Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – BRISTOL, TN – There was a throwback moment in Monday’s weather-delayed Food City 500 that caught everyone’s eye.
On Lap 375 of 500, Daytona 500 runner-up Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. muscled past Brad Keselowski’s Ford to take the race lead. There, up front at Bristol, was the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet, sporting the traditional Petty blue and red colors, reminiscent of an era when team owner Richard Petty was the King of stock car racing.
Wallace led six laps before eventual race winner Kyle Busch overtook him, but those were the first six laps Wallace has led in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Though Wallace ran in the top 10 for much of the rest of the race, he faded to 16th at the finish after the handling of his Chevy deteriorated.
Afterwards, Wallace expressed a jumble of mixed emotions.
“Yeah, hell of a day,” Wallace said after the race. “Didn’t know what to expect firing off, and we fired off like a freaking badass and got our way up to 10th in that second stage there. That was good, get some stage points and got up to the lead. I was as surprised as anybody.
“Going through the emotions, we were really good and that last caution came out, and we were struggling with left-front (tire) problems there late in runs, locking up easily, but still was able to make decent ground. Then, all of a sudden it went away there, and, man, just blindsided there by that.
“I’m just dejected because I’m scratching my head on where in the hell we went wrong or what we did wrong. I don’t think we did anything wrong. I guess that is big-time auto racing, but it was a good day.”
ARIC ALMIROLA TURNS IN SOLID SIXTH-PLACE RUN—THAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER
Aric Almirola was like a stealth missile in Monday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. He wasn’t fighting for the lead at the front of the field, but his car got progressively better as the race unfolded and the top lane finally started paying dividends.
Almirola rolled home in sixth place, posting his best finish of the season, his third top 10 in eight races and his seventh result in the top 15. That consistency has the driver of the no. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 11th in the series standings.
But Almirola felt he could have gotten more, had circumstances been slightly different.
“We worked on (the car) all day,” Almirola said. “We weren’t very good (Sunday) at all. Finally, when the track moved to the top, our car got a lot better, so we kind of were prepared for that, and our car was kind of set up to run the top, and I was just miserable trying to run the bottom.
“My car was really, really bad on the bottom, and we finally got it to where it was going pretty good up top and the caution would come out. I feel like if the race would have been a normal race, and we would have run a lot of green flag up top, we would have been pretty good. It’s a good day.
“I’m a little disappointed with sixth, but, at the same time, I’m happy and pleased that we rebounded after a bad day in Texas. To come out of here with a sixth is a great day and I feel like we could have got more if it would have stayed green. I wish we would have run like 300 more laps.”
ALEX BOWMAN CHARGES TO CAREER-BEST FIFTH-PLACE FINISH
Alex Bowman was a terror on restarts.
From the first laps of the Food City 500, he served notice he was going to make the most of a fast No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, passing cars around the top of the track.
Bowman started eighth and finished fifth, the best result of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career.
“It’s been a lot of fun finally getting some good runs going our way,” Bowman said. “It’s been cool. To run fifth, it’s not a great day, but it’s better than what we started the year doing. We’re making progress, making steps in the right direction and just got to keep doing that.
“I think by our self we had maybe even a faster race car than that. I just couldn’t be consistent with it. We were really loose in (into the corners) and my car was really sensitive to traffic. If anybody got within a half a car length of me, it just turned sideways getting in the corner every time.
“If I could break that gap and get away from them I would drive away, but with them right there I couldn’t do anything. It was interesting trying to fight through that, but glad we finished top five.”