Column: NASCAR’s Dirt Race At Bristol Motor Speedway Has Yet To Follow Form

Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – BRISTOL, TN – 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.”


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