OPINION: NASCAR on dirt's a winner – with a few caveats

Kinrade/Motorsport Images

OPINION: NASCAR on dirt's a winner – with a few caveats

Insights & Analysis

OPINION: NASCAR on dirt's a winner – with a few caveats

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It was different, dirty, and not without its challenges. But the inaugural dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway seemed to be as successful as it could have been. At least for a first attempt.

FNASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell said in the immediate aftermath of the Food City Dirt Race that officials learned a lot from the weekend. And since we already know we’ll be doing this again next season, they have a year to make changes. Reconsidering the race’s length and running it during the day would be a great place to start.

A 250-lap dirt race is pretty long, especially when you consider that the tires weren’t up to the task of going more than 50 laps at a time. Over the next 12 months, Goodyear and NASCAR will undoubtedly be looking at ways to address that.

And choosing to run the race in the middle of the day led to the middle portion of the day naturally resulted in the place looking like a giant dust bowl. That resulted in NASCAR calling an audible and going to single-file restarts at the lap 170 mark.

But again, lessons were learned, and for the most part, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

“I don’t know if there’s different dirt that doesn’t produce as much dust as this one,” Denny Hamlin said. “I know they really did a lot of research on the dirt itself. A couple of them said if you didn’t run during the daylight, dust wouldn’t be as bad.

“I thought the racing was good. It really was. It was almost like the old Bristol. If you got out of the lane, you got shuffled. That part of it was really encouraging. For fans’ sake, for visibility of the drivers’ sake, I think a lot of the wrecks happened because of the dust, and we couldn’t see anything.”

Hamlin thinks visibility needs to be addressed, but is otherwise a fan of Cup’s dirt foray. Kinrade/Motorsport Images

Track conditions were far from ideal. After two days of heavy storms, the track needed hours of work before the Truck and Cup Series races on Monday. Fortunately, bright sunshine helped dry the track, so it wasn’t a mud mess like the only lap of the Truck Series heat race they attempted to run on Saturday night.

“Steve (Swift of SMI) and the boys did a great job,” said Ricky Stenhouse Jr. “Obviously, you can’t have it wet with the cars overheating and our grill screens, windshields, and things like that. They prepped the track to the best of their ability. All the rain didn’t help. They reacted, did stuff as best they could.

“I think they did a great job. May have got a little bit behind there. When we started running single file, all the dust just sat in that second lane. I was one advocating for single-file restarts. I felt like NASCAR did a great job adapting to that because, like Steve O’Donnell said, that’s things that you see in dirt racing when track conditions just change and kind of are out of your control at that point. But I think it made the racing better, a lot better there at the end. Hats off to everybody at NASCAR and everybody on the track crew.”

It could have been worse; most probably were expecting it to be. Heavy stock cars on dirt in the middle of the day seemed like a recipe for bad things to happen. Leave it to the best drivers in the sport to prove those notions wrong, although it was nice to see mistakes were still costly and Bristol, whether concrete or dirt, could still tear up some race cars.

“We had a lot of fun today,” said William Byron.

Said Ryan Newman, “That was fun, no doubt.”

For something so different, it was fun. Despite the challenges and conditions, give NASCAR and Bristol, as well as the teams, credit for making it work. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but the good news is that it wasn’t a disaster and should be better next time.

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