The conclusion of the Food City presents the Supermarkets Heroes 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway will go down with Brad Keselowski stealing the win in a wild finish after leaders Chase Elliott and Joey Logano wrecked in the final laps. While Keselowski emerged as the overall victor, there were other competitors who left Bristol feeling victorious and satisfied with their results following a difficult start to this season.
First, there was Clint Bowyer. Prior to NASCAR’s anticipated return to racing following a two-month hiatus amid the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, the Kansas native was 13th in the series standings and had notched two top-10 results. Since the sport’s return, Bowyer struggled with capping off a strong start with a strong race car with a strong result. Most notably, the second Darlington race on Wednesday was a race where Bowyer had the race well within his hands after winning the first two stages and leading a race-high 71 laps until he cut a tire, spun and finished 22nd. In the Coca-Cola 600, he was involved in a single-car wreck four laps shy of the first quarter stage of the race and finished 39th. On Thursday at Charlotte, he was penalized twice for speeding on pit road on different occasions and salvaged a 16th-place result.
At Bristol, Bowyer started 23rd based on a random draw, but was able to move inside the top 20 through the first 60 laps. By the time the first stage concluded, Bowyer gained more positions to move up to 12th. Starting the second stage fighting tight conditions, Bowyer would keep his car intact and move into the top 10 before finishing sixth at the conclusion of the second stage. Throughout the final stage, Bowyer raced inside the top 15 while avoiding more carnage surrounding him. With 30 laps remaining, Bowyer restarted ninth on fresh tires but was able to move up to fifth prior to a late caution. With five laps remaining, Bowyer avoided the Logano-Elliott skirmish to come out second behind Keselowski, where he would finish for his best result of the season. With his second top-five result of the season, Bowyer jumped from 14th to 12th in the standings.
“We actually struggled pretty bad with our setup,” Bowyer said. “I don’t know, it was floating the nose really bad up off the corner all day long. I could gain and make some ground up in the center of the corner in, and in the middle, but if I had to pass somebody and turn underneath of them, I didn’t have the real estate. I was needing [Keselowski] to be a little bit closer. I wasn’t gonna feel bad about moving him, but it just didn’t materialize.”
For seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, his swan song season in the series has been mixed with up-and-down results. Prior to the pandemic, Johnson was fifth in the standings. After last week’s race at Charlotte, he had fallen all the way back to 16th with three top-10 results under his belt. He had a strong runner-up result in the Coca-Cola 600 stripped away due to a post-race inspection failure which cost him a bevy of points.
At Bristol, Johnson, who started 24th, methodically worked his way through the field and was well inside the top 10 prior to the first stage’s conclusion. He would finish 10th in the first stage. He spent the majority of the race inside the top 10 before opting to pit prior to the end of the second stage, where he finished 13th. In the final stage, Johnson moved his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet into the top five, running as high as second before being shuffled back to sixth in the closing laps. Following a late caution and the final restart with five laps remaining, Johnson kept his car intact to move and finish third for his best result of the season. Johnson’s fourth top-10 result of 2020 allowed him to move from 16th to 15th in the standings.
“Wild and crazy night, for sure,” Johnson said. “Very strong performance for us. Really proud of the guys keeping our chins up through the last four weeks. We’ve had fast cars, really haven’t had the results to show for it. To put together a solid race, start to finish, great pit stops, fast car, be a threat. We need more long runs. There’s only one long race in the whole race. We were battling for the lead with Kyle [Busch]. I wish there were more long runs because our car didn’t have the short run speed in it.”
For Austin Dillon, momentum is the key word to summarize the driver and the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet team. Coming into Bristol, Dillon had notched two top-10 results with a best result of fourth at Las Vegas in March. Dillon started 20th and was able to race his way inside the top 15 at the conclusion of the first stage. He would finish 15th again following the second stage and would remain on track under the stage break to move into the top five. He spent the majority of the first half of the final stage running inside the top 10 until he blew a right-front tire and smacked the outside wall with 172 laps remaining. The day went from good to bad to worse when Dillon was one of four drivers speeding on pit road and sent to the rear. Despite speeding on pit road again with 68 to go and falling to the rear, Dillon would recover to make his way back in the top 15 while also avoiding the late carnage. With five laps remaining, Dillon was ninth but was able to pick up three more spots to finish sixth behind Erik Jones for his second consecutive top-10 finish of this season. He dropped one spot in the standings from 15th to 16th, though he notched his third top-10 result of 2020.
“The Symbicort Chevrolet was good when it mattered,” Dillon said. “We worked really hard today; hard-fought battle. We were pretty fast there at the end. [Crew chief] Justin [Alexander] made a great call to take tires with 38 laps to go and it showed up. We’re close, we’re getting there. Love how these races are playing out. Getting closer and closer!”
Like his teammate and childhood hero Jimmie Johnson, a top-10 result was what William Byron and the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team needed following a string of on-track challenges not only since NASCAR’s return at Darlington, but since the start of this season. Starting with a 40th-place result in the Daytona 500, the Charlotte native has finished in the top 10 once, which came at Phoenix in March. Coming off a 12th-place result at Charlotte, Byron started 13th and spent the first stage of the race mired in and out of the top 20. By the second stage, Byron was able to methodically work his way inside the top 10. He ran as high as fifth before settling in seventh following the second stage. He made contact with the wall at the start of the final stage, which dropped him all the way back to the top 20. He would spend the rest of the race working his way back into the top 10 while dodging the late carnage. When all was said and done, Byron was able to take the checkered flag in eighth, which was the highest he has finished since finishing second at Martinsville in October 2019. With his second top-10 result of the season, Byron gained one position from 17th to 16th in the standings.
“It was a tough race at the start for us, but we finished eighth which was good,” Byron said. “Lately, we’ve had damage and just a lot of things go wrong for us. We just really needed a good finish and we did today. Once we finally got our track position back, we stayed up towards the top 10 and kept ourselves up there.”
For Christopher Bell, it was not only a day where he matched his career-best result in the Cup Series. It was a day where he looked like a Cup veteran in only his ninth series start and after rallying from finishing outside the top 20 in the first five races of 2020. Starting 35th, Bell nearly made his way into the top 20 by Lap 60. Ultimately, he would finish 25th following the first stage. Then came a near-harrowing moment for the Oklahoma native on Lap 229, when he was able to escape a multi-car wreck through Turns 2 and 3, a wreck that collected his fellow rookie contenders Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick. Bell would continue to finish 17th in the second stage. Remaining on track under the caution after pitting the previous caution, Bell found himself running in the top 10. He ran as high as fourth before settling inside the top 10 throughout the green-flag run. Disaster struck, however, under caution with less than 70 laps remaining following a pit stop, where Bell was sent to the rear due to an uncontrolled tire violation. He would work his way back to the top 15 in the closing laps and would survive to a ninth-place result, making him the highest-finishing rookie in the race. With his second career top-10 result and third top-15 finish in the last four races, Bell is 25th in the standings.
“We battled back and have begun to see some results, which is good,” Bell said. “It’s nice to be getting some results after the start of the season we had. We are continuing to build and get better, which is the goal. I’m a rookie and I’m learning more every race.”
Last but not least, if there was someone who desperately needed a strong result following a string of dismal luck, it was Bubba Wallace and the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet team. Coming into Bristol, Wallace had four top-20 finishes under his belt and had failed to finish the last two Cup races at Charlotte. Starting 36th, Wallace nearly cracked the top 20 through the first 60 laps. He would finish 22nd in the first stage. He made his way inside the top 20 at the start of the second stage, but under caution past the 200-lap mark, Wallace was caught speeding on pit road, which sent him to the rear. He was able to dodge a multi-car wreck on Lap 229 despite making contact with Ryan Preece. When the second stage was complete, Wallace was 19th. Under the stage break, he remained on track to place himself in the top 10. When the race returned to green, Wallace slowly fell back to the top 15 on old tires. Under caution, however, with less than 170 laps remaining, Wallace was again tabbed with a speeding penalty that sent him to the rear. He would spend the duration of the next green-flag run working his way back to the top 10, which he was able to do so less than 60 to go. He would ignite a multi-car wreck with 36 to go that involved Aric Almirola and Martin Truex Jr., but he would proceed while continuing to fight to stay in the top 10. On the final five-lap dash to the finish, he had enough to edge Kevin Harvick and finish 10th for his best result since finishing sixth at Las Vegas. With his second top-10 result, Wallace is 22nd in the standings.
“All-in-all, it was a good day at the Bristol Motor Speedway,” Wallace said. “It was fun there at the end. It was wild – that race had pretty much everything. We will carry some momentum over – finally got a good finish after two bad ones. We got the bad juju off our back and we will go onto the Atlanta Motor Speedway! We’ve got some work to do there. I am excited about the speed we’ve been bringing to the track each week. We need to tweak some things to get us to the next level. We are knocking on the door.”
All competitors will return for the next scheduled NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway on June 7. The race will air at 3 p.m. ET on FOX.