While the race shuffled, spread and scrambled behind him, Carl Edwards drove to victory from the pole at Bristol Motor Speedway, leading 276 of 500 laps in the Food City 500. For Edwards, the win is the first of his 2016 season and fourth at Bristol.
“There was so many different things happening out there, different guys were fast at different times,” Edwards said. “I got to work on my drag racing, Kurt [Busch] has those restarts figured out. He was tough.”
Though the race was full of underdog stories and comeback shows, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had as rough a start as the No. 88 driver could have as a battery issue delay his start of the race, causing Earnhardt to lose two laps.
“We had a dead battery at the start of the race,” Earnhardt said after a second straight runner-up finish. “Same thing that happened to the [No.] 22 [Joey Logano on restart with 34 laps to go]. That cost us two laps early in the race and we worked real hard. Greg [Ives, crew chief] did a great job helping to get our laps back.
Battling back onto the lead lap, Earnhardt hit the top 10 by Lap 219 before hitting some luck in the final restarts to sneak into second.
“We got a lot of luck on those last several restarts to start on the outside,” Earnhardt said. “Gained some spots by just being in the right lane. We didn’t have a good enough car to run in the top 5 today.”
A few men who were unable to fight back, however, were from the Joe Gibbs Racing camp as Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin suffered cut right -front tires throughout the 500-lap race. Combined, JGR had seven tire failures.
“We just keep blowing right-front tires, I don’t know why,” Kenseth said. “The first one was a little confusing. This one blew a lot earlier and the angle was a lot worse hitting the wall.”
Busch, going for a third straight Sprint Cup win, was racing in the top 5 before his first tire went down on Lap 53. That was far from the end for “Rowdy” as he spun his No. 18 Toyota on Lap 117 before cutting a tire one last time on Lap 260.
“We just kept getting tighter in the long run,” Busch said. “We came from the back to the front a few times, probably one of the few cars being able to do that today with how hard it is to pass. I guess today wasn’t meant to be.”
Leading over half the race, race winner Edwards said the issues from his teammates caused “some concern, but for some reason we didn’t have any of those issues.”
The final 150 laps saw six cautions flags, each one giving the Stewart-Haas Racing duo of Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch a shot at the lead. Busch was able to take the lead for 41 laps, while Harvick 13 laps earlier.
“I don’t know if I’m supposed to be happy after finishing third but Ill take it,” Busch said. “We were close. That last restart just spun the ‘ole tires. I felt like Carl was going to be tough to beat and I was hoping to do the bump-and-run to him on the high side. I just didn’t quite get there.”
Another driver who had a run at Edwards’s dominant No. 19 Toyota was rookie Chase Elliott. The 20-year-old drove into the second spot with 33 laps to go before Busch made his way back by. Finishing a career-best fourth, Elliott makes it back-to-back top 5s in 2016.
“We were close,” Elliott said. “Unfortunately, not close enough. Car was really fast today and really proud of the effort.”
For Bayne, the top-5 finish is the first for the Tennessee native since his Daytona 500 win in 2011.
“If there’s a track I can choose to run good at it’s Bristol,” Bayne said. “You can’t come back from adversity if you don’t have a good racecar and my guys gave me a great racecar today. [A top 5] means the world to me. What means more is that we’re in contention every week. Last week we led laps, this week we get a top-5 finish. I fee like we have a lot of good things to come for this AdvoCare team.”
For DiBenedetto, the BK Racing driver destroyed his previous career-best effort of 18th en route to a sixth-place finish – the best result ever for BK Racing in its fifth year in Sprint Cup.
“A sixth-place finish for BK Racing, for all my guys, this is like a win for us,” DiBenedetto said as he held back tears. “I apologize for being so emotional, but this is an incredible run. I can’t thank my team enough. Everyone on this team working so hard, busting their tails for me to be able to drive this racecar in the Sprint Cup Series. It’s such an honor.”
Landon Cassill, despite finishing 22nd, put on one of the most impressive underdog performances this year as he led 20 laps in his No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford. Beyond that, the seventh-year driver had enough pace to stay in the top six until pit strategy showed its face in the closing 100 laps.
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