Bristol Preview: NASCAR Has Roots In Dirt

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 26 2021

The track at Bristol has gotten dirtier this year. (Photo courtesy of Bristol Motor Speedway.)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

BRISTOL, Tenn. – With NASCAR introducing the Next Gen car in 2022, this year seemed like the perfect time to return the Cup Series to its roots and determine if dirt track racing should again become a regular stop on the national tour.

There hasn’t been a dirt race on the Cup schedule since 1970, but Bristol Motor Speedway Executive Vice President and General Manager Jerry Caldwell says fans constantly request one.

“After every event we do fan research,” Caldwell said. “We ask the fans, ‘What other things would you like to see at Bristol Motor Speedway?’ Dirt racing has always been on that list.” 

 Scheduled for March 27-28, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller says the weekend will remain true to dirt track racing with the starting lineup determined by heat races. A two-part point system will be used by NASCAR to finalize the starting lineup for Sunday’s 250-lap Cup race. First, points will be awarded for a driver’s finishing position in each heat race with the winner receiving 10 points and then a one point decrease per position. Second, a driver will receive one point per position gained during the heat race. No points will be deducted for losing positions. The total number of points for each driver will then be used to determine that competitor’s starting position in Sunday’s race.

 The four 15-lap Cup heat races are set to begin at 6 p.m. on Saturday, the same day as the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series 150-lap event. That series’ heat races are scheduled for Saturday at 4:30 p.m. with the race set to begin at 8 p.m. However, rain is predicted throughout the weekend. 

Speedway Motorsports Senior Vice President of Operations and Development Steve Swift said a great deal of research went into determining the dirt that would be used at Bristol. 

“We went to a lot of dirt races to educate ourselves a little bit more on all the nuances behind dirt,” Swift said. “We’re dealing with nice, good red dirt that we have in northeast Tennessee. We definitely took a lot of samples. We tested probably 18 different sites of dirt across the local area.”

Swift said the samples were analyzed by a California man nicknamed Dr. Dirt. The three samples he gave Swift ended up being the ones used for the track. 

“We utilized the old dirt from 2000, 2001 to build the base,” Swift said. “We had to do a lot of filling in the turns to get it away from 30 degrees, to get the track where we could use a motor grader to place it, keep equipment up on the track, because dirt doesn’t allow or like 30-degree embankments. With that, we used the old dirt as a base and the good dirt as a surface.”

NASCAR used the knowledge gained from the Truck Series races at Eldora to determine the changes needed for the Cup cars. 

“Mike Beam from GMS was extremely helpful in kind of sharing with us and the Cup teams all of the little things that might have gone unnoticed, just mounting crush panels in the car better, having stronger battery mounts, having stronger battery hold-downs, all the little things that had been problematic as the truck teams had learned how to deal with the dirt,” Miller said.  

 Even though some drivers who have never raced on dirt have worked a dirt race into their schedule to gain some experience, Miller emphasized the competitors were not allowed to take a Cup car to a dirt track for testing. 

Kyle Busch was one of the NASCAR drivers who competed in the Karl Kustoms Bristol Dirt Nationals the week before the NASCAR events. He said that when he raced on it March 19 in a dirt late model the track was “rutted up” in the third and fourth turns and “getting pretty chewed up throughout the early stages and the middle stages of the night.” 

“Once it got to feature time it was a little bit better, but still it was really rough in the middle so you had to be decisive to either go around them or go below those ruts,” Busch said. “The track was progressing well and changing a little bit and then they re-groomed it for the final race and it was a bottom in (turns) one and two and top in (turns) three and four having to go around the bumps.”

 Miller said whether or not the Cup Series returns to dirt racing on a regular basis hinges on this weekend.

“If we have problems, we would certainly have to look at it for what the future of it is, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that if we have an overwhelmingly successful event, we will figure out a way to carry on with it,” Miller said. 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, March 26 2021
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