Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2022 Food City Dirt Race at Bristol

What happened in the Food City Dirt Race?

Kyle Busch led one lap the entire night as he snuck past a spinning Tyler Reddick and Chase Briscoe on the final straightaway to take his first NASCAR Cup Series win of 2022 in the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt race on Sunday night (April 17). Reddick limped right behind Kyle Busch to finish second while Joey Logano, Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney finished behind them to wrap up the top five.

With this win, Kyle Busch has now tied Richard Petty for most consecutive Cup seasons with a race victory at 18.

How did it happen?

After the final rain delay, Briscoe had worked his way through the field for the second time all night to rejoin the lead pack of cars where fellow dirt racer Reddick was leading.

Reddick got to the front after the first rain delay, splitting the leaders of Kyle Busch and Logano to muscle into the lead with 100 laps to go.

From then on, Reddick took on all challengers for the lead.

And by challengers, I mean Kyle Busch.

Restart after restart, rain delay after rain delay, Reddick had to hold off the Candy Man who continuously ran the bottom groove while the No. 8 ran his tried-and-true rim riding lane. It was working, too. For five whole restarts, Reddick outran the two-time Cup champion and started to pull away. It was reminiscent of the previous night’s Camping World Truck Series race, as it seemed we were on the verge of seeing another first-time NASCAR winner in the closing laps of an event.

Also reminiscent of the Truck Series race, that first win wasn’t meant to be.

On the last restart on lap 226, Briscoe had made his way through the field and into the top three. The stage two winner finally made his way around Kyle Busch for second and had his fellow dirt racer compatriot in his sights for the lead.

As they made their way off onto the backstretch for the final time, the Stewart-Haas Racing Ford of Briscoe was within range. The driver of the No. 14 did what any dirt racer would have done on the final lap in the final corner to go for the win.

He sent it.

Briscoe, after running through the less-gripped bottom groove, spun in the corner, collected Reddick’s quarter panel and both of the cars went around.

With enough distance between the leaders and third-place Kyle Busch, Reddick mashed the gas as hard as he could to try to limp his way across the line first.

Alas, Kyle Busch beat the RCR driver by mere fractions of a second to the line.

Who stood out?

It was a heartbreaking night for both, sure, but there’s little to no doubt that the former NASCAR Xfinity Series champions of Reddick and Briscoe stole the dirty show on Sunday night.

There were only five leaders that paced the field throughout the 250 laps of the Bristol dirt race. Two of them were dirt track aces of Reddick and Briscoe, who both led a combined 158 laps throughout the evening.

Briscoe, who won stage two, had been sent to the rear of the field on multiple occasions after pit strategies and even spun in stage one while leading early.

Despite the adversity, Briscoe kept rallying over and over again to return to the lead where he eventually challenged for the win.

For Reddick, his night started much quieter, albeit it didn’t stay that way.

However, it wasn’t only their performance on the track that demanded attention. Their off-track reactions were something to watch too.

Despite their heartbreaking last lap scuffle which would bring most short track drivers to fisticuffs with one another, Reddick and Briscoe simply smiled and shook hands after the incident.

It wasn’t something most short track racing fans were expecting – or maybe wanted – to see after the two had been involved in that last lap incident that cost them both a win, especially after what happened last week between Ty Gibbs and Sam Mayer at Martinsville Raceway.

But seeing two drivers laugh it off as they did can be refreshing to see every once in a while.

Maybe it’s not something too unexpected either. After all, it was Easter Sunday.

Who fell flat?

Reddick wasn’t the only RCR driver that had a heartbreaking evening on the Bristol dirt.

At one point, Austin Dillon was running second behind his teammate and even finished fourth in stage one. After coming off of an impressive run at Martinsville Raceway one week ago, Dillon seemed to be riding the momentum into what was gearing up to be a solid finish on Easter Sunday.

But he could only ride it so far.

On lap 213, Dillon’s engine finally gave out as many other drivers had dealt with all night long. What made matters worse, was it let go in front of the entirety of the rest of the field.

As 30-plus cars all swerved left and right to maneuver past the limping No. 3 Chevrolet, Kurt Busch found himself in the middle with nowhere to go. He made a sharp turn upward and collected himself by clipping the No. 10 of Aric Almirola.

Both Dillon and Kurt Busch retired from the event afterward, finishing 31st and 32nd, respectively.

What did this race prove?

NASCAR has clearly made some correct changes to improve the dirt racing product of its top-tier series.

But it still isn’t perfect.

Racing at night proved to be a factor when it comes to improving the quality of NASCAR’s lone annual dirt Cup race. Not to mention, after the rain delay, the track conditions proved to be excellent for side-by-side racing throughout the field. It proved to be nail-biting at times.

But unlike last year, it was nail-biting for all the right reasons – mostly.

Don’t get me wrong, however, there are still some clogs in NASCAR’s dirt racing project. For one, the opening laps of the race proved to be catastrophic for a large amount of the field.

Due to a poorly prepared track racing surface, many drivers found themselves overheating because of the fresh wet dirt that had not been run in yet. Both the SHR cars of Kevin Harvick and polesitter Cole Custer found themselves on pit road early to fix the overheating engine issues as the clay dirt masked their air intake grilles.

Despite NASCAR throwing a caution to give the teams an opportunity to clear their front bumpers on lap 15, neither SHR driver was able to recover all night.

Custer, who had high hopes entering the night after scoring winning his first career Cup Series pole, was understandably upset.

He finished 13th.

Harvick didn’t finish the race at all. After the issue, the No. 4 team was mired in the back of the field where he was vulnerable to a crash. Eventually, in a crash on lap 99, it caught up with him.

The veteran driver was also less than pleased.

Then there’s the issue of the rain delay confusion.

At the conclusion of stage two, the drivers were pacing around the racetrack deciding whether or not to pit. The pit stops were not live as they usually are in NASCAR. Since it was a dirt race, the only way to gain positions on these pit stops was to stay on the racetrack entirely. Briscoe and most of the leaders came in, and Kyle Busch and Logano had stayed out.

Then the rain came, and for a few moments there, it seemed as though the race may very well be called. So, naturally, everyone clamored to Kyle Busch, because he was the leader since he had stayed out, right?

Wrong.

You see, at this particular race, NASCAR doesn’t score the stage break pace laps, so technically, even though he had pitted, Briscoe was scored as the race leader. That means if the race had been called right then and there during the first rain delay, Briscoe would be declared the winner.

It was a rule that brought plenty of confusion among drivers, crew chiefs, fans, commentators and spotters alike.

Thankfully for everyone’s growing headaches the race did eventually resume, saving the frustration of many. Nobody wants to see a driver win on a technicality – and a confusing one at that.

Regardless, the second Bristol dirt race proved to be an improvement it seems, and it shows that NASCAR is really trying to make dirt racing work.

Paint scheme of the race

Whoever is in charge of the Tide marketing team needs a raise.

We’ve seen the Tide ride make many starts in NASCAR with numerous race car drivers throughout the sport’s history. Throughout that history, alongside them has always been a Petty-fielded No. 43 team somewhere in the field. When the NASCAR Cup Series returned to dirt in 2021, the two partnered up.

In 2022, Tide returned with Erik Jones to continue the dirt race/soap brand marketing ploy, and it looked just as good as it did last year.

This time, fellow soap brand Gain even came on board with the second Petty GMS car driven by Ty Dillon.

Better than last time?

No matter how you see Sunday night’s race, it was an obvious improvement over the 2021 edition even with its long rain delay.

Because, for one, you could actually see it.

In 2021, the dirt race at Bristol proved to be a historic moment in the sport’s long existence. The Cup stars of today racing their modern-day stock cars on a dirt surface meant a return to the sport’s roots. It had been over 50 years since the last Cup Series race on dirt.

However, it was clear that when NASCAR dusted off the dirt racing manual before last season, it hadn’t read the chapter about what happens when racing dirt during the day.

It gets dusty. Very dusty.

So, in 2022, NASCAR decided to run the series’ annual dirt event on Sunday night instead. With no sun and cooler temperatures in the Last Great Colosseum, the dirt racing surface stayed wet as the cars abused it over and over again lap after lap. With the Tennessee clay staying compact and clayed, less dust was produced, and the visibility was much clearer and safer.

With no single-file restarts necessary, drivers were able to restart on both the outside and inside lanes, and unlike last year, they were actually able to stay there.

Dare I say it? It looked like an actual dirt race.

What’s next?

Sweet Home, Alabama.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Talladega Superspeedway for the series’ second (third?) superspeedway race of the season. Cup qualifying begins on Saturday, April 23 at 11 a.m. ET while the Geico 500 will be televised live on FOX on Sunday, April 24 at 3 p.m. ET.

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021 after writing for IMSA. A race fan since he was three years old, he began freelance writing in 2018 and graduated with a B.S. in Communications from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

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Iceman202290

Better than last year? By far.

Do I think that is because of NASCAR, no. Honestly, I think mother nature and the rain saved this one. The start of the race was terrible as NASCAR showed the world in prime time that they cant prep a dirt track still.

However, after that first rain. I thought the racing got much better and looked more like a dirt race. Briscoe is the only one that comes to mind that really made the bottom work. More than I can say about the asphalt version of Bristol.

Me personally, I dont care if they pulled the plug, ran one of these at a real dirt race, or kept the dirt event. Honestly, the only thing I would love seen done is them removing the progressive banking from the asphalt itself.

Kevin in SoCal

Remove the progressive banking? Because one bottom groove where everyone follows the leader and has to bump/wreck someone to pass them is better?
Nah, I disagree. More lanes for racing and passing is better.

Jeremy

I think the majority of NA$CAR fans (or at least Bristol fans) disagree, and have shown so. Remember prior to the “repave” and change to progressive banking? Bristol was packing over 160,000 in there, sold out shows for years — had a years long waiting list to get tickets, even had people WILL their season tickets to heirs to keep the best seats in the family. All that went away immediately after the repave. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

I think we could actually draw a parallel here between the old Bristol and Daytona/Talladega. People love those 3 tracks, so what do they have in common? Wrecks and Drama.

Remember when NA$CAR got close to breaking up the “pack” racing (tandem drafts with COT), and everyone dramatically threw themselves on the ground kicking and screaming until NA$CAR brought back the pack racing (and bigger than life, catastrophic crashes that devoured half the field in a single incident)? I do.

It’s the same with Bristol. People liked the beating, banging, spins, crashes, and angry driver interviews vowing revenge! But for some reason , unlike Daytona/Talladega, NA$CAR has not relented on Bristol and given the fans back the racing they want.

Daytona, Talladega, and the old Bristol ticket sales and TV ratings suggest it’s mayhem and destruction that put the butts in seats. While an interesting idea, I don’t think putting dirt over Bristol is providing the boisterous melee needed to get fans back.

Kevin in SoCal

I hear what you’re saying, and I think it stinks that people prefer wrecks over racing. I prefer side-by-side, two-groove racing, where you’re not at a disadvantage if you get the outside lane.

Iceman202290

It’s what made the track unique.

Bill B

It’s time for NASCAR to make a decision. If they want a dirt race then run it at a dirt track. Give us our Bristol race back! Personally I can take it or leave it. The whole dirt race thing seems like it’s just a stunt to pull in a few more rubes than any method to the madness. And if we they are going to make a dirt race a regular thing, then shouldn’t there be more than one?

CeeGee

SMI (owners of Bristol, Texas, Vegas etc) took Bristol away. They made the decision to put dirt down on their contracted date due to years of declining interest in the Spring date verses the Fall night race. Another track was never an option. No track is going to give away a contracted date, and the millions of revenue that comes from that date, to a track that they don’t own. Stunt? Gimmick? Whatever derogatory term you want to use, was also used by some fans when Talladega was built. Also when the first race was put under the lights at night. It was even used back in the day, when NASCAR got off dirt to race on a track with asphalt. There are other examples, but the point is that all were done with the intent of making money. Sports are businesses, it’s nothing new. Being a singular event, like Atlanta as the only 1.5 mile super speedway/plate track, is what makes it unique. NASCAR has raced at about 233 different tracks through the years, but fell into a rut where a big change was defined as just moving the date of a given race. Thankfully those days appear to be over.

Brian

Those two kids learned a lot from the folks about being gracious and knowing about responsibility and accountability.
Reddick asked in the interview took his responsibility for not getting further ahead as Briscoe kept over driving corners and falling back. Briscoe the came forward right on TV and no B.S. no anger, and plenty of humility and such where he basically came over to Reddick hand out and sincerely apologized and even was hoping as he knew he was spinning that Reddick would not get hit.
Too bad the race ended so late that many kids would be in bed already as that is the kind of behavior on both parts too be proud of.
Ty Gibbs take notes this is how you should behave after an incident.

Thank you to Fox for showing this exchange live and appearing unscripted.

Race got a little tough to watch at points but Fox still needs to show the cars finishing the race and not contestantly cutting to reactions from crews, parents, owners etc. Do those later. Really was bothersome last week as there were battles for position finishing at Martinsville and we did not get to see them. Instead got a shot of Byron’s parents celebrating which Fox then replayed about 5-10 minutes later.

DoninAjax

Oswego Speedway (it’s in New York) turns into a dirt track for the Big Block Modifieds in October that were at Syracuse. Check out the track!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9BUeo9mYaM

DoninAjax

Now check out the action at a real dirt track!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQnXS9Jdq_0

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