Now that the rain has stopped and we’re getting closer to drop of the the green flag for Sunday’s Food City 500, fans might wonder why NASCAR has called for a competition caution to be thrown at Lap 50.
The caution will be to primarily check tire wear on a track that will start under completely green conditions due to rain washing away all the rubber that was built up on the track Friday and Saturday in practice, qualifying and the Nationwide Series race.
At other tracks, most competition cautions fall typically between the 20-lap and 30-lap range.
So why wait until 50 laps at Bristol Motor Speedway?
A couple of reasons:
1. 50 laps at Bristol translates only into 26.65 miles in an event that is 266.50 miles in length. In other words, the competition caution will come just one-tenth of the way through the race.
2. If adjustments need to be made to cars, the competition caution is the perfect time to do so. Overall race strategy is also reevaluated, particularly with the green track at the start of the event.
NASCAR officials still remember what happened on a completely green race track during Friday’s Sprint Cup practice, when a number of drivers including Danica Patrick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Greg Biffle and Saturday’s Nationwide Series winner Kyle Busch all lost control and bounced off each other or had solo wrecks into the wall.
“The track’s going to be a challenge, it’s pretty green, tires are going to wear aggressively, the top groove is going to come in — who knows what we’ve got,” said Marcos Ambrose.
Pit stops under green flag racing planned before the race will potentially be juggled, if not some eliminated from teams’ initial strategy coming into the race with expectations that additional caution flags will fall due to wrecks or debris on the track.
“Hopefully, it’ll be okay,” Matt Kenseth said before the race. “It’ll be good once the track rubbers up and I think things are going to change a lot 75 or 100 laps in.
“You just have to pay a lot of attention to when it rubbers in … and keep searching around and keep trying to find that grip because it’s definitely going to change throughout the race.”
Bristol Motor Speedway has been particularly difficult to several drivers, including Tony Stewart, who counts Bristol as his second-worst performing track in his career.
Even six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson has had difficulty at the half-mile bullring, with just one Sprint Cup career victory to date there.
“We all assume it’s going to be pretty loose at the start,” Johnson said. “Once we get 100 laps or so in, we’ll start to work on what the car really needs to set up for a race win.
“I just hope to survive here. You can be leading and have weird things happen. I have the survival mindset, and if we’re there at that last pit stop and know we have a car fast enough to win, but we’ve got to get there first.”
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