Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Did NASCAR Make the Right Decision Continuing the Bristol Dirt Race?

One thing is for certain: the NASCAR Bristol Dirt weekend has had people talking ever since its exciting finish. Whether fans liked it or not, it’s certainly something interesting and different.

On Tuesday, CEO of Speedway Motorsports Incorporated Marcus Smith announced that the Bristol dirt race will return in 2023, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s thrilled about it. Joy Tomlinson and Clayton Caldwell debate whether or not NASCAR and SMI are making the right decision in bringing the event back in 2023.

Keep the dirt off Bristol

The Cup series shouldn’t race on the dirt at Bristol next year. I don’t know about you, but most of the time I was bored watching the race. The only interesting parts were the restarts and the final laps, when Chase Briscoe chased down Tyler Reddick and got into him going for the win.

While I feel that the product was an improvement from last year’s postponed event run during the day, a lot of this could be attributed to the rain making the track muddier. The drivers’ vision seemed to be better this time around since there wasn’t as much dirt flying in their faces. Plus, the cars had mud flaps and other accessories to help with visibility, and the track changed to a more progressive banking, which helped drivers like Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell drive well.

But it still wasn’t a fun race to me.

Take Kevin Harvick, for example. After a crash knocked him out early, he told reporters, “We did a terrible job prepping the track and full of mud and there was nobody here to pack the track, so we all look like a bunch of bozos coming in to pit because we don’t know how to prep the track. And then we don’t get the lucky dog for whatever reason with two cars on pit road, and then we got run over. I don’t know who ran us over at the end.”

He’s referring to when the race began and cars started collecting mud on their grilles, including Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Cole Custer. Yes, NASCAR threw the caution and paused the race so the cars could get cleaned off, but it remained an issue throughout the race.

Look at Denny Hamlin, Ross Chastain and Austin Dillon. All three cars had too much dirt filter into their engines, forcing them to retire early. Of course, some dirt slinging and mud is expected at this track type, but when multiple cars have problems all night long, then something is wrong.

It doesn’t help that the cars are heavy, as race winner Kyle Busch noted, weighing about 3500 pounds.

Also, the cars were extremely slow. The average speed for Sunday night’s race was 34.973 mph, whereas last year’s event was 46.313 mph. Even the Camping World Truck Series race was faster, averaging 45.957 mph on Saturday. Heck, the inaugural Truck race at Knoxville was quicker as well, with an average speed of 36.802 mph.

And the Cup event felt too long for a dirt race. I’m all for the Cup Series to have longer races at most tracks, as it’s the top tier division and should be treated as such. But dirt is a different animal than any other track type. I get that rain interrupted the race several times, so I’m not counting those periods in my evaluation. The race was 250 laps, which felt like an eternity to me. That many circuits around a 0.533-mile dirt oval is too much for these stock cars.

In contrast, many World of Outlaws Late Model feature events are usually 40, 50 or 100 laps. I think 150-200 for Cup would be about right.

And don’t get me started on the confusion after stage two ended. Fans and drivers alike weren’t exactly sure why Busch wasn’t scored as the leader during the red flag. It’s because the field was frozen after the top 10 crossed the line, so even though Briscoe pitted, he was still the leader during the pause until the race went back to green. Let’s alleviate future confusion and avoid racing at Bristol dirt altogether by clarifying that as soon as the stoppage begins.

But if dirt is indeed in Cup’s near future with this Next Gen car (as Steve O’Donnell alluded to Tuesday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR), then have it run at an actual dirt racetrack like Eldora Speedway or Knoxville Raceway. – Joy Tomlinson

People are watching and there’s a reason for that

For 20 years, NASCAR’s biggest problem was its schedule. It was filled with aerodynamic-dependent, 1.5-mile racetracks that began to feel redundant. A change was desperately needed to give the schedule some life again. So NASCAR decided to spruce some things up recently and included in that was the idea to add a dirt race to the schedule. In 2021, the Bristol dirt race was the first Cup Series race on dirt in over 50 years.

I know some people don’t like that NASCAR has taken Bristol’s original layout and poured dirt on it, but the problem is that it takes a lot of money and overhead to produce a race in the NASCAR Cup Series. Also, a big factor is that the two major players in the track ownership market, Speedway Motorsports Incorporated (SMI) and International Speedway Corporation (ISC), have a stranglehold on the Cup dates and there are few, if any, who can compete with them.

Creativity was needed to spice up the Cup Series schedule because neither one of those corporations would be willing to sacrifice a Cup date. SMI got creative and added the dirt event to the schedule, and now NASCAR has a dirt track with 150,000 seats.

Dirt track racing is very popular around the country, and it’s the surface on which NASCAR began. Like anything else, it has lost a little momentum from its glory days, but the hardcore race fans still flock to a dirt track where they can see local stars compete for a reasonable price. Its decline has not nearly been as drastic as other forms of motorsports.

So NASCAR tried to capitalize on the dirt racing world, and who better to try and sell and produce the event than SMI? SMI’s expertise in pulling off events and their ability to promote it has made the Dirt Race a very publicized race that receives a lot of attention.

Last year’s running was initially well-received, but complications came up during the weekend that required SMI to make some adjustments for year two, including moving the event to a night race to help keep the moisture in the track.

This year’s event certainly had its flaws, a lot of it due to rain, but it was also due to NASCAR’s lack of preparation of the track, which is what Harvick was annoyed about in his post-race comments. I believe if NASCAR does better in the track preparation at Bristol, a lot of the issues that have arisen would be forgotten about.

No matter how you feel about the event, NASCAR’s schedule needed a major overhaul, and the spring race at Bristol was vulnerable due to its recent attendance decline and the lack of action. Even though this event isn’t perfect, people are watching.

Adam Stern’s tweet proves that while some tweaking may still be needed to help make the event a little more fluid, the dirt event at Bristol Motor Speedway is a success. The ratings support that. When more people are watching NASCAR, that means good things. It makes it easier for everyone to sell sponsorship and make money, companies see the value in being associated with NASCAR and it keeps the sport healthy.

Keep the Bristol dirt race, I believe it’s a diamond in the rough. NASCAR just needs to continue to work on it for it to shine.

– Clayton Caldwell

About the author

Joy joined Frontstretch in 2019 as a NASCAR DraftKings writer, expanding to news and iRacing coverage in 2020. She's currently an assistant editor while continuing to write daily fantasy and news articles. A California native, Joy was raised as a motorsports fan and started watching NASCAR extensively in 2001. She earned her B.A. degree in Liberal Studies at California State University Bakersfield in 2010.

Clayton has been writing NASCAR for the last seven years and has followed the sport for as long as he can remember. He's a Jersey boy with dreams of hoping one day to take his style south and adding a different kind of perspective to auto racing.

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janice

People watched because there was nothing else on tv.

DoninAjax

What were the numbers in the 80s and 90s?

john dawg chapman

Yes, I love dirt racing, but.(& as Pee Wee Herman said “everyone has a big butt”) most of the problems with Bristol stem from inexperience from ISC, & NASCAR, about dirt racing. Now that ISC has ruined Atlanta, they could do like they did at COTA & give up one date there & lease any number of established dirt facilities bring in temp seating & put on a good show. Sadly, we know they won’t. The best they might do is shift the schedule to get a chance of better weather.

NASCAR has put the teams in a tight box, so they can’t do anything to block dirt from entering the engines themselves. So NASCAR needs to do some basic research & make it happen. Most any dirt late model owner can tell them how.

In my opinion, the dirt show is worth saving, but a makeshift Bristol isn’t.

Charlie

Joy,
I don’t like it either. It is not my interest. However, as I stated on other forums, if Marcus Smith and team want to make Bristol dirt once a year and does not mind spending the money, go for it. I actually think it’s a pretty good feat to transform it and admired.
But NASCAR is a big tent. If they run it, and it appears they will, I hope it is exciting and safe.
I’ll catch them again next week. I don’t say no, just I will not be watching.

JT

Given that the Cup dirt race at Bristol is only one race a season, I don’t mind the variety. True, the cars aren’t optimized for dirt racing, ISC still has to make some improvements with the track prep and 250 laps may be too long for a dirt race, but with some tweaks this could be an OK event in the long run.

Josh

It needs to stay the length it is. No one had issues watching in the “glory days” of the 90s. Nascar shouldn’t cater to short attention spans and be about endurance as well as a good racing.

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