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Drivers ready to get dirty in tonight’s Eldora Dirt Derby Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway

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Whether they do well, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers are almost universal in their thoughts:

They love to play in the dirt of Eldora Speedway.

It’s a race unlike any other, on a track that’s also unlike any other in the 23-race Truck Series schedule.

This year’s Eldora Dirt Derby is the fifth at Eldora. Past winners have been Austin Dillon (2013), Darrell Wallace Jr. (2014), Christopher Bell (2015) and Kyle Larson (2016).

Several drivers recently spoke about what the race – and track – means to them. Here’s what they had to say:

John Hunter Nemechek:

What kind of track is Eldora to you?

Eldora is kind of an oddball compared to most racetracks we go to, but we’ve had speed there in the past couple of years. So we’re looking to go back with somewhat of the same setup.

“We just have to read the track when we get there, seeing what the track is wanting truck-wise and make sure we stay out of trouble. As long as we run a smart race and we’re able to finish all the laps, we’ll be one of the contenders at the end.”

Should the Trucks add a second race on dirt?

“I definitely think other series should try racing in the dirt just to get a feel of … what we’re doing, how we’re racing. It puts on one of the best shows each year.”

What’s the best way to get around Eldora?

“I mean, you see guys sliding around three-, four-wide, as long as they can manage to keep their trucks in one piece and not take out the whole field, I definitely think that going to Eldora, it’s really hard to prepare. And for a truck race there, just because the trucks are so much different than any dirt car, but I definitely think the dirt racers have a little bit of an advantage, just due to racing on dirt, knowing what the track conditions are, what the dirt looks like and what they need for setup-wise.

“And for asphalt racers, we don’t really know what we need. Luckily we have a couple guys on our team that have raced dirt in the past. They’re definitely going to be a huge help.”

Johnny Sauter:

Do you like racing at Eldora and on dirt?

“Eldora is a little bit different situation, especially for a guy like me that’s raced asphalt his whole life. I’ve been to a couple of dirt races throughout my lifetime, I guess. But I’ve always been an asphalt guy.

“So I have fun at Eldora. I think it’s a fun place. Obviously a good atmosphere. A lot of great race fans there. But for me it’s just a place where I just haven’t figured it out quite yet. I’ve had some decent runs there but for some reason got tore up towards the middle stages of the race.”

What is your mindset going there?

“I guess my mindset going there is just to have fun, first and foremost. But I think if we do everything right and if we can stay out of trouble, hopefully we’ll be in contention at the end of that thing.

“It’s sort of a survival state. But it’s also a place where if you have a win early in the season and you had some good runs going, it’s a place you can kind of just go and enjoy. And believe me, I’m a competitive guy, I’m a racer, and I want to go there and I want to run well. I just don’t exactly know how yet.”

Since you’re an asphalt guy, what’s your dirt gameplan?

“It’s going to put a bigger emphasis on trying to be a little bit more aggressive. I feel like I say this every week that I’m aggressive no matter what the situation is.

“But you know you might not be as apt to let a guy squeeze into a spot that you maybe normally would. So Eldora is going to be an aggressive race, there’s no doubt about it.”

Christopher Bell:

How much do you like racing at Eldora?

Eldora is my favorite racetrack in the whole world. Grew up running a lot of laps there. I think over my dirt career here, I’ve run more laps at Eldora than I have anywhere in the world.

“To go back to Eldora riding the momentum from our Kentucky win in the Truck Series is going to be exciting. I think I’ve got as good a shot as anybody to win the race and it’s one of my favorite races of the year, so I’m really looking forward to it.”

You have three wins, but you can also get closer to Johnny Sauter in the standings with a good run at Eldora.

“I feel like this is a very good place for me to catch up on Johnny because Johnny is not a dirt guy and I am. So hopefully we can close the gap a little bit and then add to our championship standings as well.”

Chase Briscoe:

This will be your first Truck race at Eldora. You’ve done a great deal of dirt track racing in sprint cars. What are your thoughts coming into Eldora?

“This is the one track I’ve been looking forward to more than any. It’s going to be nice to finally get to Eldora, I’ve been going there ever since I was little. Never got to actually race there.

“Eldora for a dirt guy is Daytona and Indianapolis. Definitely going to be an honor to run there finally.”

Talk more about your dirt background

“My whole dirt background has been 410 non-winged sprint cars and a couple midget races here and there. But just having dirt experience in anything is certainly going to help, I think, just because you know what the track is doing, you can tell just by reading it and you just know that feel that you need on dirt as far as side bite and forward bite goes.

“Just having a sprint car background, obviously the truck’s going to be a lot slower than the sprint car and that always helps when you feel like you’re in slowing motion. It’s going to be a great race.”

What drivers are you focusing on?

“Obviously, (Christopher) Bell is going to be one to beat. Rico (Abreu) going to be good. Bobby Pierce and guys like Chris Wyndham, who is a really good USAC sprint car driver, I think there’s going to be a couple guys that surprise you.”

Would you like to see a second Truck race on dirt?

“I’d be all for it. I think obviously for me and Christopher both, I think we don’t have near as much pavement experience as most of the guys. It’s nice to go to a racetrack where we have an advantage.

“If we could do (a second dirt race) in the playoffs, I certainly think it would be awesome. But there’s a lot of tracks I think that could host it. Obviously Knoxville (Iowa) would be one, I think, just from a seating standpoint and the track size standpoint would be good.

“And I think you could even go all the way to Charlotte Motor Speedway with it being out there real close.”

Eldora Dirt Derby schedule (all times ET):

TODAY

1 p.m. — Garage opens

4:30 p.m. — Driver/crew chief meeting

5:15 p.m. — Qualifying, single vehicle/two laps (Fox Sports 1)

7:30 p.m. — First qualifying race, 10 laps (Fox Sports 2, Motor Racing Network)

7:39 p.m. — Second qualifying race, 10 laps (FS2, MRN)

7:48 p.m. — Third qualifying race, 10 laps (FS2, MRN)

7:57 p.m. — Fourth qualifying race, 10 laps (FS2, MRN)

8:06 p.m. — Fifth qualifying race, 10 laps (FS2, MRN)

8:45 p.m. — Last Chance qualifying race, 15 laps (FS2, MRN)

9:10 p.m. — Driver introductions

9:30 p.m. — Eldora Dirt Derby 150 — three segments of 40, 50 and 60 laps for a total of 150 laps/75 miles (Fox Business, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

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Can Adam Stevens, Kyle Busch ‘get mojo back’ at Bristol?

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Kyle Busch is known for speaking his mind. He says what he has to say whether things are good, bad, successful or frustrating.

That kind of attitude has rubbed off somewhat on his crew chief, Adam Stevens.

After Busch finished a disappointing 29th in Thursday’s fourth Cup race in 12 days, dropping Busch from 8th to 12th in the standings, Stevens was asked in a Friday teleconference where he would assess the progress of the No. 18 team since returning from the COVID-19 hiatus.

Like his driver, Stevens didn’t beat around the bush – no pun intended.

“Overall, it’s been a disappointing start, I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” Stevens said. “You have stretches like that and I think we need to get our program a little better and then internally as a team we have to do better.”

In the four post-hiatus races, Busch finished 26th at Darlington, accidentally knocked Chase Elliott into the wall to finish second in the return trip to the Lady In Black, was fourth in the Coca-Cola 600, and then things just fell apart in Thursday’s race, his 29th-place finish being the second-worst finish this season (worst was 34th in the Daytona 500).

“In general, I would say we’re not as competitive as we’d want to be,” Stevens said. “We haven’t executed like we’ve wanted to.

“We’ve managed to get a couple good finishes in there, managed to get a couple poor finishes – the poor finishes were probably more poor than what they needed to be because of mistakes or circumstances we fell into during the race.”

A potential part of the problem with the No. 18 team – it’s a likely problem for most teams that have struggled since the return to racing – has been fatigue.

By the time Sunday’s race at Bristol is over, that will make five Cup races in 15 days. Plus, wih limitations on personnel numbers both at-track and at the JGR shop due to the pandemic, fatigue is apparent.

But after Sunday’s race, NASCAR Cup teams get a luxury of sorts: no midweek races this coming week and a chance for everyone to collectively catch their breath and rest up for nearly a week until the next race on June 7 at Atlanta.

“There’s quite a few of my crew guys who have been worn out here and spread pretty thin,” Stevens said. “They could really use a day or two off for sure, and they’re going to get that early in the week.

“We have a race in Atlanta with no practice, so the prep is down, but no midweek race … will make it a lot more palatable next week. Next week will probably be a week to get caught back up and assess where we’re at and maybe do a little bit more leg work on some of the future races so we can be a little bit more ahead. For certain there’s a large group of guys who need a day off.”

Sunday’s 500-lap race at Bristol offers a chance at redemption — if not a kind of home track advantage — for Busch and Stevens. In 29 Cup starts there, Busch has eight wins — including three in his last five starts there — plus 12 top-5 and 17 top-10 finishes.

If there ever was a place to right the listing No. 18 ship, the world’s fastest half-mile may just be the place.

“What makes Kyle (Busch) good at Bristol doesn’t change,” Stevens said. “He’s just so good at adapting what he’s doing behind the wheel to suit how the track is changing. Hopefully he’ll get to showcase more of that this weekend.

“It’s the track and the nuances of the track and how that changes and the fact that it changes is what makes KB shine there. He can make time on the bottom, in the PJ1, he can make time around the top when that’s the place to be and he’s not scared to move around and really is exceptional at getting through the lapped traffic as well.

“If you had to circle a place to get your mojo back, this would probably be it.”

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Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Forget practice, qualifying, ‘I just like to race’

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In the new normal of NASCAR, there are a lot of things drivers are getting used to.

From health screens when they get to the track to carrying their own helmets and other chores that previously were done by assistants, drivers are adapting.

One thing that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. likes is how, with the exception of one qualifying session for the Coca-Cola 600, that the first four Cup races back since the COVID-19 hiatus have not had practice or qualifying.

Stenhouse, to paraphrase late Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, wants to “just race, baby, just race.”

Even though NASCAR’s race-only policy is predicated upon keeping things simple and staying safe in the pandemic, Stenhouse definitely has embraced the mindset of climbing in the car, firing the motor up and slamming on the gas pedal. No warm-ups, no testing different setups, no nothing. He just wants to chase the checkered flag.

“I just like to race, I like to be in the race car,” Stenhouse said in a media teleconference Friday. “Practice and qualifying doesn’t do it for me as much as getting out and competing in the race, as (opposed to being) in the car on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“Really there’s nothing like going out and racing. I enjoy racing as much as possible.”

Stenhouse, who finished fourth in Thursday’s Cup race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, has also enjoyed NASCAR holding two of its first four Cup races back since the coronavirus hiatus in mid-week and prime time.

While that type of schedule makes it difficult and even grueling for crew chiefs and the rest of the team, count Stenhouse as hoping NASCAR moves forward with more mid-week races next season and beyond once coronavirus and the limitations it has placed upon the sport are gone.

“I like the Sunday-Wednesday schedules; I wish we could kind of keep doing that,” he said. “I’ve never been a fan of shortening the season because I just like to race.

“I’m going to try and sprinkle some more dirt races in when I can, if NASCAR lets me (he laughs). For me, I enjoy the racing aspect of it. I love being in the race car as much as possible. Like probably the other crew chiefs said, the guys at the shop definitely have a lot more work as far as getting cars ready week in and week out.

“So, that’s always been probably the biggest question mark of running these mid-week races to catch up our schedule is the toll that it’s taking on the crew guys. But it’s all been well received, they enjoy it and they love us back racing.”

In his first season with JTG-Daugherty Racing, Stenhouse has admittedly struggled. In the first eight races, the driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet has just two top-five finishes: Thursday night and third at Las Vegas.

Every other finish has been 20th or lower.

But Stenhouse sees light at the end of the tunnel. Ever since NASCAR returned from the pandemic hiatus, Stenhouse has seen improvement within his team that may not necessarily be reflected in the final result, but he definitely likes what he’s seeing from his team and the performance of his race car.

“Looking at the equipment that they have here, the people, the parts and pieces, the Hendrick power, the new Chevy Camaro body – I feel like those are all really good things to put together,” Stenhouse said. “Bringing my crew chief Brian Pattie over, bringing Mike Kelley over, with a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience to work in, they jumped right in. I felt like they’ve been working with these guys for a long time and it’s only been a short amount of time.

“So, I feel like we are definitely capable of running in the top 10. I feel like last night was definitely a night that we hit it right. We had a really good car and I hope we can continue to run top five and contend for wins.

“But I definitely feel like we can run top 10 with everything that we have right here. We have to do that – we have to limit my mistakes, limit the issues that we’ve had and just have good, smooth, solid nights, and I think we can run top-ten.

“I told the boys that we needed a good run going into Bristol, my favorite race track, knowing that I really like the way these cars drive. And if it drives as good at Bristol as it has at these other race tracks, I feel like we’re going to have a shot at a win. I wanted a good solid top-15 run, no issues, no mistakes and it turned out to be way better than that. So, we’re looking forward to hopefully carrying that momentum into Sunday.”

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Starting lineup for Sunday afternoon’s Cup race at Bristol

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Brad Keselowski and Aric Almirola will lead the field to the green flag in Sunday’s Cup Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Keselowski will start first and Almirola will start second.

The top five is completed by Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr., putting all three of Team Penske’s cars in the top five.

The field was determined through a random draw of the following groups:

  • Positions 1-12: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 13-24: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 25-36: Random draw from charter teams in those positions in owner points
  • Positions 37-40: Open teams in order of owners points

Click here for the starting lineup.

NASCAR Cup Series at Bristol

Race Time: 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday

Track: Bristol Motor Speedway; Bristol, Tennessee (half-mile oval)

Length: 500 laps, 266.5 miles

Stages: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125. Stage 2 ends on Lap 250.

TV coverage: FS1

Radio: Performance Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: Fox Sports app (subscription required); goprn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Next Xfinity race: June 1 at Bristol (300 laps, 159.9 miles), 7 p.m. ET on FS1

Next Truck Series race: June 6 at Atlanta (130 laps, 200.02 miles), 1 p.m. ET on FS1

Chase Elliott ‘Sent it, for Judd’ in Charlotte Cup Series win

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A rollercoaster week for Chase Elliott ended Thursday night with him in Victory Lane for the second time in three days and for the first time this year in the Cup Series.

But Elliott’s win at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the seventh Cup victory of his career, had additional weight for the Hendrick Motorsports driver. Not long after the race, Elliott posted a picture on Instagram of him celebrating on the frontstretch. At the bottom of the picture was a drawing of a character saying “send it.”

A sticker of that figure, which is a walrus, is located on the front bumper of Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet.

“Sent it, for Judd,” Elliott wrote in the Instagram post. “This ones for you brother, miss you my friend. That sticker will forever stay on the front of that 9 car, I promise y’all that.”

On Friday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. asked Elliott on NASCAR America at Home the meaning behind the sticker.

“Judd (Plott) was my best friend since I was a kid, he and I grew up together,” Elliott said. “His mom sang at my parent’s wedding and just my best friend since I can remember. Lost him last fall. That sticker is kind of remembrance of him. He had a tattoo on his leg of that little walrus and that was kind of his little logo.

“So I had a friend make up some stickers last fall after (Judd passed), and I just thought it’d be really cool to carry that moving forward. He was my best friend as long as I can remember and just always supportive and just felt like it’d be special to carry that for the rest of my career and always remember him and he was one of a kind and he was a genuinely good dude.”

The walrus decal and its placement on Elliott’s bumper is similar to one that can be found on the bumper of Jimmie Johnson’s car. It’s dedicated to his friend Blaise Alexander, an ARCA driver who was killed in a crash at Charlotte in 2001, and the 10 people who were killed in a Hendrick Motorsports plane crash in 2004.

The walrus decal isn’t the first time Elliott’s honored his late friend. Last November, he had a tribute to Judd on his nameplate above the driver-side window.

Following Thursday’s race, the Cup Series next competes Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway. Like the previous four races, it will be a one-day show. Elliott shared his thoughts on how a limited at-track schedule and condensed crew rosters are bringing the No. 9 team together.

“It’s brought an excitement back to it that I haven’t had in a little while, from the standpoint of I feel like I’m short-track racing again,” Elliott said. “I feel like it’s brought our team closer together because different guys on our team are having to do more jobs. Like (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson is) having to come off the box and catch tires during the pitstop. And that’s brought him closer to our pit crew. I’m having a couple more items to do and keep up with than what I had before and I think all that is bringing us closer together. And for me, it’s just been a lot of fun kind of condensing the group and doing more racing and less sitting around.”

The one-day show at Bristol has an added element to it. Without any prior track activity before Sunday’s green flag, the traction compound added to the lower lanes in the turns will be more difficult for drivers to navigate.

Elliott thinks it’s been “overlooked a little bit.”

“(The traction compound) does not like to be run on until it gets run in and those are two things that don’t go good together, right?” Elliott said. “Because it doesn’t have grip and nobody wants to run on it. But we all want it at the same time because we want another option. What I’ve noticed is it seems like it takes the leaders catching lap cars and forcing cars into a position that they don’t want to be in to start to run that stuff in. Until it gets run in, it’s really hard. It’s really slick. And I think that’s probably the biggest thing is just, you know, marrying up all those things, right? Do we have the splitter height, right? How slick is that stuff going to be? How long is it going to take it to come in. And when it does come in how long until it wears out and the top becomes the advantage because it typically does by the end of a race.

“But we typically have a full weekend to practice and qualifying and a Xfinity race. And a lot of times we don’t see that top line come dominant until late in the Cup race on Sunday. So I’m really curious to see how all those things play out.”