Heading into the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, dirt-racing ace and NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson insisted that his extensive dirt experience and the experience of a handful of other drivers with dirt backgrounds probably wouldn’t translate to the heavy Cup Series cars on the dirt surface at Bristol. Apparently, he knew what he was talking about, as none of those drivers looked to be factors, and instead, Joey Logano, a driver without dirt experience, found himself in victory lane Monday after the Cup Series’ first race on dirt since 1970.
“This is, obviously, my first dirt win,” Logano said. “It’s only my fourth dirt race ever, so I had a lot of fun trying to figure it out. I was having a blast racing, trying to find the right lanes, moving around, watching Denny [Hamlin] figure out the top after they watered the track. I was like, ‘Oh no, now what do we do?’ So just a crazy moment.”
Logano’s win continued the series streak of new winners to start the 2021 season to seven.
“It was definitely a challenge,” Logano said. ”When they watered the track the last stage, that kind of changed everything. Denny and I had a heck of a race, because he found grip up top and I was like, ‘Well, I don’t know how to do that,’ so I had to go up there and try to figure that out to defend the lead position, and then, eventually just worked the lapped cars. That was very hard, as well as it should be. Everybody is racing to stay on the lead lap, so I was able to get through them as needed and, of course, the late-race caution, but what an amazing team. Everyone at Team Penske really put together some really good cars to come here and wing it. That’s what this is about. Nobody really knew what to put in the car, and we were able to adjust the right way throughout practice and get into victory lane. It’s great.”
The Food City Dirt Race was scheduled for Sunday, but rain pushed the green flag to Monday, creating a doubleheader day that also included a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on the Bristol dirt.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the only driver with significant experience on dirt to finish near the front, took runner up honors in the Cup Series race.
“Our Kroger Camaro was really good on the long run; we needed a little bit more NOS Energy Drink for the restarts. I just couldn’t get going; couldn’t get the turn in the race car that we needed. But we made a ton of adjustments and we kind of went back and forth overnight of what we were going to do. Larson and I came out and hung with the track crew. Steve Swift and the boys did a great job of getting this thing race-able today with all the rain and all the challenges that they had.”
“Man, we had a blast,” Stenhouse said. “At the start of the race, I was terrible with the green race track and a little bit of moisture in it. But as it blew off, we got back to where we were in practice and felt really good with it. A good way to go into the off week. I’m going to go run my sprint car with my dad this weekend. Hope everyone has a good Easter. Go get some NOS Energy Drink at Kroger!”
Denny Hamlin was second to Logano for an overtime restart, but Hamlin went high on the restart in an attempt to take the lead to Logano, but instead, he lost second to Stenhouse and wound up third in the finishing order.
Daniel Suarez finished fourth, and Ryan Newman was fifth.
“That was fun, no doubt,” Newman said. “It was a good run for our Oscar Mayer Ford Mustang and a great team effort the entire week. I wish we could have had a chance to run the Truck race for Coke and Aggressive Hydraulics. I am really proud of the effort, and a lot of guys got to see a lot more and experience a lot more. We got turned around, there, from a racing accident in turn two with the 24 [William Byron] and had to fight back and did. We just didn’t make it all the way back to the front. We had a pretty good car. I would have liked to see what we would have done with some track position, but I am sure everyone else would say the same thing.”
Logano took the lead from Suarez on lap 193 and ran up front the remainder of the race, including a stage-two win on lap 200. Hamlin took second from Suarez on the restart to begin the final stage and challenged Logano for the lead early in the stage, but Logano managed to maintain his position.
Martin Truex Jr. dominated the first half of the race, leading a race-high 126 laps, including a stage-one win at lap 100, before losing the lead to Suarez on lap 136. Suarez went on to lead 58 laps.
“To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing,” Suarez said. “But we’re having fun. Everyone at Trackhouse Racing did an amazing job. This is the second week in a row that we’ve had very fast race cars capable of running in the top-five, top-10. I couldn’t be more proud of all these guys — Justin Marks, Ty Norris, and everyone that helps in this program, Camping World, Chevy, CommScope. Everyone has been a huge support of myself. It just feels so good to be back. It’s been a little bit difficult the last year, and it feels so good to be able to race with these guys and to have some fun up front. Hopefully, our time will come soon.”
Truex was third to Logano and Hamlin for the final restart, but he dropped back with a flat tire and wound up 19th at finish, the final car on the lead lap.
The yellow-flag waved nine times in the race, including four scheduled cautions at the end of each of the two 100-lap stages and two competition cautions in each of those stages to divide the scheduled distance of 250 laps into 50-lap segments because of concern about tire wear following two practice sessions on Friday. The on-track incidents that cause the other five cautions included some of the dirt-racing specialists, Larson, Christopher Bell and Chase Briscoe included.
Larson was the official pole sitter of the race but had to drop to the back for the initial green flag because of an engine change after practice. Hamlin, who started on the front row, led the first lap but Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch took the position on lap two.
Busch, though, suffered with an overheating issue in the opening laps, and as a result, lost the lead to a third JGR driver, Truex, on lap nine and made an unscheduled pit stop to remedy the problem.
William Byron, after winning an iRacing event on the virtual Bristol dirt track the previous Wednesday, finished sixth on the real BMS dirt Monday. Other top-10 finishers included Tyler Reddick in seventh, Ryan Blaney eighth, Erik Jones ninth and reigning series champion Chase Elliott in 10th.
FOOD CITY DIRT RACE RESULTS