Apr 19, 2015; Bristol, TN, USA; NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Matt Kenseth (20) celebrates after winning the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
Floods end droughts, and so was the case Sunday at Bristol (Ten.) Motor Speedway. The Food City 500 in Support of Steve Byrnes and Stand Up 2 Cancer was delayed and red flagged multiple times for rain, pushing the event into a nighttime affair. When the race finally completed under green after a green-white-checker attempt that was also delayed slightly by rain, Matt Kenseth drove into victory lane to celebrate the end of a 51-race win drought.
"“I was getting tired of that stat,” Kenseth said."
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson both had issues during the race. Gordon was even down two laps after an unscheduled pit stop under green for a loose wheel, but Johnson finished second and Gordon third.
"“I’m just really glad we got a second,” Johnson said. “I maybe had a shot at the win, but am just thrilled to get such a great finish here. This is one of the more tough tracks for me, as a driver. So, I’m very stoked to be here.”"
The start of the race was delayed by an hour and 18 minutes and was then red flagged for the first time after the completion of 22 laps. By that point, Kevin Harvick had taken the lead from pole sitter Kenseth.
When the race resumed, it did so without Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch’s crew chief Tony Gibson. Hamlin bowed out of the race because of back and neck spasms, turning his seat over to Erik Jones.
"“I pulled something on lap 12. I don’t know what it is,” Hamlin said. “It would be doing my team a complete injustice (to continue in the car).”"
Gibson, meanwhile, was relegated to his motorcoach by a kidney stone.
"“Watching race in my motorcoach is agonizing! Just released from the Bristol ER with a kidney stone. @GZipadelli @johnklax have crew chief duty,” Gibson said via Twitter (@TonyOldman41)."
The race restarted with Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano in the garage after they were involved in the same wreck on lap 19.
"“It’s been raining since we started the race,” Keselowski said. “It was just a really light sprinkle, and the track was just barely dry. I don’t know. The rain was coming in and out, and the car just took off on me. I would like to blame the rain, but I honestly don’t know.”"
When the race resumed, Harvick resumed his position up front, quickly joined by Stewart-Haas teammate, Kurt Busch. Both led laps in the first half of the race before the Joe Gibbs Racing duo of Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth took over just past the halfway point.
"“We had really good short run speed today,” Kenseth said. “With the way the race turned out, we lucked out having a good short-run car.”"
Harvick’s race ended on lap 309 after getting caught up in a wreck that sent him to the garage, but not before leading a race-high 186 laps.
Busch spun on lap 279 but continued on and even led laps again after taking the top spot on lap 444. His bid for a finish near the front ended with six laps to go in the 500-lap scheduled distance when he got into Edwards after Edwards hit the wall, ending his own bid for a win. Busch was second to teammate Harvick in the laps-led category, running up front for 98 laps.
Kyle Larson also led a lot of laps, running up front for 90 circuits after staying out during a caution on lap 343. Larson was able to maintain his position until heading down pit road for fuel under green on lap 436.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was fourth and Ryan Newman fifth. Finishing sixth through 10th were Tony Stewart, Larson, Justin Allgaier, Danica Patrick and Austin Dillon (see full finishing order here).
"“We got really lucky there after we had to pit under green,” Larson said. “Everything seemed to fall our way after we made that green-flag stop. We had a different strategy going on and when we had that caution late on that run and I was leading. We were going to end up 17th or something and then people started wrecking, we got the ‘Lucky Dog’ and we came away with a seventh-place finish.”"