A long list of race leaders in tonight’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway wound up having their nights turn into something much less that what they were hoping for.
With 50 laps to go, a potential Top-10 for Kevin Harvick literally went up in flames when his already smoking No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet slammed into the wall. The incident caused Jamie McMurray to check up and Brad Keselowski wound up slamming into the back of the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.
Harvick’s car then caught fire on its way to the garage, causing him to quickly climb out and leave the mess behind. McMurray retired from the race shortly afterwards, while Keselowski soldiered on without a hood to a 14th place finish.
All three drivers had led earlier in the race, with Harvick in particular coming on late to lead 28 laps. But they were far from the only leaders to suffer.
On Lap 394 of 500, Kyle Busch crashed while running 17th and forced cars to evade him on the inside and outside as his wrecked machine came to a stop in the middle of the backstretch.
One of those oncoming cars was Kurt Busch, who tried to go to the outside of Kyle but clipped the No. 18 Toyota instead. He then went into the backstretch wall.
Kyle and Kurt would finish 29th and 35th respectively after also leading earlier in the race. Kyle’s downfall was particularly noteworthy, as he had led a 73-lap portion in the middle stages and was the halfway leader as well.
But on Lap 272, Kyle sensed a problem and decided to pit under green. That decision cost him when the caution came out six laps later for a Ryan Truex crash that sent a piece of debris – a brake rotor – to be ultimately run over by Busch.
Busch went down two laps in the sequence, but took the wave-around to get within one lap of the leaders. He was still at that point when he crashed on Lap 394.
Then there was Matt Kenseth, who had an up-and-down day before finishing 13th.
Kenseth was the leader coming out of the three-hour, 19-minute red flag and held the point until Kurt Busch took it on Lap 153. Four laps later on Lap 157, Danica Patrick and Cole Whitt made contact that put Whitt in the wall.
As the caution lights turned on, Busch and Kenseth checked up for Whitt but Timmy Hill failed to slow down and plowed into the back of Kenseth.
Multiple repairs on pit road enabled Kenseth to stay on the lead lap though, and with the back of his car crumpled in, he rocketed from 29th all the way through the field and to the lead on Lap 285.
Kenseth would lead for a race-high 165 laps but late in the race, he suffered handling issues and fell back. Then with 92 laps to go, he tagged the wall after apparently running over debris with his tires.
He would continue on, but it was a disappointing ending to a night that had been largely positive.
Finally, Jimmie Johnson led 44 laps early in the race but on Lap 114, his right front tire unexpectedly went down and he lost multiple laps having to pit under green.
“Something made it come apart in this really long 50-foot section,” Johnson said according to NASCAR.com’s David Caraviello. “I don’t know if we clipped something on the track that wore the tread and it unwound, or if something else happened…”
Johnson would eventually come home 19th.