Denny Hamlin, center, celebrates after winning a NASCAR Cup Series...

Denny Hamlin, center, celebrates after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race, Sunday, March 17, 2024, in Bristol, Tenn. Credit: AP/Wade Payne

Denny Hamlin won the NASCAR Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday, passing Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. in the final laps for his fourth victory at the famed short track.

Hamlin also won at NASCAR’s bullring last September.

This one was much different. Tire issues hampered most everyone all afternoon as only five cars finished on the lead lap — the first time that has happened in the Cup Series in 20 years. The Gibbs cars were the class of the field.

“My favorite racetrack!” Hamlin exclaimed over his radio while taking the checkered flag. “We got another.”

He was booed — no surprise considering Hamlin has become arguably the series’ biggest villain — as he stood atop his No. 11 Toyota following a smoky burnout.

It was Hamlin’s 52nd career win and locks him into the playoffs. Brad Keselowski finished third in a Ford, Alex Bowman was fourth in a Chevrolet and Bowman’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson rounded out the top five.

“It was weird,” Larson said. “I accidentally finished fifth. I'll take it. I hope I never have to run another race like that again."

Kyle Larson (5) leads Joey Logano (22) and the field...

Kyle Larson (5) leads Joey Logano (22) and the field during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race, Sunday, March 17, 2024, in Bristol, Tenn. Credit: AP/Wade Payne

The other two Gibbs cars — driven by Ty Gibbs and Christopher Bell — finished ninth and 10th, respectively.

The race was chaotic from the start, with cars burning through tires at such an alarming rate that NASCAR issued each team an extra set. That gave them 11 sets total, including the one used in qualifying.

It made for four hours of tire management that put gave control to drivers and crew chiefs. It also led to the most lead changes (54) in NASCAR’s short-track history, breaking the previous mark of 40 set in 1991 at Bristol.

JGR handled it better than the rest of the field.

Team owner Joe Gibbs, left, signs a panel for Robert...

Team owner Joe Gibbs, left, signs a panel for Robert Tate, from Ohio, before a NASCAR Cup Series auto race, Sunday, March 17, 2024, in Bristol, Tenn. Credit: AP/Wade Payne

“Our Toyotas are really working well right now,” Truex said.

NASCAR returned Bristol to “normal” for the first time in four years for the spring race. The track added red clay each of the last three years. Reviews were mixed, and as the novelty wore off, sub-par racing inside the high-banked oval overshadowed any excitement that came with the series running on dirt for the first time since 1970.

In an effort to improve the racing and make sure the track had two equal lanes, workers put down a resin-based traction compound through the turns. It was far from perfect.

GOODYEAR RESPONDS

Goodyear felt the need to make a rare statement during the race. Greg Stucker, the tire manufacturer’s director of racing, said a test at Bristol Motor Speedway last year was intended to find a setup that led to more tire wear.

But he called Sunday’s outcome “too drastic.”

The rubber that was supposed to leave tires and adhere to the racing grooves came off in chunks that looked like shredded cheese. Those loose pieces called “marbles” create a slippery situation around the 0.533-mile track.

Part of the culprit may have been the tracks’ decision to put down a new and different traction compound.

“Now we’re trying to understand what’s different,” Stucker said. “Why is the racetrack behaving differently this weekend than what it did a year ago? It’s the same package. It’s the same tire combination.

“Obviously, the difference is resin was place on the lower groove instead of the (previous substance). Yet I still think the racetrack should be taking rubber as it did last fall; it took rubber immediately during that race.”

UP NEXT

The series moves to its first road track of the season, with a Sunday race at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Tyler Reddick won the 2023 race there.

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