Through the Field: Dirt Trackin’
Something’s happening this coming weekend that hasn’t taken place since Richard Nixon was President, Elvis Presley visited him in the Oval Office, the first Monday Night Football took place and the patent for the first computer mouse was given. For the first time since 1970, the NASCAR Cup Series is racing on dirt.
Bristol Motor Speedway, one of racing’s most iconic tracks, trucked in a bunch of dirt, threw it on their half-mile oval and will host a Truck and Cup Series race this weekend.
The trucks have run on dirt multiple times in recent years at the Tony Stewart-owned Eldora Speedway in Ohio. It’s been so long since cup cars ran on dirt that now-83-year-old Richard Petty won the last dirt race before Sunday’s event.
Now, we haven’t seen how everything will go on the track yet, but this is a positive for the sport regardless of how it turns out.
Prior to the pandemic, the schedule of races had been getting very stale. It always felt like half of the tracks were the same. We were seldomly adding new race tracks and in most years the same drivers always ran up front. With 2020’s craziness wreaking havoc on the schedule, it forced NASCAR into some alternatives, such as running the road course at Daytona and giving tracks like Darlington a second race again.
They steered into that skid for 2021, adding multiple brand-new tracks. Notably, Nashville Superspeedway and Texas’ Circuit of the Americas as well as the dirt race at Bristol. Multiple dates were changed as well. They moved the Daytona road course and Homestead races directly after the season-opening Daytona 500. That diversity has already shown its worth as there have been no repeat winners and multiple first-time winners this year.
Impact On the Sport
Bringing a dirt race back to the NASCAR Cup Series schedule will also help the connection to the millions across the country who run races on their local dirt tracks week in and week out. While I’m sure many of them are fans of Cup racing, not having the experience at paved racetracks, whether as a driver or as a fan, may turn them away from being a diehard fan.
Having the best of the best running on dirt not only will turn the fans onto that race but also gives the racers some hope that they could get the opportunity to race at a high level if they so desire. Multiple dirt-track specialists have earned seats in these races who have never made starts in the Cup or Truck Series. If they pivot toward dirt races more often, there could be many more drivers getting the chance to show their skills on a big stage.
We’ve all had to adapt and change during this pandemic. But on the bright side, there has been some positive change that will continue to come as we move forward.
Ryan Blaney did a great job moving forward in this past weekend’s race, passing the dominant Kyle Larson to win at Atlanta. The series now pivots toward short tracks for the next few weeks; following the Bristol dirt event, Martinsville and Richmond are next on the schedule. That could make for some interesting picks for your lineup.
Denny Hamlin: The No. 11 team has yet to win a race in 2021. They are undoubtedly one of the best in the series once again. Denny Hamlin has finished top-five in every race this season but Homestead and has led 210 laps already. Book it: He will have won a race by the next time you read this column.
Austin Dillon: The resurgence of Richard Childress Racing (RCR) has continued into 2021. Austin Dillon has continued to show why he deserves the ride he has despite the family connection he has at RCR. He’s run ahead of a lot of good drivers thus far this season. He’s won multiple heats on the Bristol dirt track when the actual dirt cars were there this past weekend. Watch out for the No. 3 on track in the coming weeks.
Joey Logano: This could be the biggest swing-and-a-miss I’ve ever had. I think Joey Logano could be headed toward an ice-cold couple of weeks. The No. 22 team just hasn’t had what you expect from them on multiple occasions this season. Although he’s had success at the tracks upcoming, Logano could be in rough shape if things don’t improve.
Chase Elliott: If I miss on my pick to sell Logano, I feel better about my pick to sell the defending champ. Welcome to hot take city this week. It’s not that the No. 9 has been consistently bad, but they’ve had bad luck more often than not in 2021. Hendrick Motorsports’ other cars are performing at a high level and this will continue. That leaves Elliott to fend for himself by not taking up the majority of the team’s focus.