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NASCAR Mailbox: Is Bristol Do or Die for NASCAR’s Future on Dirt?

With last year’s race being a bit all over the place and discussion of no windshields vs. windshields happening this year, is this a make-or-break race for the future of dirt events in NASCAR? – Brent C., Cornelius, N.C.

NASCAR is committed to being progressive and different when it comes to scheduling, perhaps one of if not its greatest move in what has been a large shift ideology-wise since Steve Phelps took over as president of the sport. Racing on dirt is a big, big change, and it helps diversify the NASCAR Cup Series schedule.

That being said, covering one of — if not the — best tracks on the schedule with dirt and sacrificing a concrete Bristol Motor Speedway date for a dirt race is something with which I’ve never been on board.

If you’re going to have a dirt race, make it a dirt race. Go to a purpose built dirt track (like Knoxville Raceway, where the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series runs, or Eldora Speedway, where it ran for years), find a way to take out the windshields and let ‘er rip.

Regardless of how this race goes, NASCAR won’t give up on dirt.

And that’s a good thing.

Despite Kyle Busch and Richard Petty thinking dirt “takes (the) sport backward,” diversifying the schedule and continuing to chase different venues (specific road courses, new superspeedways and short tracks, dirt tracks, etc.) makes NASCAR different and the leader in North American motorsports.

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While I see their perspective, growing the fanbase and making it younger has been and continues to be of paramount importance to NASCAR. Dirt racing helps that effort. But it’s a slippery slope, because you don’t want to alienate your longtime fans that have felt pushed aside the last couple decades.

Phelps and NASCAR have admitted as much and are tasked with an almost impossible task: restore the relationship with the fans you regrettably pushed away and appeal to new ones by doing things that will likely push the former group away again.

This weekend will be important to the future of NASCAR and the Cup Series’ future on dirt, but it won’t make or break it. It’s year two in an experiment of putting dirt on a short track and lining them up to race (and year one was hampered by Mother Nature). Give it another shot, and if it still doesn’t go according to plan, go back to the drawing board and try something else.

But to give up on it entirely would be a loss for all. Dirt racing belongs on the Cup schedule. It just has to be done right.

The only driver over 30 years old to win this year is Denny Hamlin. Has the younger guard officially replaced the older? – Roy G., Spokane, Wash.

I won’t be the last person to write off the likes of Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and others. Even Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, who are in their mid to late 30s, are veterans of the sport. But I won’t be the first, either.

Removing Denny Hamlin, the average age of Cup winners this year heading into Bristol is only 27 years old. Drivers coming into Cup are younger and younger, because they’re being fitted for driving suits and being put behind the wheel younger and younger. Gone are the days of 30-year-old Cup rookies and it is the time of wide-eyed teenagers learning on the biggest stage.

Even so, that fundamental change of driver development doesn’t mean that the older guys are a thing of the past. You’d be crazy to believe Harvick won’t win a race again or that Truex isn’t going to visit victory lane this year. Kurt Busch has shown even with a new team, he’s still got that it factor and Hamlin delivered at Richmond.

Just because they aren’t winning with as much regularity as they once were doesn’t mean they’re washed up. But the younger drivers’ success can’t be ignored, either.

William Byron, at 24 years old, isn’t old enough to rent a car without those crazy fees but is the hottest driver in the top form of stock car racing at the moment. His teammate Alex Bowman won four times last year and has “backed into,” as a rival once put it, a win already this year and almost did so again at Circuit of the Americas, if it weren’t for 29-year-old journeyman Ross Chastain. Did I mention 27-year-old Chase Briscoe, who’s had quite the journey to Cup himself? Or Austin Cindric, a 23-year-old NASCAR Xfinity Series champion and Daytona 500 winner for Team Penske?

See also
Friday Faceoff: Has William Byron Elevated Himself to Championship Contender?

It’s no secret that the future isn’t coming — it’s arrived. Cindric, Tyler Reddick, Chase Elliott, Byron, Ryan Blaney and many other drivers in Xfinity and Trucks who will be in the Cup Series sooner rather than later are all mega talented. And the pipeline isn’t going to slow down. If anything, it’ll get more crowded by the day.

However, experience isn’t something tangible that you can get. It’s learned, it’s done, it’s just seat time. And those savvy veterans are exactly that, savvy, because of that experience.

The Next Gen car takes some of that advantage away, sure, but veterans are just as able to adapt as younger drivers.

About the author

Davey is in his fifth season with Frontstretch and currently serves as a multimedia editor and reporter. He authors the "NASCAR Mailbox" column, spearheads the site's video content and hosts the Frontstretch Podcast weekly. He's covered the K&N Pro Series and ARCA extensively for NASCAR.com and currently serves as an associate producer for SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and production assistant for NBC Sports Washington. Follow him on Twitter @DaveyCenter.

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John

Another question is how profitable is it for SMI? While the TV money doesn’t care what surface they race on and crowds haven’t been worth a damn in the spring race since the first race of the CoT, SMI has built and entire month around this event. Is their incremental profit worth the incredible pain in the butt that it takes to put on the event? And Mr. Larson is very correct in saying that running a 250 lap race on dirt…that turns to dusty asphalt in 30 laps is not good racing and damages the integrity of dirt track racing. Either put shaker screens on the front, remove the windshield and allow the tracks to be properly prepped or don’t run the race. Yes this will be the final dirt race for Cup.

DoninAjax

The Syracuse Mile turned got really hard too. Jerry Cook took his pavement car and finished second in their October race.

DoninAjax

This should be the last Bristol dirt event but it won’t be because the NA$CAR suits never admit they made a mistake. It’s not an experiment any more. It never should have been done in the first place.

TiminPayson

You are correct sir. Not an experiment, a failure!

Christopher

I’m watching Cup practice as I type this and it is only confirming what I felt: that this is an absolutely stupid, ridiculous waste of time, money and machinery. What an effing joke.

DoninAjax

You forgot wasted oxygen for the engines and DW! I recorded it and watched it and the dirt is going to be a disaster. 16 minutes of commercials though which is all they’re allowed in an hour show.

TiminPayson

USFL vs Bristol dirt?

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