arounds, and after a long hard fought battle, was able to bring home an impressive runner-up finish.
“We got real lucky the last three restarts to be on the outside line,” said Jr. “We restarted 10th, 6th and 4th, and when you restart 4th you’re typically going to come out in second place after that. I was hoping we didn’t have any more cautions after that. So it was good. We’ll take it.”
He wasn’t the only feel-good story of the race though.
Chase Elliott was the highest finishing rookie of the event, as he brought the No.24 machine home in fourth place, marking his best finish in his young racing career.
“…Guys brought a good car this weekend,” said Elliott. “We started a little slow, didn’t qualify as well as we’d like to on Friday but I thought we hit on a couple things yesterday in final practice that fortunately carried over to today and was able to kind of work our way up through there…”
Roush Fenway Racing driver Trevor Bayne earned a solid fifth place finish, his first top-5 since his lone career win in the Sprint Cup Series at the Daytona 500 in 2011.
“Bristol is a tough racetrack and you have to have a good car,” Bayne said. “We went through a lot. We had penalties and damage and we were able to fight back. You can’t do that without a good racecar and we had a good enough car to do it and I’m just really thankful for it.”
But the most impressive run of the day belongs to the sixth place finisher, Matt DiBenedetto. The driver of the No.83 Cosmo Motors Toyota has struggled to find success early on in his career. In forty career races before today, the Grass Valley, CA native failed to achieve a finish inside the top-15. Bringing back a sixth place finish, was like bringing home a win for DiBenedetto and his entire team.
“For us to get a sixth place run, I am sorry I am so emotional. This is like a win for us,” said DiBenedetto on FOX after the race. “I am so excited. I see my family back here. My wife, Taylor. My brother is in town from the military and I am so glad he got to experience this. This is incredible. So blessed to be here.”
After a race at Texas that left some NASCAR fans disappointed, it was refreshing to see another great short track race today. It’s hard for fans to be in a bad mood after a race at Bristol Motor Speedway, and Carl Edwards and some of the other special top-10 finishers can vouch for that.
The NASCAR series heads to another short track next weekend at Richmond International Raceway. It will be interesting to see if some drivers can continue their good fortune, and if Carl Edwards will be able to pull off back-to-back backflips.