Kyle Larson will be the official pole sitter for the Food City Dirt Race, the NASCAR Cup Series’ first race on dirt in over 50 years, Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway. But he’ll have to drop to the back for the initial green flag after an engine change Friday.
“Even me being a dirt racer, I really don’t know what to expect,” Larson said. “These cars are way different than what I’m used to racing on dirt. They are way heavier with a lot less power than I’m used to. I think the only thing that transfers from my previous dirt experience to this weekend is how to read the surface and how it changes and evolves throughout the weekend and the race. I may be able to adapt to that quicker than a pavement racer.”
NASCAR’s original plan was to set the race starting grid with the running of four 15-lap heat races Saturday evening, but rain forced the cancellation of the heat races, as well as the postponement of a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race that also was scheduled for Saturday night.
With the heat races cancelled, NASCAR fell back on its method of setting race starting grids by using a formula that includes car owner points and the finishing order and fastest laps from the previous race. Larson finished second after dominating the race at Atlanta Motor Speedway a week earlier.
Denny Hamlin will be in the other front-row starting position in second. He and two of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates will start in the top-five Sunday, as Kyle Busch will start fourth and Martin Truex Jr. in the fifth position.
Ryan Blaney, who claimed his first win of the 2021 season at Atlanta, will start third, sharing row two with Busch. Blaney was the fastest in final practice Friday.
“Honestly, I don’t think it means anything to be the top Ford,” Blaney said. ”I think what means the most is how your car drives after five, 10 laps as you’re trying to save tires, stuff like that. How does it drive when the track gets slicker? How did it drive at the end of practice, because that’s probably what we’re gonna have in the race? We just cut a good lap, there. I don’t think it really means much. You have to be good in the long run. That’s really what we worked on and we got okay at it; just need some more work to do.”
Truex will share the third row with sixth-place starter Kevin Harvick.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Alex Bowman, who led opening practice Friday, and William Byron will start in row four in the seventh and eighth positions.
“This weekend is going to be such a challenge,” Byron said. “I’m looking forward to it, and I think it will be fun. I just don’t know what to expect, honestly. Luckily, iRacing scanned it and we will race virtually Wednesday night. Hopefully, that will help a bit. I think the guys who run dirt normally will have an advantage. Someone like Kyle Larson is going to be fast. It’s going to be a challenge for us asphalt guys. You’ll have to have your elbows up every lap. It’s going to be challenging physically, too, because you’re going to be driving your car hard constantly. There is no saving equipment in dirt racing.”
Byron won the iRacing event Wednesday.
Austin Dillon with start ninth and Joey Logano in 10th on Sunday.
FOOD CITY DIRT RACE STARTING LINEUP