Could this be the year that the Cup Series dirt experts shine at Food City Dirt Race?
For those who are keeping score, so far the Food City Dirt Race has been a total shutout between the two rival factions of unofficial teams in the NASCAR Cup Series pit area: Dirt Novices 2, Dirt Experts 0.
The results have been surprising, as many journalists and race analysts had picked dirt experts like Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Chase Briscoe to naturally be dominant on the red Tennessee clay that has been put down over the traditional concrete of the iconic half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway.
No-brainer, right? After two years it has been quite the opposite story.
Asphalt ace Joey Logano made history by winning the inaugural Food City Dirt Race in 2021, the first time that NASCAR had featured its marquee Cup Series on a dirt surface in more than 50 years.
Last year, Kyle Busch, another from the ranks of drivers with minimal dirt experience, took the surprise checkered flag as the two leaders – among the Cup Series group of talented dirt experts, Reddick and Briscoe – crashed in turn 4 on the final lap while battling for the victory.
Could this finally be the year when one of the dirt experts gets the job done?
“Hopefully, a dirt guy can finally win,” said Bell, who finished seventh in last year’s race and crashed out on lap 53 in the 2021 race. “It’s been funny, we’ve gone twice now, and a dirt guy has not won. Hopefully, I can change that.”
If so, it would be a perfect time to do it as NASCAR is celebrating its 75th Anniversary. Sunday’s Food City Dirt Race (7 p.m., FOX, PRN Radio) will be the 493rd dirt race in the Cup Series in NASCAR history.
“Wow, 493?” said Briscoe. “I wouldn’t have guessed that many. But I think it fits perfectly. The Cup Series has the best drivers in the world and it’s cool that we are challenged on all forms and disciplines of racing, including dirt… As a race car driver, you always love when you’re slipping and sliding around, manhandling the car. You feel like as a driver, you make a difference.”
In all fairness to the dirt experts, driving a heavy stock car on a high-banked dirt track is a totally different challenge from what they face when they compete in their purpose-built dirt cars, whether it’s a late model or a winged sprint car.
“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, the circuit’s most recent winner who finished fourth last year on the Bristol dirt. “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.”
Briscoe says drivers like Logano and Busch are just great at whatever they do and are quick learners. He said depending on how the dirt track settles in it could mimic a slick pavement surface. He says in those type of conditions it just goes right into their wheelhouse.
“I remember saying before we went to Bristol for the first time on dirt that Joey Logano was the guy I think that could go win just because I think his car control is unbelievable,” Briscoe said. “He’s so good at what he does, having zero dirt experience... Even last year when it was more of a typical dirt track style, I think Joey did a really nice job. I think he was running third or fourth there at the end. He’s been someone who I’ve always, honestly, been amazed by his talent and ability.”
Logano has to be the pre-race favorite just from a purely statistical standpoint, as he rallied to finish third last year. He says he enjoys the unpredictability of racing on dirt at Thunder Valley.
“It’s fun doing things that are weird,” Logano said. “That’s a weird thing to do, racing a Cup car on dirt at Bristol. It’s not a purpose-built dirt car with a stock car on dirt. It’s crazy to even think of, kind of like running your street Mustang on dirt. You’re constantly on the edge of spinning out. Our cars don’t have the big sides like a late model or the big wing like a sprint car to catch itself. The way you have to drive a big, heavy Cup car on dirt compared to a dirt car on dirt, it’s a different game.”
Speaking of different games, one of the most successful dirt racers in the country is going to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut this weekend behind the wheel of the No. 13 Kaulig Racing Chevy. Jonathan Davenport, aka ‘Superman’, who has won millions of dollars and even more trophies in his prolific late model dirt racing career, is ready to give Cup racing a shot. He is a two-time dirt late model winner at Bristol
“It’s always been a dream to race NASCAR if you’re a race car driver from a small town in Georgia,” Davenport said. “It’s the best opportunity I’ve ever had to do something like this. With my dirt team, it’s the best team I’ve been with hands down. It’s a dream come true to do this.”
Davenport, 39, says he is coming into the weekend trying to learn and absorb as much as possible from his two teammates, AJ Allmendinger and Justin Haley.
“The biggest challenges are adapting to the car and learning how the Cup guys race,” Davenport said. “You go to different series, and everybody races a little different. It’s been so long since I’ve been able to race so close to a car. Our cars are very aero dependent and you have to make yourself really wide when you’re out front and when you’re behind, you have to figure how to pass before you get to them. It’s a different way of racing.”
Alex Bowman enters the Food City Dirt Race weekend as the series points leader, in front of Ross Chastain, Bell and William Byron, who has claimed two victories this season.
Other drivers to watch in the race include a few who have run well in the past two Bristol dirt races, including Daniel Suarez, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Michael McDowell, Ty Dillon and Brad Keselowski.
Josh Berry will continue to sub for Chase Elliott in the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy while the sport’s most popular driver continues to recover from a leg injury sustained in a skiing accident in Colorado.
The Cup Series stars will hit the track for the first time on Friday during Bush’s Beans Practice Day for practice sessions at 6:35 p.m. and 8:32 p.m.
On Saturday the Cup Series drivers will participate in Bush’s Beans Qualifying starting at 6 p.m. ET. There will be four 15-lap heat races to determine the starting lineup for the Food City Dirt Race. The heat race fields will be determined by random draw. Drivers can earn qualifying points during their heat races by passing cars as well as their finishing position.
The Bristol race weekend also features the WEATHER GUARD® Truck Race on Dirt, where the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series drivers will take to the clay-covered track on Saturday (8 p.m., FS1 and MRN Radio). and will be preceded by Bush’s Beans Qualifying, which offers four heat races to set the starting lineups in each series. The Craftsman Truck Series teams will participate in Friday’s Bush’s Beans Practice Day and Saturday’s Bush’s Beans Qualifying.
In addition to cheering on their favorite drivers during the weekend and enjoying the Easter Celebration, Bristol Motor Speedway fans will definitely want to take advantage of so many activities to make a complete weekend of family fun. There will be great video entertainment provided by Colossus TV, the world's largest center-hung video screen, premium VIP experiences like the Super Fan Suites, tailgating, a visit to the BMS Kids Zone, BMS Fan Zone and Fan Midway, on-site camping, concerts and other entertainment at the Food City Fan Zone Stage like the Race Day Revival with Kenny Wallace and John Roberts, great food and beverages in the concession stands throughout the property, and so much more.
To purchase tickets for the Food City Dirt Race, WEATHER GUARD® Truck Race on Dirt and Bush’s Beans Qualifying, please visit the BMS website, or call the BMS Ticket Sales Center at (866) 415-4158.