The NASCAR Cup Series will go dirt racing at Bristol Motor Speedway, again, in 2022. The Tennessee short track hosted the Food City Dirt Race for NASCAR’s top series Monday after rain forced a delay from the race’s scheduled Sunday start. The race was the first dirt race for the Cup Series since 1970.
During Monday’s race, the announcement came that Bristol’s first of two yearly Cup Series race would, once again, be a dirt race in 2022.
“There has been so much buzz and excitement around the inaugural Food City Dirt Race weekend that with NASCAR’s blessing, we are thrilled to announce that we will be bringing back dirt in 2022 as part of the NASCAR Cup Series spring schedule,” Bristol Motor Speedway Executive Vice President and General Manager Jerry Caldwell said. “The dirt experience is unlike any other for NASCAR fans and could become a must-see event every season.”
There are several unknowns surrounding next year’s edition of the race, though, including the exact date. Also unknown is what car will be utilized in the race — the current model or the Next Gen car that is expected to be the Cup Series car of 2022 for the remainder of the schedule. The popular belief among among industry insiders seems to be that the current car, with some modifications, is more suited to dirt racing than next year’s car that still is undergoing testing.
“If this [current] car was a challenge, it’s [Next Gen] going to be a whole other set of challenges,” Team Penske Director of Competition Travis Geisler said. “Certainly, early in the season for the whole industry, so we’ll still be kind of new to that car, which will make it even more challenging.”
The version of the current car raced Monday had a larger grille opening and didn’t have its regular front splitter.
Issues during the Bristol dirt weekend included visibility issues and tire wear. NASCAR modified the race format, changing stage lengths and adding competition cautions to break the scheduled 250-lap distance into 50-lap segments after concerns of tire wear arose after two practice sessions on Friday. The issue of visibility was addressed in-race with a transition to single-car restarts.
“Certainly learned a number of things in the race and throughout the week that we can apply as we go forward in 2022,” NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell said.
After winning the race, Joey Logano recommended making the event a night race in an effort to combat dusty conditions.
A different tire is expected to be developed ahead of the 2022 race, according to NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller.
Mud also caused visibility issues, especially for trucks in the first of what was supposed to be four qualifying heat races for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on Saturday. That race was red-flagged after one lap when mud caked on windshields prohibited drivers from seeing what was in front of them. Multiple NASCAR officials said removing windshields in favor of screens normally used in dirt racing was not an option because of a lack of compatibility with safety features built into NASCAR vehicles.