Thrilling Food City 500 Had It All: Strong TV Ratings, Throwback Racing Action, Track and NASCAR National Records Shattered

FOX Sports announced that Sunday’s Food City 500 at iconic Bristol Motor Speedway earned 3,809,000 million viewers on FOX, an increase of 11% compared to the fifth race of the 2023 season, held at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The increase also registers a 10% increase over last year’s Food City Dirt Race in April, which was held in prime time on Easter evening.

In addition, FOX reported that the Food City 500 was the most-watched sports event of the weekend, which also included the Players Championship golf tournament in Florida and the NCAA Tournament selection show on CBS.

The show peaked at 4,570,000 viewers from 7-7:15 p.m. ET and some of the top-rated individual markets that tuned in included Charlotte (4.9), Greensboro (4.3), Indianapolis (3.7), Norfolk, Va. (3.7) and Kansas City (2.9).

The thrilling race, won by Denny Hamlin, who had to hold off teammate Martin Truex Jr. in the closing laps as the two navigated through heavy lapped traffic, became a tire-management race early on and teams found that running the high line close to the wall wasn’t a good option. The veteran Hamlin said the race shifted into his comfort zone and that’s why he was able to take his fourth Bristol victory, and first at the Food City 500.

“That’s what I grew up here doing in the short tracks in the Mid-Atlantic,” said Hamlin of his 52nd career Cup Series victory. “Once it became a tire management race I really liked our chances. We just had a great car, great team. The pit crew did a phenomenal job all day. Can’t say enough about them. Man, it feels so good to win in Bristol.”

The structure of the race lent itself to an amazing amount of passing on the track. In fact, it was a record-shattering amount of passing. NASCAR officials confirmed early this week that in addition to Sunday’s announced records of 54 lead changes among 16 different drivers, there was also two more records in the loop data – 61 green flag passes for the lead and 3,589 overall passes. The previous records for those two marks in the Cup Series was 47 and 2,427 respectively.

All of that action on the track thrilled fans and led to a ton of buzz on social media channels in support of more racing like this moving forward on the Cup Series. Dale Earnhardt Jr. tweeted throughout the race in support and so were many others in the media and industry. On his final tweet, Dale Jr. said “I loved everything about that race today.”

Jeff Gluck’s popular fan poll that asks “Was it a good race?” on X gave the Food City 500 a final rating of 87.3%. that ranking is second for the 2024 season behind the Atlanta race and ranked 46th all-time on the list which has been ranking races since the 2016 season. Incidentally, Bristol holds the top-three spots on the all-time list, with the 2021 Night Race (No. 1), the 2020 Food City Neighborhood Heroes 500 (No. 2) and the 2018 Night Race (No. 3).

Goodyear used the same tire from the Night Race last September, but this weekend featured 15-degree cooler ambient temps as well as significantly cooler track temps. Also, a new tacky substance was applied to the lower groove on the track (resin) for the first time in place of the previous sticky stuff (PJ1). There was also a marble (tiny rubber debris from wearing tires) build up that accumulated all around the track and made racing at the top extremely difficult. With the uncommon wear becoming a factor, Goodyear did issue the teams one more set of tires near mid-race.

“It was challenging, but a different kind of challenge,” Hamlin said. “I ran a certain pace and line and then made adjustments and Chris (Gabehart, crew chief) kept making the car better and giving me info and it allowed me to do my job better. You learned on the fly and just had to keep making adjustments, and we kept getting better. It was a lot of fun for me.”

“This is the first time the driver played a huge role in a long, long time,” Hamlin added. “It’s a different philosophy than we are used to. Mostly cars on the bottom are running hard all the way around and then today there was driver technique that had to be a major part of it.

“I’m so proud. I feel like I played a huge factor in the result. It’s one of the more-proud races I’ve had in my career.”

Fans who want to go ahead and lock in the best price and keep their same seats for the 2025 Food City 500, they still have a little time as the renewal deadline is May 24. There is a special renewal deadline on April 17 that offers a pair of ShadyRays sunglasses for each purchase.

Tickets for the Bass Pro Shops Night Race, Sept. 19-21, are on sale now and prices for adult tickets start at $60. Prices for teens are $30 and kids 12-and-under are $10 with a paid adult. Kids tickets for Thursday night’s UNOH 200 Craftsman Truck Seeries race and Friday night’s Food City 300 Xfinity Series race are free with paid adult tickets.

To purchase tickets for upcoming events, please visit the BMS website, or call the BMS Ticket Sales Center at (866) 415-4158.