Any questions about whether NASCAR’s “Bristol Dirt” experience would live to see another year were answered well before the checkered flag fell on Monday’s (March 29) Cup Series main event.
During the final stage break, Bristol Motor Speedway flashed a message on the video screens that hang above the infield:
“Dirt returns in 2022. Lock-in your tickets today!”
NASCAR’s intent was was further cemented as the literal dust settled on the half-mile track.
“We never go into something thinking this would be a one-off,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s Chief Racing Development Officer. “We fully intend to be back in ’22 and beyond and … put on some great races.”
You read that right. “Beyond.”
After a 51-year absence (plus a one-day delay due to severe rain and flooding), and aside from a dusty track in the final 100 laps, the return of NASCAR to the dirt shows that the surface is going to stick around.
“It is funny,” said Joey Logano, the first driver to win a Cup race on dirt since Richard Petty. “I like how they waited to see that it was going well before they announced they were doing it again. ‘All right, this race is going well. We’ll do it again.’ Smart play by [Speedway Motorsports].”
What does Logano, whose dirt experience consists of less than five races all run in 2021, think about the possibilities of year 2, let alone “beyond”?
“I’m excited about it for a lot of reasons. Obviously, this is a great event. …
“I remember my first experience coming to Bristol. I guarantee you the thousands of cars that have been here over the last few weeks (for the Dirt Nationals) and are coming, their first time walking into Bristol and driving around this racetrack is a very special moment. …
“I’m excited that we’re going to do it again next year because, unfortunately, this year you look at the situation with COVID. Boy, when they announced this race, I thought it was going to be a sellout. I do think it will be a sellout once we’re able to have full capacity back at these racetracks. This is a crazy show. Being able to look at Bristol with dirt on it, everyone wants to see that in person.
“This is a big risk, really big risk, that I know not many teams were behind. It worked out well, so congratulations.”
In many ways, Bristol Dirt felt like the Bristol of old, just slower and dirtier. We even got a fresh “angry driver” clip to add to the Bristol highlight reel thanks to John Hunter Nemechek giving a round of applause to Matt Crafton in the truck race.
Any complaints about cautions in the 253-lap race and the 150-lap Truck event the preceded it don’t make a lot of sense.
That’s Bristol. Cautions breed cautions, regardless of racing surface.
To hear Logano and Denny Hamlin (who finished third) describe it, they both sounded like they had just competed in a Bristol race from 20 years ago.
“I thought the racing was good,” Hamlin said. “It really was. It was almost like the old Bristol. If you got out of the lane, you got shuffled. That part of it was really encouraging. For fans’ sake, for visibility of the drivers’ sake, I think a lot of the wrecks happened because of the dust and we couldn’t see anything.”
Said Logano: “Eventually the bottom was the place to be. Passing cars was hard. It was really hard to do because cars would wrap the bottom so far around a corner to try to get that straight launch off the corner to try to get forward drive. ..
“You know what it really shows us? That you don’t have to be going 200 mph to put on a great race. I wouldn’t say we were going that fast today, and it was a lot of fun, the drivers were having a blast.”
We’re going to do it again in a year, albeit with the Next Gen car. What will the second Bristol dirt weekend look like?
Despite having a graphic ready to go, O’Donnell said it’s “too early to tell” for NASCAR.
“Certainly a number of things we learned throughout the weekend that will apply to 2022’s event weekend,” O’Donnell said. “Some of those things, how much you race in a single day, are there other racing series that can be part of this in terms of late models as well.”
But like the first attempt, it’s happening, whether you like it or not.
It turns out the decision to do Bristol Dirt again was made over the weekend.
Marcus Smith, CEO of Speedway Motorsports, discussed the move on this week’s episode of the Dale Jr. Download.
“Going into this, I didn’t know if we would do it again,” Smith said. “We talked about it on Saturday and Sunday when it was raining. … I was thinking, ‘if this works, we’re going to do it again. If it doesn’t work, now we know.’ … I was 99% sure and had everything ready to go on Sunday. And once we got the first 20 or 30 laps in, you knew it could be raced by the Cup cars. Then, ready to go. …. We talked with (NASCAR) and they were very supportive.”
Smith said 36,000 tickets were sold for Monday’s race and that 5,000 tickets had been renewed in the previous 24 hours.
This Week in Weird
– The first seven Cup races of 2021 have been won by seven different drivers, the first time that’s been done since 2014. The seventh winner that year in a Texas race delayed to Monday due to rain? Joey Logano.
– Given Sunday was the first Bristol dirt race, all seven winners have earned their first respective win on that track/track surface.
– Denny Hamlin continues to lead the Cup points through seven races despite not winning a race.
– It took 16 years and a grand total of three starts, but Martin Truex Jr. is finally a winner in the Truck Series. In his first start since 2006 and his first official start on dirt, Truex spanked the field Sunday afternoon. He’s now won a race in all three national series.
“Who would have thought that I would get my first Truck Series victory on dirt?” Truex said. “We weren’t supposed to come here and win. That’s really the icing on the cake.”
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