By: Tyler Hill
It’s Bristol, baby! Or was it?
Perhaps the race that was marked on every NASCAR fan's calendars when the 2021 Cup schedule was announced, Bristol Motor Speedway’s spring race converted from a concrete surface to a dirt surface. This was the first time the NASCAR Cup Series had raced on dirt since 1970 when Richard Petty was still racing. Multiple clay layers covered the track's concrete surface with various layers of clay that created 18-degree banking on the temporary dirt track.
However, mother nature was not as excited as most fans were as the skies opened up Saturday night and flooded the area, thus postponing the race on Sunday and moving it to Monday. After Friday’s Cup practice Friday, NASCAR added two competition cautions. That being an extra set of tires and adjustments to the stages after some extreme tire wear. Now teams were able to switch tires every 50 laps in the 250 lap race. Stage one and two were each 100 laps, with Stage three being 50 laps. Also noted from Friday's session, the favourite to win Kyle Larson. He dropped to the back of the field after an engine change.
NASCAR decided to hold some heat races on Saturday before the Truck race to determine the running order for both the cup and truck races. However, after the first lap of the first heat for the Trucks series, nobody could see anything outside their windshields. Thus causing a safety concern, and it was back to pit road they went. Unfortunately, the rain from the night before caused it to be way too muddy to run eight heats that are 15 laps each over two divisions so they elected to cancel it. The running order was now deemed on owner points, finishing result and fastest lap from the previous week’s race at Atlanta. However, it seems that most fans were upset and wanted NASCAR to have a midweek, night-time short track race on Tuesday.
In the Trucks series, we saw a surprise winner in Martin Truex Jr., who has minimal dirt racing experience. Yet again, the drivers with significant dirt experience were nowhere to be found in the Cup Series. Tyler Reddick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were the significant ones upfront at the finish, with Stenhouse Jr. finishing runner up and Reddick in 7th place.
The favourites with dirt track experience, Larson and Christopher Bell, were nowhere to be found in the top ten. Bell did not finish the race due to a wreck on Lap 53 with Larson and Ross Chastain. Larson did manage to finish the race with somewhat what resembles a race car. He finished 29th.
As for the race, it was perfect. Good restarts, lots of cautions to make it enjoyable, and lots of passing. Kyle Busch continued his struggles of consistency in the Cup series, having to pit and fall behind very early in the race due to an overheating issue after having the lead for a few laps. On Lap 41, we had a big wreck with Aric Almorila getting the worst of it, ending his day. Martin Truex Jr barely avoided the accident, squeaking through to prevent damage and preserve the lead. Truex Jr. would take Stage 1.
Shortly after stage one, Daniel Suárez gained speed down low and passed Truex Jr. With about 100 laps to go. The visibility started to get nasty with the setting sun. On one restart, it was so bright anyone not on the front row could not see anything coming down the front stretch, which caused a significant pile-up of cars which included Ryan Blaney. However, he was able to finish the race and get a top 10 finish. This pileup forced NASCAR to decide only to have single-file restarts instead of two wide, which would perhaps affect the outcome of the race. Joey Logano was able to pass Daniel Suárez later in the stage and take stage two. Bubba Wallace finished in seventh place in both stages one and two. He ended up dropping down to 27th to finish the race due to contact with Stenhouse Jr stage three.
The end of the race finished in two-lap overtime. Denny Hamlin was trying to steal the race from Joey Logano. After the single-file restart, Hamlin went up high in the banking and wanted to pass him in turn one but couldn’t find any grip, resulting in Stenhouse Jr. swiping second place and Logano holding first place through the two laps of overtime.
Overall, I think this weekend was a success. But as a short track fan, please convert it back to its glorious concrete form and race at a real dirt track like Knoxville. Why call it dirt racing when you throw dirt on the surface? Take what the Pinty's Series (NASCAR's Canadian Series) is doing up here in Canada. They raced at Oshweken this year, a real dirt track. NASCAR has announced that they will be back at Bristol in 2022, and they are going to convert it to dirt once again. I am still excited that NASCAR is finally going back to some races where its roots were formed and excited for the racing ahead as it proved to make good Cup Series racing this weekend.