‘Hope I Never Have to Run a Race like That Again’

Jackson Wheeler
8 Min Read

  • NASCAR put its best face, or at least comments, forward after a series of tire issues turned the race at Bristol upside down on Sunday.
  • The company line went so far as to say it was ‘one of the best short-track races.’
  • Driver Kyle Larson wasn’t buying what they were selling.

NASCAR Senior vice President Innovation and Racing Development John Probst described Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway as “one of the best short-track races I’ve ever seen.”

Fifth-place finisher Kyle Larson possessed a different opinion.

“I’ve never ran a race like that,” Larson said. “I hope I never have to run a race like that again. To have to run a race like that every week would not be good, and it’s honestly probably a black eye to Goodyear just with all the rubber that couldn’t get laid down and just wearing through tires and all that.”

The 54 lead changes broke the track record of 40 that was set in 1991. There were 16 different drivers who led and that tied the track record that was set in April 1989. Only five drivers finished on the lead lap, something that hadn’t occurred since Dover 2004.

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A NASCAR sweeper cleans tire debris from the pits during the Cup Series race at Bristol on Sunday.

“I know the race teams are probably pretty wore out right now,” Probst said. “I know our track crew and the folks up in the booth are pretty wore out. Certainly had some anxiety around … some tire wear and things like that, but all-in-all, I think it was probably one of the best short-track races I’ve ever seen,” Probst told media standing behind the NASCAR transporter less than two hours after the race.

During the race, NASCAR allowed Goodyear to give each team an additional set of tires.

“On the allotment, we actually removed a set of tires from the fall race coming into this race,” Probst said. “That’s on us. Not Goodyear. So, we actually gave that back during the race.

auto mar 17 nascar cup series food city 500

Icon Sportswire//Getty Images

Kyle Larson didn’t exactly agree with NASCAR that the Bristol race should be consider some kind of instant classic.

“We’ll go back and look at it all … there were times in the race when there is anxiety around are we going to have enough tires to finish it, but, man, coming out the end and watching all that, I would not want to change much at all, honestly. Just give them more tires.”

Denny Hamlin said his late model history paid off once he got into tire management mode.

“This is the first time the driver played a huge role in a long, long time,” Hamlin said after earning his 52nd career victory and fourth at Bristol. “It’s a different philosophy from what we’re used to, which is everyone just kind of on the gas all the time running the bottom. Technique was a huge deal today.”

Hamlin said he was “way more proud” of Sunday’s victory than many of his previous wins because “I know I had such a huge role in the result.”

Brad Keselowski, whose third-place finish was his best this season, described the race as an “interesting day.”

“There was a lot of discipline required and it was a fun race, to be honest, because you just had to be so smart behind the wheel,” Keselowski said. “It would bite you in a heartbeat and you had to have a good setup.”

Keselowski noted it had been “a while” since he had been in a race where tire conservation was paramount.

Chase Briscoe described the event as “by far the most bizarre race I’ve probably ever been a part of just with trying to not go hard at all and trying to save your tires.”

“It was a cat-and-mouse game, which I think would be really fun if you didn’t have to worry about the tires blowing and coming apart,” Briscoe said after finishing 13th.

Justin Haley, who finished 17th, said he “loved it.”

“I don’t know what social media says, but as a driver, I thought it was fun because you had to manage it,” Haley said.

In the race’s second half, it became obvious which drivers were adapt at tire management. John Hunter Nemechek, who finished sixth, likened the race to an “oversized Pensacola with tire wear.” Pensacola is home to Five Flags Speedway, a half-mile paved oval that hosts short-track racing’s premier event—Snowball Derby—every December.

“I grew up short-track, late model racing, places that you had to manage tire wear till the end of the run,” Nemechek said.

“In my opinion, the sport needs to learn from this.”

Even though Goodyear Racing Director Greg Stucker said the tire was the same as the one used at Bristol in the fall, Hamlin thought there might have been something slightly different in its chemical mixture. He’s concerned Goodyear will return to Bristol in September with a “rock hard” tire and that’s not what the sport needs.

“In my opinion, the sport needs to learn from this,” winning crew chief Chris Gabehart said. “We’ve got to stop talking badly about Goodyear in these situations. This is not bad. Goodyear can make a million-mile tire that I have on my car when I get to the airport and drive home.

“This is supposed to be sport. It’s supposed to be hard. It’s supposed to force these guys to make decisions in the car. The crew chiefs to make decisions on how they treat the tire, what their setup is, how long do you want to run this stint. Finally, you look up and you’re thinking strategy the whole time. It’s not bad. It’s OK.”

Headshot of Mike Pryson

Mike Pryson covered auto racing for the Jackson (Mich.) Citizen Patriot and MLive Media Group from 1991 until joining Autoweek in 2011. He won several Michigan Associated Press and national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for auto racing coverage and was named the 2000 Michigan Auto Racing Fan Club’s Michigan Motorsports Writer of the Year. A Michigan native, Mike spent three years after college working in southwest Florida before realizing that the land of Disney and endless summer was no match for the challenge of freezing rain, potholes and long, cold winters in the Motor City.

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at Speedofdaily.com, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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