The White Zone: A day on Bristol dirt

FOX Sports pushed for dirt on the 2021 NASCAR schedule. It marketed dirt at Daytona 500 levels, week after week. Not even the buildup to the inaugural race on the ROVAL compares to the buildup to dirt.

Finally, the day arrived, but rain pushed it back a day.

Monday brought clear blue skies over Bristol Motor Speedway. Even a day late, the anticipation reached a fever pitch.

At 4:19 p.m., the green flag dropped.

The NASCAR Cup Series ran its first race on dirt in over 50 years.

The White Zone: A day on Bristol dirt

BRISTOL, Tenn. – MARCH 29: Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 29, 2021, in Bristol, Tennessee. Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Monday was the culmination of months and months of buildup that rivals the buildup to the Daytona 500. In some ways, FOX out-marketed the Daytona 500. Then again, do you blame them? It was the biggest advocate for taking Bristol’s spring race and putting it on dirt.

Something not done since Sept. 30, 1970, when Richard Petty won the Home State 200 at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds.

Many loved it. Many loathed it, before a lap was turned.

But eventually, cars turned laps.

Dirt novices excel

On paper, this race favored dirt pros like Kyle Larson.

He didn’t lead a lap.

BRISTOL, Tenn. – MARCH 29: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Freightliner Chevrolet, drives a damaged car during the NASCAR Cup Series Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 29, 2021, in Bristol, Tennessee. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

In fact, he was caught up in a multi-car wreck.

Instead, Martin Truex Jr.Joey Logano and Daniel Suarez led all but eight laps. All three have little to no prior dirt racing experience. Hell, Suarez turned his first lap on dirt just six days prior.

BRISTOL, Tenn. – MARCH 29: Daniel Suarez, driver of the #99 Camping World Chevrolet, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 29, 2021, in Bristol, Tennessee. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Monday was borderline restrictor plate racing levels of parity. I say borderline, because a Cup Series A-tier driver won.

Meanwhile, the highest-finishing Cup Series driver who took part in the Bristol Dirt Nationals was Chase Elliott, who finished 10th.

Talk about subverting expectations.

Old-school Bristol

Chris Owens summed it up.

In a lot of ways, Monday’s Food City Dirt Race had the hallmarks of an old-school race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The bottom was the fast way around the track. Which meant you either waited for a driver to get loose, or force him out of the groove to overtake him, like Suarez did to Truex on Lap 136.

There were multiple multi-car wrecks, which, while most won’t say out loud, was a large part of the appeal of Bristol (not really an opinion I share). Six of the 10 cautions were multi-car incidents, and four involved three or more cars.

All that was missing was a helmet toss and fisticuffs.

Do it again?

For those who missed it, I’ll spare you the suspense.

Yes, dirt’s coming back to Bristol in 2022.

During the second stage break, I tweeted an idea where NASCAR rotates this dirt race among the three short tracks: Bristol, Martinsville Speedway and Richmond Raceway.

Then two minutes later, Bristol general manager Jerry Caldwell announces on the PA that dirt’s coming back to Bristol in 2022.

I’ll probably write a column elaborating on this further, but for now, I think the idea I threw out is an interesting one.

Overall assessment

I’m by no means an expert on dirt racing. So I’m not qualified to say if this was a good or bad dirt race. As a NASCAR race, however, it was excellent. Bristol rarely disappoints, and Monday was no exception.

And we’ve got some interesting storylines playing out, after seven races of this 36-race season.

So after a 12-day retreat, and some Opening Day baseball, we’ll see what storylines continue at Martinsville.

That’s my view, for what it’s worth.

TOP IMAGE: Chris Graythen/Getty Images


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