NASCAR Cup Series
NASCAR takeaways: Denny Hamlin wins Bristol race littered with tire issues
NASCAR Cup Series

NASCAR takeaways: Denny Hamlin wins Bristol race littered with tire issues

Updated Mar. 17, 2024 9:47 p.m. ET

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Denny Hamlin won a Bristol Motor Speedway race that turned into a tire-management event where drivers were in jeopardy of having flat tires or running out of tires.

While teams expected some tire issues, it was anticipated that the track would rubber up throughout the event. The track never took rubber, and that resulted in a race with a track-record 54 lead changes — and a track-tying 16 different drivers leading — over the 500 laps on the high-banked 0.533-mile concrete track.

Why so many changes? Drivers had to make the choice on when to go full speed because they knew if they went 100 percent, their tires would last fewer than 50 laps.

"This is the first time the driver played a huge role in a long, long time," Hamlin said. "It's a different philosophy from what we're used to, which is everyone is just kind of on the gas all the time running the bottom, the shortest way around.


"Technique was a huge deal today."

Hamlin, who led a race-high 163 laps, outlasted teammate Martin Truex Jr. while another teammate, Ty Gibbs, led 137 laps before tire issues foiled him.

Takeaways — all about tire management — from the race where following Hamlin across the finish line were Truex, Brad Keselowski, Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson.

Drivers Mixed Reviews

Hamlin felt the tire management fell in his wheelhouse. But when he pitted under green with 53 laps to go, his right rear tire had about two laps left in it.

"Denny drove a great race," said Hamlin crew chief Chris Gabehart. "How would I feel if we ran 10th or 15th? I can tell you one thing, I would have said, ‘Man, that was hard.' And that's good.

"It's supposed to be hard. It's not supposed to be easy."

Hamlin spun earlier in the race after blowing a tire and felt that allowed him to figure out how hard he could push. Once he knew the limit, he felt he could control the race. 

"You learned on the fly," Hamlin said. "You just made adjustments. Each run we made, we just got a little better."

FINAL LAPS: Denny Hamlin wins NASCAR Food City 500

The biggest challenge was just the surprise and drivers not knowing they would need to manage tires. NASCAR actually gave teams an extra set during the race, increasing the allotment for the event to 11 sets of tires.

And then once they managed tires, drivers had to make a choice on whether to punish their tires and hope someone else would have an issue before they did.

"It was weird to manage and guess on how hard to run, guess on how each run was going to play out," Larson said. "The strategy side of it seems kind of fun but I never want to do that again.

"To run a race like that every week is not good. ... It was just different and we somehow made the most of it."

The tires were the same as they were at Bristol last fall. The temperatures weren't much different. NASCAR did use resin instead of a formulated traction compound on the lower groove in hopes of accelerating the rubbering of the track, which would increase grip (which never happened). The resin was used because if NASCAR wanted to race in damp conditions, it was less slick in those conditions.

"We were creeping around there quarter-throttle saving your tires and you just don't know if you want to go or not," defending Cup champion Ryan Blaney said. "They say they brought the same tire, but that's absolute b.s. ... I bet it was entertaining to watch. It was a little bit of a wild race — not in a good way."

Drivers rarely have to manage tires in Cup, and so it was a challenge.

"You blow a tire and you go a lap down," Gibbs said. "You can't really control a lot. You're banking on that caution."

Goodyear Surprised

Goodyear, which pays NASCAR as part of a sponsorship agreement to provide tires (for sale) to the teams, was surprised of the issues with the tires.

"We're trying to understand what's different, why the track is behaving differently than a year ago," Goodyear racing director Greg Stucker said. "It's the same [aero] package. It's the same tire combination. ... It's still a bit of an unknown."

Goodyear’s Greg Stucker talks about the tire issues seen at Bristol

Goodyear did a tire test last year to try to find a tire that had more tire wear but did not expect it to the extremes seen Sunday afternoon.

"Tire wear is always the goal," Stucker said. "That's what people want to see. It creates comers and goers. ... We thought we were in a really good spot last year as we raced it in the fall.

"Obviously, something is different now. It is too drastic."

Stucker said he expected they would have a tire test before the race at Bristol in September.

NASCAR Satisfied

Last fall, teams had 11 sets of tires and NASCAR did decide to see if limiting them to 10 would create some tire management. That obviously went a little too far.

"That's on us, not Goodyear," NASCAR Chief Racing Development Officer John Probst said. "We gave that [set] back during the race."

John Probst gives his view on the race at Bristol and teams needing an extra set of tires

Probst indicated, though, that NASCAR liked what it saw and didn't want to do anything drastic for the fall. 

"All in all, I thought it was one of the best short-track races I've ever seen," Probst said. "We'll go back and look at it all. There were times in the race obviously when there was anxiety around are we going to have enough tires to finish it.

"But, man, coming out at the end and watching all that, I would not want to change much at all honestly. Maybe just give them more tires."

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including over 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass.


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