Food City 500 Picks: Race Analysis & Predictions

by | Last updated Mar 13, 2024 | nascar

Race: Food City 500
Date: Sunday March 17, 2024
Track: Bristol Motor Speedway
Time: 3:30pm ET
Channel: FOX

What Did We Learn From Last Weekend?

It was the Joe Gibbs show on Sunday! It was an up-and-down day for the entire team, as Ty Gibbs and Denny Hamlin looked set to hit victory lane, but they struggled on pit road and also had a spin-out, causing both drivers to lose out on the potential for a win. Overall, it was quite a day for Toyotas, though. The manufacturer, along with Ford, has been shut out of wins so far in 2024. Chevrolet has won everything this year, but Christopher Bell’s win finally put Toyota on the board. Ironically, Toyota took two of the five spots while Ford took the other three spots. There was actually only one Chevrolet in the top 10 finishers. Ross Chastain was able to claim the 6th spot for Chevy, with the next best finisher being Danial Suarez in 13th place. Overall, it was definitely not what we would have expected to see from the Chevy guys. Maybe it was a fluke, but it was pretty wild that Toyota and Ford seemingly dominated the race.

The race boasted a total of 6 cautions, with three of those coming in the last stage. Cautions totaled 40 laps throughout the entire race, with six leaders also during the entire afternoon, only one of those being from a Ford. Todd Gilliland brought his Ford to the front of the pack for a mere 14 laps, but the remainder of all the laps led were by five different Toyota drivers. Bell managed to lead 50 of those laps, coming away with both the stage 2 win and the final victory. He made it look easy throughout the afternoon, especially later in the race, passing the drivers with no issue despite many battling hard and causing the majority of the late race cautions due to trying to gain the lead spot. Whether Toyota will continue to dominate this weekend remains to be seen. Based on where they are headed next weekend, I dare say that they are going to have a really good shot.

Where Are We Headed This Weekend?

Bristol is the name of the game this weekend as the drivers move from their West Coast swing and head back east. The concrete track of Bristol will cause some heartache, especially on the tires. These guys just finished up at Phoenix, which races like a big short track, but it’s absolutely nothing like Bristol. This track is in and of itself the epitome of short-track racing. This 0.533 mile oval boasts 24 to 28 degrees of banking in the turns, with just 5-9 and 4-8 degrees of progressive banking on the frontstretch and backstretch, respectively. That’s a significant difference from Phoenix. The banking at Bristol allows these cars to carry more speed than they can at some of the other short tracks, namely Martinsville. Bristol is rich in history, with its inception in 1961. Much like. Daytona, this track is iconic for stock car racing, NASCAR in particular. For 62 years, this track has given us some of the best racing that NASCAR has ever seen. I will say that these new cars aren’t the greatest on the short tracks, though. It appears that they are much better on the intermediate-level tracks, but who knows what this weekend will bring.

Odds and Value Picks

Will the Toyotas dominate this weekend like they did at Phoenix? While Bell does have a top 10 average finish in all Bristol races since 2021, it’s the Chevrolet’s that take the top spots. Kyle Larson and William Byron are at the top of the list when it comes to best finishes. Larson has one win and three top-five finishes in just three races. His average finish is 2.7. Byron has an average finish of 5th with two top fives and 3 top tens in his last three starts. Other notable drivers include the likes of Hamlin, Keselowski, and Buescher, with both Hamlin and Buescher also having wins. There is one driver in particular, though, that clearly has some authority on this track. Kyle Busch easily has the most wins at Bristol, with eight total showings in victory lane throughout the years. He has certainly had a lot of experience and opportunity, but the next closest driver is a three-way tie between Keselowski, Logano, and Harvick with three wins each. The piece that we have to be cautious of, however, is that many of these wins aren’t recent wins. We have to definitely take that into consideration. With the differences between the old cars and these newer cars, it’s a whole other ball game when it comes to getting a win and remaining competitive. That being said, who will have the best shot at getting to victory lane on Sunday? Let’s take a look at your potential winners with odds provided by Bovada:

  • Winner: Denny Hamlin
  • Mid-Range Pick: Noah Gragson
  • Dark Horse: Carson Hocevar

So Hocevar has been on my radar for a minute now. He’s sitting under most people’s thoughts and quietly earning points. He came away from Phoenix with a top-15 finish. In the Truck Series, Hocevar was solid, never finishing worse than 19th. His 2023 finish was a very respectable 4th place. This kid has a lot of talent. Bristol is a great place to show that off. Noah Gragson is another driver that has a lot of talent behind the wheel, but he’s going to have to learn how to control his temper and maintain composure before he sees victory lane. He’s had an up-and-down season so far in 2024, but Phoenix gave him a 12th-place finish. The Xfinity Series gave him a couple of wins under his belt at Bristol, so I would take a gander to say that he’s got a chance at performing very well this weekend. But that’s only if he can do the last two things I mentioned. All drivers are going to be chasing Toyotas, though. Denny Hamlin is the primary driver I think that we are going to see up front. Although Kyle Busch holds the most wins, Hamlin is showing his strength this year, and Bristol is just a phenomenal track for him. With a 6.3 average finish, one win, and three top-10 finishes in his last three starts coupled with how well his 2024 season is going, look for everyone to be chasing him down. He’s looking to make up some points as it is after his difficult day at Phoenix that left him with a still very solid 11th place finish. For him, that won’t be good enough. He’s competing for a championship, so the wins are going to be critical this year. Let’s take a look and see where Hamlin and the rest of the drivers are sitting in points after Phoenix:

  1. Ryan Blaney
  2. Kyle Larson
  3. Martin Truex Jr.
  4. William Byron
  5. Tyler Reddick
  6. Ty Gibbs
  7. Ross Chastain
  8. Denny Hamlin
  9. Chase Elliott
  10. Daniel Suarez
  11. Kyle Busch
  12. Christopher Bell
  13. Alex Bowman
  14. Bubba Wallace
  15. Austin Cindric
  16. Chris Buescher

A win is always the goal. Bell gained some much needed points, but that win secures his spot in the Chase later in the season. That’s an immediate weight lifted off the shoulders of any team this early in the year. Everyone else is going to continue to try for those victories as well. Blaney overtook Larson for the top spot despite not getting a win. He had a solid 5th place finish. Ty Gibbs clearly made some big moves with his smart driving as well. Tyler Reddick is climbing the ladder and also looking to continue that climb and earn his coveted spot in the Playoffs sooner rather than later. Chris Buescher creeped into the top 16 this weekend as well, knocking out John H. Nemechek along with Erik Jones. I think that Jones could redeem himself at Bristol, though. This tends to be a good track for that team. We will all have to wait and see. Stay tuned for a great afternoon of racing as the drivers head to the one and only Bristol Motor Speedway!