Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Logano Seals Dirty Deal at NASCAR Cup Series' First Bristol Dirt Race

Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images



The first dirt race on NASCAR’s top series since 1970 (known as the Grand National Series at the time), The 2021 Food City Dirt Race at the Bristol Motor Speedway brought in 2,300 truckloads of dirt to create a spring race unlike any seen prior at the 0.533-mile oval. At the completion of an event that involved several multi-car wrecks and surprises, Joey Logano motored to a clean victory leading the final 60 laps in his #22 Shell Pennzoil-sponsored Ford Mustang. 

Providing a challenge for every competitor and team as they attempt to discover the speed secrets for setting up a 3,400-pound race car on the new surface, the first modern NASCAR Cup Series race on dirt did manage to deliver an untidy yet thrilling experience. NASCAR was required to make several adjustments to the original plan for the race weekend with uncertainty of the Goodyear dirt tire changing the stage format for the Food City Dirt Race. Originally intended to consist a pair of 75-lap opening stages followed by a 100-lap final stage, the revised operating procedure had the race start with two 100-lap runs with a competition caution at mid distance in each stage to allow for a tire change. However, the biggest curve ball thrown to the weekend’s plan came with weather. Thanks to a persistent rainfall on Saturday and Sunday the NASCAR Cup Series as well as the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series were postponed to Monday. 

Finally starting on Monday afternoon, Denny Hamlin’s #11 FedEx Toyota from the Joe Gibbs Racing team would lead the first lap of the Food City Dirt Race before surrendering the spot to teammate Kyle Busch. The yellow #18 M&Ms Toyota Camry led for seven laps but Busch would be a victim of complications relating to dirt track racing as overheating issues resulted in him relinquishing the top spot to Martin Truex Jr. and later pitted a few laps later. The winner of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, Truex Jr. picked up from his commanding performance earlier in the afternoon by leading a total of 126 laps and claiming the first stage win. 


Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images




The first caution of the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway flew at lap 41 for a multi-vehicle incident started when the #10 Ford of Aric Almirola had spun out of turn 2 after attempting a move on the inside of the #77 Chevrolet of Stewart Friesen. Almirola’s #10 Smithfield Ford would be impacted by the #38 of Anthony Alfredo and Corey LaJoie’s #7 car. All three cars in the crash sustained race-ending damage becoming part of a retirement list that totalled eight vehicles. This accident occurred just ahead of the leader Martin Truex Jr. slowed down in time to avoid being involved. 

A green flag period following the first caution would be short-lived as a second major wreck when Williams Byron’s #24 Chevy spun the #6 Oscar Meyer Ford of Ryan Newman. In avoiding the spinning Newman, Kevin Harvick squeezed teammate Chase Briscoe into the outer wall. The incident breeding the lap 48 caution would not claim any cars but a crash later on lap 53 would end the day for some potential contenders for the race victory. Christopher Bell lost control of his #20 Toyota in Bristol’s  turn 2 and quickly collected the #5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy Camaro of Kyle Larson. Ross Chastain would also have no where to go and impacted Bell’s car with his #42 Chevrolet. Chastain and Bell retired from the event but Larson’s #5 Freightliner-sponsored car continued ending the race in 29th place and five laps down from the lead pack.

A new organization for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season, Trackhouse Racing Team’s #99 Chevrolet driven by Daniel Suarez arrived at the Daytona 500 touting the expertise of former Dale Earnhardt Inc. vice president Ty Norris, crew chief Travis Mack and the rapper known as Pitbull as a co-owner. Encountering the usual struggles for a new single-car team in the highly-competitive Cup Series, the #99 Chevrolet would thrive on the dirt track. From 18th place, Suarez soared into the top-10 and eventually made it to 2nd place by the early part of the second racing stage of the Food City Dirt Race. Winning an NASCAR Xfinity Series championship with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2016 and racing with the organization’s Cup operation for two years, Suarez was released from the team after 2018 in order to make room for Martin Truex Jr. transferring from the closed Furniture Row Racing. For lap 135 at Bristol the Mexican driver succeeded in an action that could constitute subtle revenge against his former team. The Camping World-sponsored #99 Chevrolet zeroed in and passed the #19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in turn 4 taking the lead at Bristol. 


Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images



On lap 153 shortly after a competition caution, a total of 10 cars was caught in a melee on the frontstretch that included Alex Bowman, Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon. Kyle Busch, who had been recovering from an early race pit stop for overheating, made contact with the sliding #12 car of Blaney. Both drivers continued and ultimately finished the Food City Dirt Race on the lead lap with Blaney claiming 8th place and Busch bringing his #18 car to a 17th place result. 

With seven laps remaining in the second stage, Daniel Suarez’s fairy tale performance at the front of the field ended as the Penske Racing #22 driven by Joey Logano charged to the lead. Logano took the second stage of the event and would lead NASCAR Cup Series cars into the final 50-lap stage of the monumental short track event. A successful launch for a green-white-checkered finish sealed the race for the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford. In post-race comments released by Penske Racing, Logano said, “There were so many first-time winners and different winners than there has typically been I said, ‘We've got to get a win to make sure we get in the playoffs,' so it's amazing to get this Shell-Pennzoil Mustang into Victory Lane at Bristol. There's nothing like winning at Bristol, but putting dirt on it and being the first to do it is really special”.  

The runner-up in the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway was one of the first of several pleasant surprises amongst drivers and teams looking to achieve a sense of glory in 2021. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. brought his #47 Kroger Chevrolet to his best finish since the June race at Talladega last year. Missing out on victory after being in the best spot to challenge Joey Logano on the final laps, Denny Hamlin settled for a third place. The result is the sixth top-5 for Hamlin in the opening seven events of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series. Leading the third-most laps during the afternoon, Daniel Suarez collected a fourth place finish for his young Trackhouse Racing Team. Taking fifth place, Ryan Newman bounced back from his early race spin to take the position ahead of driver that contributed to the incident. William Byron, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones and Chase Elliott rounded out the top 10 for the first dirt race on the Bristol oval.   

Several dirt superstars made NASCAR Cup Series debuts for the Food City Dirt Race including Canadian driver Stewart Friesen. Driving the #77 Halmar International Chevrolet for Spire Motorsports, Friesen started 32nd in the field and stayed on the lead lap for most of the Bristol but would be lapped in the final stage. Friesen’s first Cup event ended with a decent 23rd place finish. 


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