Sprint Cup Race Report: Bristol

The night race at Bristol ended nearly 24 hours after it was scheduled to start.

What was supposed to be a night race suddenly became a day race again as rain became the dominating story line at NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The start of the race was delayed an hour from its scheduled start time on Saturday night and then the field would race for less than 50 laps before the rain returned forcing a red flag. After another lengthy delay the field began to roll again, but before the green flag could drop a heavy downpour would follow once again and NASCAR officials made the call to suspend the race until Sunday afternoon. The wet story line would continue into Sunday afternoon delaying the restart of the race nearly four hours until just before 5 PM.

When it was over Denny Hamlin would lead Joe Gibbs Racing with a third-place finish after rebounding from being two-laps down, while Carl Edwards finished sixth and separate accidents left Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch back in 37th and 39th respectively.

Hamlin started the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota from the second position and was able to jump to the lead for the opening eight laps. He would run fourth when the rain ended racing for Saturday night. When racing finally restarted late Sunday afternoon, Hamlin would restart fourth but quickly jumped into second. He would drop back again a bit during the ensuing green flag run and restarted fifth following a lap 86 competition caution. Hamlin would drop back to 10th battling a tight handling FedEx Camry when a caution on a lap 158 brought the field back down pit road once again. He would restart sixth on lap 165 and made his way into third behind only his teammates Edwards and Busch. Hamlin would continue to battle tight handling conditions but was able to get a good restart on lap 262 to run third at lap 275. He was running sixth when a caution came out on lap 308 bringing the leaders down pit road. NASCAR would rule that Hamlin was speeding on pit road resulting in a penalty and leaving the FedEx Camry to restart 22nd on lap 317. He would report a loose wheel a few laps into the next green flag run forcing him to come to pit road under the green flag for an unscheduled stop. That would drop the 11 two laps down back in 25th. A series of cautions would allow Hamlin to get back to the lead lap and crew chief Mike Wheeler would make the call for a two-tire stop on the final trip down pit road that allowed him restart first on lap 423. The strategy would prove a success as Hamlin would manage to remain in the top three over the final green flag run to the finish.

Edwards started the No. 19 STANLEY Toyota on the pole position but dropped outside the top five during the opening green flag laps of the race. He was running seventh when the rain returned to end racing for Saturday night. He would restart seventh when the race resumed late Sunday afternoon but would drop back just outside the top ten. He would restart ninth following a competition caution and quickly maneuvered his way back to the front of the field. Edwards was funning second at lap 150. He would restart first on lap 165 following a round of pit stops under caution. Edwards continued to run second and lined up for a restart on the inside of his teammate Busch on lap 262. The inside lane was not the preferred lane however once the top of the track had enough tire rubber built up and the 19 would fall back to run fifth. Edwards was running eighth at lap 300 and would restart seventh on lap 317. He would restart fifth on lap 372. Edwards would race inside the top ten over the course of the final 100 laps before taking the checkered flag in sixth.

Kenseth started the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota in the fifth position and was able to hold that spot when rain ended the racing for Saturday night. He would restart fifth when the race resumed on lap 49 late Sunday afternoon. The Dollar General Camry was loose into the turns and tight coming out of them over the next portion of the race and Kenseth dropped back outside the top ten prior to a caution on lap 158. He would restart 10th on lap 165 but the handling conditions would continue and the No. 20 dropped back to run 15th. Kenseth would line up 20th for a restart on lap 317 following a round of pit stops and climbed back up into the top 15 on the next green flag run. He was running 13th with 150 laps to go. Kenseth would be collected in a multi-car accident on lap 373 that caused major damage forcing the Dollar General Camry to the garage. He would officially finish 37th.

Busch started the No. 18 M&M’S 75th Anniversary Toyota from the third position and was able to work his way to the lead on lap 23 before the rains would officially ended the racing for Saturday night. When the race restarted late Sunday afternoon he remained on point. He held the lead until a competition caution on lap 86. Busch would restart third after two cars made the decision to remain out on the track, but the M&M’s Camry was back on point just a few laps later. He would restart second on lap 165 to his teammate Edwards, but once again put the 18 back in the lead at lap 191. He would continue to lead when a lap 256 caution would bring the leaders back down pit road. He would restart first alongside his teammate Edwards on lap 262 and held the lead until giving way to the 4 car on lap 290. The M&M’s crew would put him back on point with a great pit stop Busch lined up first for the restart on lap 317. Busch would report that he felt something had broken shortly after the restart but still managed to lead for the next 30 laps. He was in second when something in the back of the car finally gave way causing the 18 to spin across the track. As the M&M’S Camry came to a stop in the center of the track the 46 car would make contact with the right front causing major damage to the 18. Busch would take his car to the garage and his day would be over. Despite leading a race-high 256 laps he would finish 39th.
Kevin Harvick captured the win, followed by Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in second, Hamlin third, Austin Dillon fourth and Chris Buescher rounded out the top five. There were nine cautions for a total of 106 laps and 20 lead changes among eight different drivers.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Michigan International Speedway next Sunday for an afternoon race. Live coverage on NBCSN will start Sunday, August 28 at 1:30 PM (race starts at 2 PM ET). The race will also be carried on Sirius NASCAR radio channel 90.