Kyle Busch won the day(s) at Bristol, but Chevrolet and its premier team finally showed signs of life.
There are always plenty of unhappy drivers leaving any race at Bristol Motor Speedway, and the 2018 Food City 500 was no exception. Ryan Blaney, who didn’t even make it to Monday, wrecked while in the lead. Brad Keselowski had late tire issues and finished 23rd despite claiming two stage wins. And Kyle Larson, who looked like the man to beat at various times during both days of the rain-delayed race, was clearly frustrated at coming off second-best to Kyle Busch — again.
Yet for Larson even to be in position to race for the win at Bristol was an encouraging step forward for both his team and Chevrolet drivers in general, as they’ve won zero races since Austin Dillon triumphed in the Daytona 500. Larson’s 2018 start has looked nothing like his super-fast stretch to begin last season, but a second-place finish at the Food City 500 was the best kind of progress.
So, too, was Hendrick Motorsports, whose floundering has been well documented, placing two cars in the top five for the first time this season. Jimmie Johnson finished third and looked like he was just a tick behind the two Kyles. Even better, Alex Bowman came home fifth, his best Cup Series finish ever.
Ryan Newman also was competitive, and Bubba Wallace led the first Cup Series laps of his career in his Richard Petty Motorsports Chevy. He did it the legit way too, actually going up and seizing the race lead before fading a bit after the final round of pit stops.
All told, there were signs for optimism all over the finishing order for the Chevrolet camp, which hasn’t seen things go the way they might have expected to date. The conventional wisdom that the new Camaro would do for Chevy drivers what the 2017 Camry did for Toyota, but the learning curve has turned out to be steeper.
A breakthrough at an intermediate track probably needs to come before everyone can be satisfied. But Bristol proved that it might not be all that far off, and if Larson, the Hendrick crew and other Chevrolet drivers can remain a factor in the weeks to come, it’s going to make the second half of this NASCAR season a lot more interesting.