NASCAR’s Food City Dirt Race at Bristol has yet to follow form
Is it time for a “dirt driver” to win the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET Sunday on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)?
When NASCAR announced that a dirt race at Thunder Valley would be part of the 2021 schedule, the natural assumption was that drivers with extensive dirt experience would dominate the proceedings.
Specifically, pundits pointed to Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell as the most likely winners. After all, Bell had won three straight Chili Bowl Midget Nationals from 2017-2019, and Larson was the defending winner of the event.
True to form, Larson won the pole for the inaugural event at Bristol, and Bell worked his way forward from the 15th starting position. But Larson and Bell collided at the front of the field on Lap 53, and Joey Logano—whose experience on dirt was minimal—won the race.
Last year, Kyle Busch stole the victory when Chase Briscoe overdrove the final corner and spun Tyler Reddick, who had dominated the race with 99 laps led. Larson finished fourth in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, and Bell drove the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to seventh in an event that was interrupted by rain.
“Last year, I had moments in the race where I was really fast, and it was a lot of fun,” Bell recalled. “Then I had moments in the race where I was struggling, and it wasn’t very enjoyable.
“Hopefully, a dirt guy can finally win. It’s been funny, we’ve gone twice now, and a dirt guy has not won. Hopefully, I can change that.”
Larson pointed out that racing NASCAR’s Next Gen car—markedly different from the open-wheeled cars and late models he typically drives on dirt—might tend to minimize his advantage.
“People probably look at me as being a favorite, but it’s so different from the dirt racing that I do throughout the week,” said Larson, who won last Sunday’s Cup Series race at Richmond. “I don’t really think I have an advantage like some people might think.
“Either way, I know our race cars are fast everywhere we go, and that gives me the most confidence. Hopefully, the track conditions are right, we can put on a good race, and I can find my way to the front. Getting a win there would be pretty neat.”
Larson and Bell aren’t the only “dirt guys” who will be racing on Sunday. Jonathan Davenport, legendary dirt late model superstar, will drive the No. 13 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet in his Cup debut.
Nicknamed “Superman,” Davenport is the reigning winner of the Eldora Million and the Late Model Knoxville Nationals.
“I’m nervously excited for my Cup debut on the dirt at Bristol,” Davenport said. “Totally different atmosphere, totally different kind of car and kind of racing. It’s going to be a huge learning curve, but I’m up for the task, and I feel good about it.
“I’m going to absorb all the information I can from my teammates Justin (Haley) and AJ (Allmendinger) to learn the car and learn how Cup drivers race… Every race car driver wants to drive in NASCAR; this is the best opportunity I’ve had to be able to make this dream come true.”
NASCAR Truck race at Bristol features ample share of interlopers
Regulars in the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series will face stiff competition this weekend if they hope to maintain bragging rights in Saturday’s Weather Guard Truck Race on Dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway (8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
NASCAR Cup Series drivers Joey Logano, William Byron and Chase Briscoe all are moonlighting in the Truck Series event to gain familiarity with track conditions for Sunday’s Cup race. Logano won the inaugural Food City Dirt Race in 2021.
In addition, the 41-driver entry list for the race includes dirt specialists Jonathan Davenport in the No. 7 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet; Tyler Carpenter in the No. 41 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet; and Jessica Friesen in the No. 62 Halmar Friesen Toyota.
Husband Stewart Friesen, a Truck Series regular as well as a dirt modified ace, has a guaranteed starting spot and is fresh from a season-best third-place finish at Texas. Jessica Friesen is attempting to qualify for her third start in the series.
Ben Rhodes is the defending winner of the race, but he’ll have to overcome formidable competition to repeat. Rhodes beat Carson Hocevar to the checkered flag last year after Hocevar led Laps 92-146 of 150.
“I wouldn’t say that we lost the race last year—we ran really well,” said Hocevar, who picked up his first victory in the series last Saturday at Texas. “We were just eventually beat by the better truck. Ben had the fastest truck all day, and he nearly let one get away from him.
“We were in position to take advantage, but he was able to get back out in front and get by us at the end. It was disappointing, but I feel like we are ready to give it another shot this year. It was a lot of fun.”
— NASCAR News Wire —