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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Dirty, Vol. 13: 2021 Bristol Dirt Nationals

The A-Main: Yung Money made plenty of noise, but with the big money on the line, Superman Jonathan Davenport answered the call Saturday (March 20). Already the winner of the season’s richest super late model race to date at Arizona in January, Davenport blew past Kyle Larson with 20 laps to go and stomped the field at Bristol Motor Speedway to win the $50,000 super late model finale of the Bristol Dirt Nationals. Davenport set a torrid pace, lapping 16 of the 24 cars in the field.

The front row starters controlled much of the race’s first half, with pole sitter and Friday night super late winner Chris Ferguson leading the opening 20 laps before being caught by Larson. Larson was fast out front; however, a rash of mid-race cautions opened the door for Davenport to catch up, as his No. 49 proved ruthlessly quick getting up to speed. 

Kyle Busch made it in time from Atlanta Motor Speedway to compete in Saturday’s race. He finished off the lead lap.

The B-Mains

There was no shortage of big-money feature winners at Bristol this weekend. Capping the event Saturday night was Austin Dillon, who led flag-to-flag from the pole to win the $7,500 604 crate late model A-main. Chelsea, Iowa’s Dallon Murty won the $5,000 stock car A-main from the pole, while dirt regular Kyle Strickler prevailed in the $7,500 open modified A-main.

Ferguson led flag-to-flag to win the $10,000 super late model A-main at Bristol on Friday. Larson appeared to have the speed to contend with Ferguson but had an erratic race that saw his No. 6 climb the banks way too high on several occasions.

Acworth, Ga.’s Cass Fowler won the $5,000 602 crate late model A-main Friday night at Bristol from the front row. Track position proved key in a race marred by multiple Big Ones and a flip. Bakersfield, Calif.’s Kyle Heckman capitalized on a poor initial race start by Waterloo, Iowa’s JD Auringer, who had won two qualifying feature races earlier in the week, to take home the $7,500 modified A-main. Heckman beat Cory Davis by a car length back to the checkers. Montezuma, Iowa’s Maguire Dejong won the $5,000 sport modified A-main.

Sheldon Haudenschild took advantage of home-state driver Aaron Reutzel’s one mistake on Friday night to steal the lead soon after a lap 25 restart and never look back, winning Friday’s $10,000-to-win World of Outlaws feature at Cotton Bowl Speedway. The series stayed in Paige, Texas on Saturday; this time, defending series champion Brad Sweet ran off to victory after Hanover, Pa.’s Jacob Allen wrecked out of Saturday’s A-main while leading.

On the 360 side of the sprint cars, Quilene, Wash.’s JJ Hickle kicked off the Lucas Oil ASCS national sprint tour with his first career win on Friday at Devil’s Bowl Speedway in Mesquite, Texas. He would sweep the $3,000-to-win Spring Nationals with a win Saturday as well.

Martinsville, Ind.’s Hudson O’Neal unofficially took the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series points lead in dominating fashion at Atomic Speedway in Chillicothe, Ohio Sunday night, weathering a green-white-checkered charge from veteran Tim McCreadie to score his second tour win of 2021. The race was the first for the LOLMDS since Florida Speedweeks, as the tour had to abandon a show at Brownstown, Ind. the night before (more on that later).

The Comp-Cams Super Dirt Series continued their season-opening charge across the South. Trumann, Ark.’s Kyle Beard won the Cow Patty 50 at Old No. 1 Speedway on Friday night, while defending series champion Logan Martin capitalized to win at I-30 Speedway in Little Rock on Saturday after race leader Billy Moyer Sr. was forced to retire due to a failed suspension with only seven laps to go.

Sheffield, Mass.’s Andy Bechetti took full advantage of Stewart Friesen’s absence to win the $5,000 Short Track Super Series Icebreaker at Selinsgrove Speedway Saturday, passing JR Heffner inside of 20 laps to go. Friesen returned to the series Sunday and led the opening 30 laps of the Spring Speed Showcase at Port Royal Speedway, but a slip on the rubbered surface in turns 1 and 2 handed the lead to Ontario’s Mat Williamson, who drove off to the $5,000 win. Home state driver Greg Satterlee absolutely dominated the $4,000 late model feature of the Showcase later that afternoon.

Success Stories

Considering Ferguson’s first race entry of 2021 saw his team fail to even make it on-track for their heat race at Cherokee two weeks ago, to leave Bristol with a feature win and a strong showing in the finale was a welcome breath of fresh air.

Haudenschild’s Friday victory at Cotton Bowl Speedway in WoO competition made him the series’ first repeat winner of 2021, gave team owner Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s team their first multi-victory night (at least to the driver’s knowledge in victory lane), and made a move Saturday that would have likely won him that race had track conditions at Cotton Bowl not turned the corners into black ice. The No. 17 has all the momentum leaving Texas.

Vexxed, Victims and Villains

Carson Macedo flipped his No. 41 in Friday night’s WoO Dash race in spectacular fashion, knocking down the catchfence. Macedo then flipped his backup car early in Friday’s feature. Safe to say that his Jason Johnson Racing team was happy there was no travel between races this weekend.

Allen. As discussed above, wrecking while leading at Cotton Bowl. It doesn’t get worse than that. Though his post-wreck interview was a classic that even got his sponsor reps on-site at the track hooting and hollering.

This episode will get no attention after Daniel Hemric and Noah Gragson got into a scuffle in Atlanta, but Attica Raceway Park had its own feud on its hands early in its season opener. After contact in a heat race ended with Fremont, Ohio’s Stuart Brubaker flipping his winged sprint car, the red flag flew as it does in any sprint car race and the field stopped. Brubaker, having exited his wrecked car, proceeded to walk down the frontstretch to accost fellow driver Chris Andrews, who he blamed for the incident. Brubaker had to be restrained by multiple track officials.

I’ve got no issue with drivers getting heated after having their cars wrecked. But just as I found Hemric’s conduct at Atlanta deplorable in that he went after a driver that was clearly distracted with a camera in his face, I’ve got a real issue with Brubaker trying to go after a driver that is strapped into a racecar that has no starter. Translation: going after a man restrained in a vehicle that he can’t drive away. I’ve made this point since my days in NASCAR; if you’re going to fight a competitor, square up with said competitor and fight. If you’re not angry enough to face an opponent and give them a fair shot, it’s not that big a deal.

The worst wreck of the weekend ended with late model racer Jason Eddy being helicoptered away from the Brownstown Speedway after he endured a nasty crash that marked the third flip of Saturday’s racing program.

The track conditions were so bad that LOLMDS officials opted to abandon the program. The series currently plans to resume the competition at Brownstown the first week in May.

Frontstretch Regulars

Former ARCA Series regular Steve Arpin led early in Wednesday’s second open modified heat at Bristol but eventually finished second behind dirt regular Strickler. Arpin was battling for the lead in the second open modified feature when he clipped a bump on lap 7 and slammed into the wall, finishing 21st with heavy damage. Arpin rebounded impressively, however, running all over the high banks and going from 17th to second in Friday’s final B-main for the open mods to qualify for the A-main. 

2015 Xfinity Series champion Chris Buescher got caught up in the mess created by Marty Carrier’s spectacular wreck early in the second 604 crate late model heat at Bristol Tuesday. Buescher still managed to qualify for Wednesday’s second 604 feature, but finished 26th of 27 cars. On Saturday, Buescher incurred damage in a first-lap pileup during the fourth 604 late model B-main, but managed to climb to fourth and transfer to the A-main. 

Two-time Cup Series champion Kyle Busch was forced into a super late model B-main on Friday at Bristol, a race that he won to advance to Friday’s feature. Busch finished 13th in that event. Busch was forced to start in the back of the first super late B-main on Saturday after he missed his heat race due to victory lane obligations in Atlanta, but he climbed all the way to second to transfer to the main event.

Former Xfinity Series regular Cale Conley spun while in a transfer spot in his 410 sprint car heat at Attica Raceway Park on Saturday. Conley would still make the A-main, where he finished 12th in a 24-car field.

Former Truck Series regular Joey Coulter finished seventh in the second super late model B-main at Bristol on Friday, missing the A-main. Coulter battled hard to finish third in the second super late B-main to transfer to the A-main; he finished 10th.

Two-time Truck Series champion Matt Crafton finished a credible fifth in Wednesday’s second open modified heat at Bristol. Crafton proved formidable in the second open modified feature, charging from 11th to second. He finished second the open modified A-main Saturday, his strongest performance on dirt in 2021.

Cup Series regular Cole Custer found himself involved in a four-car wreck in the first turn on the first lap of the first 604 crate late model heat Tuesday at Bristol. Relegated to a B-main, Custer went from 22nd to sixth in the third B-main on Saturday but failed to transfer to the main event.

2018 Daytona 500 champion Dillon won the ninth and final 604 heat on Tuesday with a last-lap pass, and proceeded to dominate the evening’s 604 feature race, leading flag-to-flag. Dillon eventually won the 604 A-main on Saturday.

Former Truck Series regular Tyler Dippel won his big-block modified heat race at Selinsgrove on Saturday and finished eighth in the feature. He won another heat at Port Royal Speedway on Sunday and finished sixth in the feature.

Defending Cup Series champion Chase Elliott started and finished third in the second super late model heat Friday at Bristol. Elliott endured a hard crash in Friday night’s feature; the damage was enough that the team opted out of competing on Saturday.

Truck Series regular Friesen won his big-block modified heat race at Port Royal Speedway on Sunday. Friesen led the opening 30 laps of Sunday’s feature but a slip on the rubbered surface with 10 to go cost Friesen a likely win. He finished third.

Truck Series regular Austin Hill successfully navigated attrition to go from 12th to third in 604 heat six on Tuesday at Bristol, then finished third in the first 604 feature Wednesday morning.

Cup Series regular Corey LaJoie was visibly out of shape in the opening laps of 604 heat number five Tuesday at Bristol, but improved from 10th to eighth. LaJoie won Saturday’s fourth B-main and transferred to the A-main for the 604 class; he finished 21st.

Cup Series regular Larson won the third super late model heat at Bristol on Friday. In Friday night’s feature, Larson had the speed to contend with eventual race winner Ferguson, but an erratic night on the high banks kept him second. Saturday saw Larson best an early charge from late model veteran Scott Bloomquist to win the third super late model heat; he finished second in the A-main.

2018 Cup Series champion Joey Logano battled through a peeling hood to improve from 11th to sixth in Wednesday’s second open modified heat at Bristol despite a few erratic laps. 

Former Cup Series regular David Reutimann got collected by a spinning car entering turn 1 on the first lap of Tuesday’s first open modified heat at Bristol. Still able to qualify for one of the three open modified features, Reutimann won the hard charger award in the first feature, going from 25th to third. In Saturday’s A-main, Reutimann again was the victim of a first-lap crash, finishing 21st.

Two-time Xfinity Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the USCS “Clash at the Gulf” A-main sprint car feature at Deep South Speedway in Loxley, Ala. on Friday night.

Stenhouse finished fourth in Saturday’s feature.

Fanning the Flames

There was some bad news that emerged late Friday night from the World of Outlaws’ residency at Cotton Bowl Speedway, as the father of series regular Sam Hafertepe Jr. suffered a medical emergency at the track.

UPDATE on Sam. 03/21/2021 He will be having tests today and doctors will then determine the damage of heart and what…

Posted by LoneStar Speedway on Saturday, March 20, 2021

The good news is as of Sunday afternoon, the same folks that posted notice of the emergency updated on Sunday that the elder Hafertepe is expected to be released from the hospital on Monday. All of us at Frontstretch wish the Hafertepe family a safe return home and a successful recovery.

A different kind of bad news came from the desert this week, with the sudden announcement that the Arizona Speedway will be closed by the end of April. According to local reporting, there is some disagreement as to the source of the track’s closure, but the threat that has been looming over the future of the venue was known and reported on during the Wild West Shootout back in January. Whatever the reason, it’s a damn shame, as the racing surface at the Arizona Speedway is among the best in the country. Fans have started a petition to save the Speedway, which can be found here (full disclosure, this author signed it). 

One of the best features of my new beat here at Frontstretch is instead of sitting through the mess that constitutes network TV coverage, I now get to rely on motorsports-specific streaming services to watch racing. Having said that, this weekend wasn’t a great one for such an arrangement. Between DirtVision’s broadcast of Attica Raceway Park’s season opener starting with 90 minutes of hot laps and track farming, the RaceXR broadcast of the Bristol Dirt Nationals on Saturday starting 73 minutes before a competitive lap was turned and the World of Outlaws show on Saturday night resorting to showing the pit emcees playing corn hole with each other 90 minutes into the program, dirt racing felt like it was back on NBC or FOX, with more pre-race than actual on-track action. That’s not the streaming services’ fault, but it certainly isn’t going to help them sell themselves either. Streaming is the new reality for dirt track racing. Track staff and promoters need to recognize that and get punctual with start times.

The Comp-Cams late model race at Old No. 1 Speedway was dubbed the “Cow Patty,” which was easily the most appropriate race name of the weekend. Back when I visited the track in 2016, there were cows grazing within the perimeter of the track’s “pit area.” True story.

After watching this replay and interview, the driver in America most likely to be having a beer with Mike Joy is definitely Sammy Swindell.

If car counts nationwide go down for the next few weeks, thank Bristol Motor Speedway. There is no getting around it, the high banks destroyed literally dozens of racecars over the course of the Nationals. There’s no denying the enthusiasm the dirt racing community showed for this event, but I can’t help but wonder if Bristol Dirt continues that it won’t become more like the Bud Shootout/Busch Clash/whatever it’s called this week: An event that may be prestigious but also one that race teams bring a junk car to contest it with.

Yes, it was impressive to see Macedo’s crew manage to get the No. 41 backup car back on track despite flipping during Friday night’s feature at Cotton Bowl. Having said that, the only reason the crew was able to accomplish that feat was because they essentially got double their courtesy time in the work area; nearing the end of their two-minute window, Jacob Allen then pulled off the track under yellow with a flat tire. Per the DirtVision broadcast, that circumstance meant that the work area opened back up, and Macedo’s team got an additional two minutes to work.

That is an asinine rule. Granted, team racing is nowhere near as prevalent in the World of Outlaws as it is in NASCAR-land, but this reading of the rule is more open than Medicare in Florida for abuse. Two courtesy minutes should be two courtesy minutes per team. Period. 

Numbers Game

4 – number of couples reported by RaceXR to have been engaged at the Bristol Dirt Nationals. 

6 – figures of winnings earned by Jonathan Davenport in dirt competition in 2021, making him the first driver to cross that threshold.

823 – largest car count of the weekend, seen at the Bristol Dirt Nationals.

$50,000 – largest posted purse of the weekend, to win Saturday night’s super late model feature at Bristol.

Where it Rated (on a scale of one to six cans with one a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’ll give the weekend three Budweisers in line with our time spent at Bristol. The Bristol nationals had their moments but proved a bloated show that, while visually impressive, was far from a classic on track. A mediocre doubleheader from the World of Outlaws and a messy return for the LOLMDS made for a mediocre showing from the dirt track world.

Up Next: The late models will again own the scene this coming weekend. Thursday night marks the debut of Flo Racing’s mid-week super late model series, with the A-main at 411 Motor Speedway in Seymour, Tenn. paying $20,000 to win. Saturday night will see the World of Outlaws Late Models tackle the Cherokee Speedway for a whopping $40,000-to-win main event. For those in the midwest, the MARS late model tour will kick off with a $12,000-to-win event at La Salle Speedway.

Sprint car fans will see the World of Outlaws stay in the midwest, with a pair of $10,000-to-win events at US-36 Raceway and Lake Ozark Speedway in Missouri. 

Lastly, for those in the modified ranks, the USMTS tour will hit Humboldt Speedway in Kansas for a $10,000-to-win event Saturday. Sunday will see the Bridgeport Speedway’s Kingdom of Speed event in New Jersey pay $10,000 to the winner.

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