After a three hour, 19-minute rain delay, the Food City 500 was finally resumed at Bristol Motor Speedway shortly after 7 p.m. ET on Lap 124 of 500.
The red flag was pulled and the race resumed under yellow while jet dryers worked on parts of pit road. On Lap 136, the green flag came back out at last, with drivers racing toward a competition caution 50 laps from that point at Lap 186.
On Lap 153, Kurt Busch – who had been in fourth place out of the red flag – was able to take the lead from Matt Kenseth after riding the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s quarter panel for several laps.
Two laps later, Danica Patrick and Cole Whitt wrecked going into Turn 1, causing the leaders to check up as Whitt’s wounded car went off the banking.
But despite the caution lights flashing, Timmy Hill failed to slow down in time and slammed into the back of Kenseth’s No. 20 Toyota, causing it considerable rear damage.
Kenseth made multiple trips to pit road under the caution so his team could repair as best they could. He fell back to 30th but was able to keep on the lead lap.
The green came back out at Lap 166, and 13 laps later, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Jamie McMurray was able to get by Kurt Busch on the inside to take P1 ahead of the Lap 186 competition caution.
The leaders chose to pit, but Clint Bowyer decided to stay out and moved into the lead ahead of Kyle Busch, McMurray, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch.
Two laps after the Lap 193 restart, Kyle Busch dispatched Bowyer to take the lead. Meanwhile, Kenseth was able to charge back into the Top 5 after his incident with Hill, while Dale Earnhardt Jr. fell out of the Top 10 due to a tight-handling car.
At the halfway mark (Lap 251 of 500), Kyle Busch was maintaining the lead over Kasey Kahne, Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Keselowski, Aric Almirola, Carl Edwards, and Denny Hamlin.
UPDATE – FIRST 124 LAPS (BEFORE RED FLAG)
When Sunday’s Food City 500 was stopped by rain 124 laps into the scheduled 500-lap event, several drivers that were expected to have good days found themselves playing catch-up after one-quarter of the race.
With 126 laps left to halfway and one more lap after that to make it an “official” race (one lap past halfway) if need be,
The running order when the red flag fell featured this top-10 at the time:
1 Matt Kenseth
2 Jamie McMurray
3 Brad Keselowski
4 Kurt Busch
5 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
6 Kevin Harvick
7 Kyle Larson
8 Denny Hamlin
9 Kasey Kahne
10 Aric Almirola
Joey Logano lost his power steering after about the first 20 laps and struggled from that point on, falling to 28th when the red flag dropped.
“500 laps is going to get a lot longer than I thought it was going to be around here,” Logano said. “There’s so much load here, the car’s pressing down so hard on the racetrack, it makes it so hard to steer. If feels like it’s working against you. I was already in there huffing and puffing pretty hard trying to get the thing hard.
“The good news is we’re only (nearly) 130 laps into it, so we have a long ways to go. The bad news is if we can’t fix it, we’re only 130 laps (of 500) into it. Either way, we have our work cut out for us.”
Jimmie Johnson ran near the front of the pack early on, only to have unusual shredding of the right front tire on his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Johnson was running 39th when the red flag fell, three laps behind race leader Matt Kenseth.
“We’re down multiple laps and from what we think, it’s only three,” Johnson said. “So, there’s lots of racing left. Maybe we can get those laps back, get on the lead lap and race for the win here.”
Another driver who had tire problems is Greg Biffle.
“On lap 10, it started shaking really, really bad,” Biffle said. “It wasn’t responsive when the corner came. … Possibly it broke the cords in the left front tire because three-quarters of the tire were all cords.
“Maybe it broke something in that tire that was making it not steer correctly. … We’re not going to give up. We’ve got a long ways to go.”
On the scheduled competition caution on Lap 50, Jeff Gordon and David Ragan tangled on pit road. Gordon was leaving his pit stall while Ragan was coming in.
Both cars made contact, with Gordon’s taking the brunt of the damage, dropping him all the way back to 34th. Fortunately for Gordon, much of the damage was cosmetic, his team was able to repair it quickly and he was able to work his way back up through the field to 16th when the red flag occurred.
“It was awesome when it started and it’s awesome now,” Gordon said. “We just need track position, that’s on us.
“It’s our job to get out of the pit box, it was a tough situation with the competition caution and so many cars on pit road, it’s hard to judge. It’s a setback but the guys did an excellent job, not only what they did from practice yesterday to today, and then they did a great job fixing it up right there and I was able to drive up through there pretty good.”
Parker Kligerman, who has had arguably the worst start of the season of any driver on the Sprint Cup circuit, continued to see his luck turn bad.
After pitting during the competition caution on Lap 50, Kligerman hit some type of debris that caused his car to turn violently before he even had made it from the transition road to the track surface itself.
Sprint Cup rookie Alex Bowman also had problems with the battery in his car.
On the flip side, several drivers had very good fortune in the first 124 laps before rain interrupted their continued forward progress.
Jamie McMurray looked very strong in his No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, running second behind race leader Matt Kenseth when the rain returned.
“I felt the first 10 laps when we went green, initially when the race started, the car was too free, but it just kept getting better as the race went on,” McMurray said.
Outside pole-sitter Brad Keselowski suffered some initial handling problems, but his team made the right adjustments during the competition caution and he climbed back up to third place before the rain came.
“We just got a little bit tight,” Keselowski said. “We made some adjustments and that’s the beauty of this race, it’s 500 laps and hopefully we can get all 500 in and we can keep adjusting it because the track keeps changing.”
Kevin Harvick made a big comeback before the rain came, climbing from 27th to sixth before action was halted.
“It’s unbelievable fast,” Harvick said. “We can run the bottom, middle and top.”
Let’s see if it will stay that way once racing resumes.
Follow me @JerryBonkowski