Dirt racing and NASCAR aren’t supposed to go along with each other. Multi-million-dollar equipment getting dirty and dust all over those fancy race trucks? Say what?
Well, Eldora Speedway is now the site of what is arguably the Camping World Truck Series’ most popular contest, with its combination of going back to racing’s roots and creating a modern-day experience for race fans who want to be reminded of stock car racing’s beginnings.
With each race at Eldora comes a plethora of new — and even some old — faces. It is one of the few times each season where the drivers’ talent takes over more than the equipment into which they are strapping.
Bobby Pierce, a dirt racing aficionado, is gearing up to take over Eldora once again with Mike Mittler’s MB Motorsports. Each of the past two years, the No. 63 truck has been seen up front, something the team rarely experienced until Pierce came on board.
As the Truck Series head to Eldora, the XFINITY Series will hit the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the sixth time. This year, NASCAR is trying to please the subsection of fans that are still angered by the sanctioning body’s move from the short track just miles away from what was a Cup-only weekend until 2012.
Restrictor plates are coming to the XFINITY Series at a facility that isn’t Daytona International Speedway or Talladega Superspeedway. The move is a highly anticipated one. But whether it works or not remains to be seen. If it doesn’t work, NASCAR will surely have to look at returning to Lucas Oil Raceway in 2018.
Q: Bobby Pierce has run so well at Eldora in the past. Can he win this week? – Andrew S., Louisville
A: There is no doubt that Pierce can get the job done at Eldora come Wednesday evening’s race. While MB Motorsports only has a pair of top-20 finishes this year, that will likely change when the checkered flag falls at Eldora.
Pierce is a wheelman, and his ability to adjust to the heavier, more powerful vehicle in each of the past two years is impressive. Add in the fact that he’s also earned respectable finishes at Martinsville Speedway and Phoenix Raceway, and you have yourself a driver who can certainly succeed given the opportunity.
Pierce led 39 laps in his 2015 Truck Series debut at Eldora, earning Mittler’s team its first top five. That’s something not even Carl Edwards or Jamie McMurray could do for this team.
While the funding generally isn’t present at other races for MB Motorsports, this is the small team’s chance to shine.
Pierce, who led 102 laps in last year’s contest, will have to avoid mistakes during the race. He and Kyle Larson put on an amazing show last year. But Pierce, over-driving his No. 63 machine, wrecked with 32 laps remaining in the 150-lap contest to finish a disappointing 25th.
This year is different, though. Well, at least Pierce hopes it is. Now, he knows what not to do when in a situation to win in this division, which is much different from what he’s used to in a dirt car.
If Pierce can put together a full, clean (if that’s possible at Eldora) race, you will see the Mittler family in Victory Lane for the first time.
Q: What should we expect from the XFINITY Series with a restrictor plate at Indianapolis? – Kasey R., Los Angeles
A: It’s actually the first time since the XFINITY Series first came to Indianapolis that fans can be excited for the race. Let’s face it, this is usually one of the biggest snoozers on the schedule.
It just isn’t an entertaining race for the low-horsepower series given the lack of passing over the past few seasons. Last year’s race — otherwise known as the third Kyle Busch show at IMS — might have been the last straw for NASCAR.
The XFINITY Series tested the restrictor plate package on Oct. 12 last year, and Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR’s vp of innovation and racing development, knew it was time for a change.
“We (develop) the analytical package and come to some conclusions,” Stefanyshyn told NASCAR.com in March. “But then we also need to go on the track and verify this. So this approach has been a two-step approach, analytical creation of the package and then on-track verification.
“We’re giving the driver more momentum from four-five car lengths back, gaining coming into within half a car length. When he gets right into that bubble, he’s still got to cross through it, but he’s carrying momentum and he can break through it.”
The new package will likely see similar speeds on the track. However, the passing is expected to improve dramatically as drivers will be able to move high and low, using the draft to make the action exciting.
With the move, NASCAR wants to eventually put plates on the Cup cars, not only at IMS but possibly also at Michigan International Speedway and Pocono Raceway. NASCAR has previously looked into putting plates on Cup cars at those tracks, yet no progress has been made on that front.
It’s a move that is a sign of desperation from NASCAR, which needs to find something to make Indianapolis, the most historic facility in the country, more intriguing to fans. Attendance continues to decline, going from a packed house just over a decade ago to a plethora of empty seats last year in both races.
If the XFINTY Series meets expectations this weekend, it could revive NASCAR racing at Indianapolis, something that is needed for the sake of tradition. It sounds crazy since NASCAR only came to Indy in the ’90s, but if the IndyCar Series can have a near sold-out crowd in 2017, there is zero reason why NASCAR can’t have half that.