BRISTOL, Tenn. – It took an extra day to run, but Monday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway was one for the ages.
The event, which was postponed on Sunday for rain, didn’t disappoint those in attendance, especially Jimmie Johnson.
While Johnson was the ultimate gladiator at “The Last Great Coliseum”, it was drivers in other chariots that appeared to be the class of the field for most of the day.
Kyle Larson was the class of the field early in the race, leading the first 202 laps and recording a victory in Stage 1.
Larson’s car was quite impressive as he was able to drive it just about anywhere, including the bottom-line and at times all the way up on the top near the wall. As the race wore on, the No. 42 began to fade on the long runs while other driver’s cars began to gain Larson.
One of those drivers, Martin Truex, Jr. would grab the lead from Larson late in Stage 2 and would go on to claim the stage victory and playoff point. Truex, Jr. totaled 116 circuits out in front of the field, leading the race on three separate occasions.
Both drivers appeared poised to win their second race of the year, but then they both ran into problems on pit road. Larson was caught speeding on pit road during pit stops with 78 laps to go. He was then relegated to the tail-end of the field, restarting in 17th position.
Larson would make his way up to 12th under green flag conditions before the race’s final caution came out on lap 461 for a Paul Menard spin in turn 4. Larson used a two-tire pit strategy to his advantage and would restart in the third position. It seemed that Larson would be able to make a run at the lead, but his two fresh tires were no match for those that pitted for four.
Larson spoke to the media after the race and addressed his performance, “I don’t know if we had the car beat, I thought early on in the race before all the rubber got laid down we were really good. Middle part of the race I didn’t think we were really good, then there at the end, I got the top (line) going really good”. He also added that the pit-road speeding penalty gave them the opportunity to gamble by only taking two tires, something they hadn’t been able to early in the race.
The sixth place finish for Larson did not reflect his performance throughout the race and left the young driver with his second-lowest finish of the year.
Martin Truex, Jr. would eventually run into pit-road issues of his own during the final round of pit stops on lap 465, when he too, was caught speeding leaving the pits. Much like Larson was in the early stages of the race, Truex, Jr. appeared to be the car to beat late in the event. The Mayetta, NJ native rebounded to finish inside the top-10, in the eighth position.
Larson and Truex, Jr. combined to lead 318 of the 500 laps, but neither are leaving Bristol with the victory.
Both drivers will now focus their attention to Richmond International Raceway for next weekend’s Toyota Owners 400.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Huff (apertureone.net)