UPDATE: Kyle Busch leads as rain-marred Food City 500 reaches halfway

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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

MRTI: Herta standing tall, riding wave of momentum in Indy Lights

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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It would be hard to top the month of May that Colton Herta is coming off of.

The 18-year-old, now in his second year competing in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, enjoyed a sweep of the three Indy Lights races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning both events on the IMS Road Course – charging through the field to do so (he fell back as far as sixth and fourth between Race 1 and Race 2) – and outdueling Andretti Autosport stablemates Pato O’Ward and Dalton Kellett to win a frantic Freedom 100.

In short, it was a near perfect month for the young Herta.

“It’s super special to win in Indy and to get do the triple there at a place that’s so nostalgic, it’s a pretty cool feeling,” Herta told NBC Sports about his Indy success.

And all three were thrilling drives in which Herta spent the entire time battling with rivals – Santi Urrutia on the IMS Road Course, and the aforementioned O’Ward and Kellett, and Urrutia as well, in the Freedom 100.

Colton Herta edged Pato O’Ward to win the Freedom 100. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Herta is no stranger to winning – he won twice in 2017 (Race 2 at St. Petersburg and Race 2 at Barber Motorsports Park) – both times in dominant fashion.

As he explained, it isn’t necessarily more challenging to dominate a race versus battling rivals the entire way, but different mindsets are required to survive each.

“It’s a different skill set,” he asserted. “Obviously when you start up front, there’s a lot more pressure to perform, so it’s more about managing the gap to the guys behind. Whereas you’re not as nervous when you’re in the back of the pack, because you can’t go any further back. So there’s less nerves going into the race. And it’s more about attacking the whole time and taking a little more risk.”

In discussing his Indy victories more, Herta detailed that outdueling opponents in intense duels – like the ones at Indy – comes down to thoroughly analyzing one’s opponents and making aggressive, yet smart passes.

“You can see what the guys are doing ahead of you, and obviously if you follow them for a lap or two you can see where they’re struggling and you can make up ground on them,” he explained. “And that’s the biggest thing: going for an overtake that you can make – especially when you’re in the running for a championship fight like this – going for an overtake that you know you can make without taking a massive risk, and kind of seeing the tendencies of the car in front of you and where they’re struggling and when you’re making up time.”

Herta’s run of recent success comes as more evidence of a driver who appears to be more polished than he was last year. While blisteringly fast – Herta captured seven poles in 2017 – there were also a number of errors that kept him from making a more serious championship challenge.

Though Herta began 2018 with a somewhat ominous crash in Race 2 at St. Pete, the rest of his season has been much cleaner. He finished third in Race 1 at St. Pete and second and third at Barber Motorsports Park before his run of victories at IMS.

Still, despite the appearance of a more polished driver, Herta explained that his approach is no different than it was in 2017.

“Not much has changed,” he asserted. “The mindset obviously is still the same because, especially with a (seven car field), you need to win races and you need to win quite a few of them to win the championship. (Staying out of trouble is about) just kind of settling in and knowing that a second or third place, or even a fourth or fifth place, isn’t terrible to take every now and then.”

And because the field in Indy Lights is small this year – only seven cars are entered at Road America – Herta revealed that maintaining a hard-charging style and going for race wins is paramount, in that the small fields make it harder to gap competitors in the title hunt.

“It’s hard to create a gap. On a bad day, you’re still going to be closer (to the guys ahead of you). Like Pato O’Ward in Indy (on the road course) had an awful weekend and finished in the back in both races (fourth and seventh), but I’m only at a (six point) lead. It’s tough to get ahead, so you want to minimize mistakes. It’s tough to make a gap, but it’s also tough to fall behind.”

As such, Herta is most certainly focused on bringing home an Indy Lights crown in 2018, which would propel him into the Verizon IndyCar Series, but he isn’t putting undue pressure on himself to force it to happen.

“In the second year, you have to get it done, and it’s tough to move up to IndyCars without that $1 million scholarship. So yeah, it’s important, but there’s no need to put more pressure on myself for how it is. I just got to keep doing what I’m doing, keep my head down, and if we can replicate what happened in May more and more, we should be in IndyCar next year,” he detailed.

And a potential move to IndyCar is certainly on the minds of Herta and Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, even if the Indy Lights title ends up in the hands of someone else.

“We are thinking about it for sure, and we have some sponsors already committed on this year that I think we could bring up into IndyCar,” Herta revealed. “But, if we win the Indy Lights championship, we’re going to race (IndyCar), whether it’s the four races that we’re given or whatever it may be.”

Herta will look to improve upon his results from last year at Road America, when he finished 12th in Race 1 and third in Race 2.

Follow@KyleMLavigne