It was a gritty, old-school affair featuring the fervent action, drama and intrigue that made Bristol Motor Speedway worthy of the nickname the "Last Great Colosseum." And at times the Food City 500 appeared to be a race no one could win.
Of the 12 different drivers who led Sunday eight either crashed or were handicapped by a parts failure of some sort. And when the smoke and rain cleared, it was Carl Edwards not so much winning but surviving.
Edwards didn't get rear-ended under caution by a backmarker like Matt Kenseth. Nor did he have a tire shred like Kyle Busch, who later would spin in front of the field yet somehow emerged virtually unscathed. Nor did Edwards' Ford start billowing smoke like a chimney on a winter's morning then slam the wall abruptly before becoming engulfed in flames. No, that was Kevin Harvick, who went from contender to disabled bystander in minutes because of a broken oil line.
And when it seemed misfortune had finally befallen Edwards in the form of an ill-timed caution activated inadvertently by a clumsy flagman, his night was saved when the skies opened up forcing NASCAR to award him the victory that just moments before was in serious doubt.
"Smashing into each other, bouncing off the walls, wrecking each other for the win, that's what I expected," Edwards said referring to the final restart that never came because of the rain.
"I really expected it to be pretty crazy ... I would not have been surprised if it would have been a big mess."
For years "pretty crazy" would have been an apt description for just about any race at Bristol, as the track had a well-deserved reputation as a place where NASCAR best showcased it's product before the masses.
In part because of the typical rowdiness associated with racing on a short track, accompanied with protracted side-by-side battles between frontrunners as they sliced through traffic, Bristol featured it all and became one of the hottest tickets on the circuit.
In recent years, however, Bristol's reputation didn't match its output. An ill-conceived repave in 2007 sapped the track of its ability to afford drivers multiple grooves. Gone was the close racing which had become its hallmark and favored those who were aggressive, instead replaced with a more tepid approach to navigating its high-banks.
Reacting to the outcry that Bristol was no longer, well, Bristol, track officials two years ago attempted to restore the configuration to what it once was. Before Sunday night the results have been decidedly mixed among drivers and fans alike.
But much like what occurred in last month's Daytona 500, the uncertainty of whether it would rain and prevent the race from going its scheduled distance amplified the intensity tenfold. From the drop of the green flag drivers were forceful and showed no hesitation to assert themselves physically. As a consequence, not only were there side-by-side battles throughout but at times the field ran three-wide along Bristol's tight confines creating numerous hold your breath moments.
"If people don't like the racing here tonight I don't know what they want," fourth-place finisher Tony Stewart said. "Unless they just want a wreck fest, I thought the racing was pretty good. Like I said you when run mid-15 second laps on a half-mile track and run three-wide that is pretty impressive."
It was riveting, tense and at times strange — in other words it was the Bristol of old.