Food City 500 weekend excitement a precursor for what's to come at Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race week
The quality of racing during the Food City 500 weekend was universally praised by the NASCAR industry and most importantly by the fans, and with less than 100 days left until the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race week, Bristol Motor Speedway seeks to continue its positive momentum of producing some of the most exciting moments on the circuit.
Last August, BMS officials announced that the bottom groove of the iconic half-mile oval would be treated with a traction compound with the hope of improving the bottom groove to create action all over the track. Last season's Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race week was a success, leading officials to decide repeat the process for the Food City 500 weekend.
The Food City 500 weekend saw great racing in all three series that visited the track, including the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR K&N Series East. Fans were treated to a racetrack that provided two exciting but different types of styles. For a majority of the time, the bottom groove proved to be the fastest way around the circuit, harkening back memories of the famed Bristol Bump'N'Run. The move was resurrected by Erik Jones, who moved Ryan Blaney out of the way to take the win in the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 NXS race.
While the bottom groove remained the preferred lane for most of the Food City 500, the eventual addition of the top lane forced competitors to take risks and in turn, added to the action. Exciting side-by-side action between the likes of Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. was interspersed with bump and grinding action along the bottom as drivers sought to move competitors out of the way.
For Johnson, who entered this year with only one win at The Last Great Colosseum, the added variable of an ever-changing racetrack made the Food City 500 a challenge. The seven-time Cup Series champion was able to overcome that obstacle and lay claim as the victor.
"There were so many competitive passes and so much racing going on over the course of the event," said Johnson, whose previous Bristol win came at the 2010 Food City 500. "To have ever-evolving track conditions all weekend long, no one could nail the setup and roll in here on past notes. I think those variables really produce better racing for us."
Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus was also pleased to see this Bristol, a combination of bumping and banging action and crisp, precision passing.
"We really came in knowing that the track was going to be significantly different with the way they applied the traction compound on the bottom of the track," said Knaus. "It was a great weekend. Hats off to this place, they do everything they can to try to put on a fantastic show for the fans and they did it today. That was a fun race to watch and a fun race to take part in."
Stewart-Haas Racing's Clint Bowyer is off to his best MENCS start in years, with one of the highlights being his second place finish at Bristol. A positive result will have Bowyer clamoring to get back to The World's Fastest Half-Mile in August.
"The effort that you put into driving that car, you can't drive them any harder than that," Bowyer said of the 500-lap race. "Literally it's a qualifying lap almost every single time. It really is an ever-changing track, a lot like a dirt track. It's tons of fun being able to race like that. I've been doing this a long time and that's about as hard as I've ever driven in my life."
Kyle Larson was a driver who used the bottom groove to his advantage for a majority of the race. The polesitter set the pace on the bottom en route to a dominating Stage 1 win. The driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet was a factor all day long, adapting to the changing conditions. Using both the bottom and top grooves, Larson put on a racing clinic as he navigated his way around lapped traffic and to the front on multiple occasions.
"I thought the race was great," said Larson, who is the current MENCS points leader. "The track changed a lot throughout the race and that was extremely exciting. This is the best track we go to, the most exciting. I love coming here."
While drivers and crew were thrilled about the quality of race, media and fans were also praising the racing action. Fox Sports' Tom Jensen was a fan of the intense action, writing "The end result was tremendous racing all through the field, but especially late in the race, when a handful of drivers were battling for the victory. It was the best racing by far at Bristol in a very, very long time. In fact, it was one of the best races of any in a very, very long time."
Jeff Gluck, who currently owns JeffGluck.com and is a former reporter for USA Today, was another supporter of the action at BMS. He wrote "Bristol was one of those races that was so enjoyable to watch, I was disappointed when it ended. Seriously though, I could have watched that racing all day. I found myself smiling through many of the battles for position (which seemed constant) — and even while watching the leaders navigate lapped traffic."
In addition, Gluck's post-race poll showed fans were high on the action. 86 percent of polltakers felt the Food City 500 was a good race. This was not just one of the highest rated races from this year's polls but also from the few seasons before.
While all the excitement over a great racing weekend is a plus, the action becomes something else entirely in August. There's just something about a place where fans from all 50 states and numerous countries come to see their favorite gladiators do battle under the lights at one of the most electric atmospheres in racing. Nothing intensifies the sparks and tempers like racing under the stars and that will be sure to continue at America's Night Race week.
NASCAR returns to Bristol Motor Speedway for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race week, which includes a Wednesday doubleheader featuring the Bush's Beans 150 Whelen Modified Series race and UNOH 200 NCWTS event on Aug. 16, the Food City 300 NXS race on Friday, Aug. 18 and culminates with the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race on Saturday, Aug. 19. Call the BMS ticket office before August 1 when ticket prices increase at 423-BRISTOL or visit BristolTix.com for more information.