By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
It was an eventful afternoon in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Carl Edwards took home the trophy, but with so many storylines coming out of the half-mile oval, our weekly segment can’t cover them all, but we’ll try to get the more notable ones. So, without any further delay here are my biggest takeaways from Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
1) Hit or miss
For Joe Gibbs Racing, Sunday really was a tale of hit or miss. Edwards did take home the hardware, so the reality is that JGR got the last laugh, but it was still a forced, painful laugh after seeing Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin, struggle. Kenseth led 142 laps, but two tire failures did the veteran in as his miserable season continues. Busch also had tire woes, exiting stage right after crashing. Hamlin, for whatever reason was uncompetitive and finished 20th. If it wasn’t for Edwards dominating, this race would have been a lost cause for the JGR group.
2) Oh, boy!
Clint Bowyer secured an eighth-place finish on Sunday, his first solid result in what otherwise has been a lost season. In all honesty, this shouldn’t even be noteworthy, but considering how bad it has been for Bowyer we have to give him some credit for this one. The future Stewart-Haas Racing driver had a gritty drive to the top 10 after qualifying 36th, not an easy feat at Bristol.
3) Rookie and underdogs
Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney both ran in the top 10 in the closing laps, but a late restart relegated what would have been a runner-up finish for Elliott to a fourth. Blaney fell from seventh to 11th in the same situation that plagued his Rookie of the Year rival. Landon Cassill ran among the top 10 with less than 100 laps to go, but thanks to contact with Ty Dillon, he ended up with an undeserved 22nd. But, the talk of the day went to Matt DiBenedetto. The BK Racing driver drove from outside the top 20 with less than 100 laps to go and ended up with a career-best sixth-place finish. Considering the resources at BK Racing, this was a monumental achievement for the underdog team.
4) Captain Comeback
Okay, so that title actually belonged to former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh and not the recently retired Peyton Manning, but with the two-time NFL champion spending Sunday around Dale Earnhardt Jr. it only seemed fitting there was a ‘fourth quarter comeback’ at the half-mile oval. Earnhardt overcame from two laps down to finish second, nearly capping off the comeback on a late restart to pull the upset on Edwards and the rest of the field. Maybe Earnhardt should bring Manning to more races now that the former QB has more free time on his hands.
5) Riding high
The outside line was the place to be on restarts. Two late restarts hurt drivers like Kevin Harvick, who was in the fight as a contender until starting on the inside lane of the front row. As an example, Harvick dropped from second to seventh in the final pair of restarts. The outside lane pushed forward like the right lane of a restrictor-plate race, with Earnhardt and Trevor Bayne pushing forward for astonishing top 5’s after looking like backend top 10 finishers.
It’s not old Bristol, but what we saw on Sunday was awesome racing. There are still concerns on tire woes, but not on Goodyear’s end, more on what NASCAR is allowing the teams to get away with. Granted the approach by NASCAR appears to be more of a ‘go ahead at your own peril’ kind of thinking process. Some teams are going ahead and some are comfortable with not pressing the envelop too much. That said, the next round at Richmond will hopefully be a lot more exciting then what we have witnessed in recent years.
Image: Robert Laberge/Getty Images