Denny Hamlin won a true NASCAR Cup Series throwback classic Sunday in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway as teams were presented with a challenging track that ultimately forced them to pay close attention to their tire wear.

Virginia native Hamlin led 13 times for 163 laps to take his first Food City 500 win and fourth victory at Bristol. It is his second win in a row at The Last Great Colosseum, as he won here last September in the opening-round of the Playoffs.

The thrilling race set a NASCAR short track record for lead changes at 54 with 16 different drivers holding the lead at some point. The previous record at Bristol for lead changes was 40 in 1991. Only five cars finished on the lead lap.

The race also set the social media world abuzz as racing experts across the media spectrum, including NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr., as well as thousands of vocal fans and others weighed in talking about how exciting the racing was. Earnhardt tweeted that this race was the “…most exciting short track race we’ve had with the Next Gen.”

“That’s what I grew up doing at short tracks all around the mid-Atlantic, once it became a tire-management race, I liked our chances,” said Hamlin of his 52nd career Cup Series victory and first of the season. “This feels so good to win again at Bristol.”

In a return to concrete for the Food City 500 from three consecutive years of dirt racing as NASCAR returned to its roots, the teams were faced with tire management strategies to sort out and that fell right into the strengths for Hamlin and his crew chief Chris Gabehart.

Goodyear used the same tire from the Night Race last season but this weekend with 15-degree cooler temps and a new tacky substance applied to the lower groove on the track, marbles (tiny rubber debris from wearing tires) accumulated all around the track and made racing at the top extremely difficult. With the uncommon wear becoming a factor, Goodyear did issue the teams one more set of tires near mid-race.

“It was challenging, but a different kind of challenge,” Hamlin said. “I ran a certain pace and line and then made adjustments and Chris (Gabehart, crew chief) kept making the car better and giving me info and it allowed me to do my job better. You learned on the fly and just had to keep making adjustments and we kept getting better. It was a lot of fun for me.”

Hamlin led all but one lap over the final 48 laps as he dueled with teammate Martin Truex Jr. through heavy lapped traffic. Truex ultimately finished second, tying his best-career Cup Series finish at Bristol in 34 career starts (also second at 2011 Night Race).

“Apparently, that’s what I need to have happen here at Bristol to have a shot at winning,” Truex said. “I guess this tire management thing fit into my wheelhouse at Bristol. The key was coming out of the pits so close to Denny. We gave it a hell of an effort, but congrats to them. I had a lot of fun tonight.”

Hamlin also had to overcome a hot start from his other teammate, Ty Gibbs, who led 137 laps and won the first two stages of the race. Many had predicted Gibbs as a top contender to win this race and he looked like he was on his way to his first career Cup win this afternoon in his No. 54 Gibbs Racing machine. Ultimately, though, experience proved to be the overriding factor as Gibbs fell off the pace and finished ninth.

“This is the first time the driver played a huge role in a long, long time,” Hamlin said. “It’s a different philosophy than we are used to. Mostly cars on the bottom are running hard all the way around and then today there was driver technique that had to be a major part of it.

“I’m so proud. I feel like I played a huge factor in the result. It’s one of the more-proud races I’ve had in my career.”

Brad Keselowski, who won the last Food City spring race on concrete in 2020, finished third, followed by Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson in the top five. Last year’s dirt winner Christopher Bell finished 10th.

Pole winner Ryan Blaney finished 16th. The highest finishing rookie was Josh Berry, who posted a 12th place finish in his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing machine.

Saturday night's winner in the WEATHER GUARD Truck Race, Kyle Busch, failed at his attempt to sweep the weekend. He finished 25th after a single car spin at the end of Stage 1 that was the result of a right rear tire going down on his No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevy. 

In a note of interesting track history, Hamlin joins David Pearson (1968), Cale Yarborough (1974) and Kasey Kahne (2013) as winners who have all won at Bristol on St. Patrick's Day.

NASCAR Cup Series Race - Food City 500 
Bristol Motor Speedway 
Bristol, Tennessee 
Sunday, March 17, 2024 

  1. (3)  Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 500. 
  2. (11)  Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 500. 
  3. (17)  Brad Keselowski, Ford, 500. 
  4. (29)  Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 500. 
  5. (10)  Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 500. 
  6. (26)  John Hunter Nemechek, Toyota, 499. 
  7. (34)  Chris Buescher, Ford, 499. 
  8. (5)  Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 499. 
  9. (19)  Ty Gibbs, Toyota, 499. 
  10. (12)  Christopher Bell, Toyota, 499. 
  11. (7)  Michael McDowell, Ford, 499. 
  12. (2)  Josh Berry #, Ford, 499. 
  13. (6)  Chase Briscoe, Ford, 498. 
  14. (25)  Ryan Preece, Ford, 498. 
  15. (36)  Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 498. 
  16.   (1)  Ryan Blaney, Ford, 498. 
  17. (32)  Justin Haley, Ford, 498. 
  18. (28)  Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 498. 
  19. (33)  Kaz Grala #, Ford, 498. 
  20. (15)  Erik Jones, Toyota, 498. 
  21. (18)  Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 498. 
  22. (4)  Joey Logano, Ford, 498. 
  23. (30)  AJ Allmendinger(i), Chevrolet, 498. 
  24. (31)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 498. 
  25. (14)  Kyle Busch, Chevrolet, 498. 
  26. (24)  Todd Gilliland, Ford, 497. 
  27. (35)  Carson Hocevar #, Chevrolet, 497. 
  28. (20)  Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, 496. 
  29. (9)  Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 496. 
  30. (23)  Tyler Reddick, Toyota, 495. 
  31. (21)  Austin Cindric, Ford, 495. 
  32. (13)  Harrison Burton, Ford, 495. 
  33. (27)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 495. 
  34. (22)  Noah Gragson, Ford, 494. 
  35. (8)  William Byron, Chevrolet, 492. 
  36. (16)  Zane Smith #, Chevrolet, Engine, 192. 

Average Speed of Race Winner:  79.678 mph. 

Time of Race:  3 Hrs, 20 Mins, 41 Secs. Margin of Victory:  1.083 Seconds. 

Caution Flags:  9 for 98 laps. 

Lead Changes:  54 among 16 drivers. 

Lap Leaders:   R. Blaney 1-2;J. Berry # 3-20;D. Hamlin 21-25;C. Elliott 26;T. Reddick 27-30;B. Wallace 31-40;J. Berry # 41-47;B. Wallace 48-52;D. Hamlin 53-60;C. Elliott 61-64;R. Blaney 65-68;K. Busch 69-73;R. Blaney 74;D. Hamlin 75-82;R. Blaney 83-88;D. Hamlin 89-119;T. Gibbs 120-130;R. Blaney 131;K. Larson 132-140;T. Gibbs 141-145;M. Truex Jr. 146-149;T. Gibbs 150-153;K. Larson 154-156;T. Gibbs 157-158;D. Hamlin 159-162;K. Larson 163-165;D. Hamlin 166;K. Larson 167-170;T. Gibbs 171-181;M. Truex Jr. 182;C. Buescher 183-199;C. Bell 200-223;M. Truex Jr. 224-235;C. LaJoie 236-239;C. Bell 240-243;J. Logano 244-248;T. Gibbs 249-256;M. Truex Jr. 257;T. Gibbs 258-284;M. Truex Jr. 285-317;D. Hamlin 318-322;T. Gibbs 323-364;D. Hamlin 365-372;M. Truex Jr. 373;D. Hamlin 374-379;C. Bell 380;D. Hamlin 381-398;T. Gibbs 399-425;D. Hamlin 426-447;M. Truex Jr. 448;B. Keselowski 449;A. Bowman 450-452;D. Hamlin 453-482;M. Truex Jr. 483;D. Hamlin 484-500. 

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Denny Hamlin 13 times for 163 laps; Ty Gibbs 9 times for 137 laps; Martin Truex Jr. 8 times for 54 laps; Christopher Bell 3 times for 29 laps; Josh Berry # 2 times for 25 laps; Kyle Larson 4 times for 19 laps; Chris Buescher 1 time for 17 laps; Bubba Wallace 2 times for 15 laps; Ryan Blaney 5 times for 14 laps; Joey Logano 1 time for 5 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 5 laps; Chase Elliott 2 times for 5 laps; Corey LaJoie 1 time for 4 laps; Tyler Reddick 1 time for 4 laps; Alex Bowman 1 time for 3 laps; Brad Keselowski 1 time for 1 lap. 

Stage #1 Top Ten: 54,5,17,6,42,12,19,20,41,4 

Stage #2 Top Ten: 54,6,22,42,20,19,11,5,23,41