Defending Cup champion Kyle Larson believes the weekend of dirt racing ahead at Bristol Motor Speedway will be better than last year, but the dirt ace still isn’t sold on the idea of NASCAR on dirt.
Larson, who has won the biggest events in dirt sprint-car and midget racing, made an appearance on the SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show “Dialed In” on Wednesday night, noting he does not believe NASCAR should compete on a dirt surface unless the sanctioning body is willing to remove windshields from the car and use other protection to allow for more traditional dirt racing.
“I guess the way that I look at it (is) if we’re not going to take the windshields out, then why are we racing on dirt?” Larson said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We just shouldn’t race on dirt if we’re not going to take the windshields out and actually have a dirt race with moisture in the track and being able to produce a real dirt race. I feel like we’re just wasting everybody’s time a little bit and not giving the fans and competitors what we all deserve.
“So in my opinion, if we’re not going to take the windshields out, we might as well just never put dirt on Bristol again – which I’m all for not putting dirt on Bristol whether we have windshields or not. I think the racing at Bristol is amazing just as normal.”
Larson is a two-time Chili Bowl Nationals champion in addition to wins in the Kings Royal at Eldora Speedway and the Knoxville Nationals in Iowa. At Bristol last year, Larson was running fourth on Lap 53 when Christopher Bell, another notable dirt talent, spun from second directly in front of Larson’s nose.
Larson’s windshield critique stems from how the track’s surface must be prepared in coordination with whether the plexiglass sits in front of the drivers’ faces.
“With us having windshields, they really can’t make the track as moist and as wet as it needs to be,” said Larson, who won 10 Cup races a season ago. “So they’re going to have to make it dry and have to make it get dusty and slick and all that. And it’s probably going to end up single-file around the bottom like last year and take rubber at some point just because we have to have the track dry so we don’t clog up the windshields or whatever.
“So I don’t know, we’ll see. Who knows? It’s going to be better than last year. I just don’t know if it’s going to look like a real dirt race yet.”
Friday afternoon, teammate Chase Elliott voiced the same concerns about the on-track product and the limiting factors windshields create on the channel’s “SiriusXM Speedway” show with host Dave Moody,
“As long as they have the windshields in them, I agree with a lot of guys that have been saying that: I just don’t think they can have a real dirt race,” said Elliott, the sport’s four-time reigning Most Popular Driver. “It’s going to be tough to do, right? Because No. 1, dirt races aren’t very long, and there’s a reason for that. There’s a reason dirt cars don’t have windshields in them. Go on down the line.
“So I was a little disappointed in some of that and some of the decisions that were made because I think having a dirt race is a great idea. I think it’s a great way for us to spice up our schedule and to do something different, make an exciting weekend for the fans. But if we’re going to do it, we need to do it right. And to do it right, we need to have moisture in the track and be able to have that track go through changes, the proper changes that a good dirt race, when they get it right on a Saturday night, goes (through).”
As a future replacement in front of the drivers, Larson suggested welding bars across the windshield similar to a dirt late model, which he raced at Bristol earlier this month. The Hendrick Motorsports driver noted the bars acted like a rock screen.
“There is not a spindle or a heavy piece of car that’s going to come through that,” Larson said. “It is extremely heavy duty and I don’t see why we couldn’t weld in something like that or clamp in bars that are temporary, whatever it may be. I definitely think there is a way to run no windshields.”
Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, noted Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” that drivers with dirt experience did urge officials to consider running the upcoming race at Bristol – just the second dirt contest of the sport’s modern era – without a windshield, but the negatives still outweighed the positives following a Next Gen test with Truck Series regular and dirt racer Stewart Friesen behind the wheel.
“There was potential benefits to that. At end of day, the windshield is a critical safety component of our cars,” Miller told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Highly developed laminate. Really resistant to intrusion of foreign objects. Until we can further vet the possibility of not using a windshield, (we’re going to) stick with the safety element of what we’ve been doing.”
Larson said he understands NASCAR’s position and that safety is critical.
“But like I said, you’re not going to have a true dirt race with windshields, so I just feel like it’s kind of lame,” Larson said.
The windshield replacement at Friesen’s dirt test was chicken wire, according to Larson, who said he was told mud hit and stung Friesen’s hands as he drove.
“How they had it at the test, yes, I would’ve felt unsafe because all they had was chicken wire, so that’s not going to stop anything coming through,” Larson said. “So yes, I would not have felt safe with what they had for testing. But I think, who knows how long they’ve been working on it? To me, with them putting chicken wire in it, it probably didn’t look like they worked on it very long, like maybe last-minute.
“I feel like if they would’ve worked on it months ago, then they probably would’ve come up with something safer to put in to keep big things from coming in the cockpit. … I think there’s a lot of other simpler things they can do to make them safe enough to where nothing’s going to come in the cockpit other than mud.”
Larson said he hasn’t spoken with anybody from NASCAR about dirt racing “at least since probably a day or two after we raced the dirt race last year there. So no.
“I’m sure I mentioned to them at some point last year – and I think they all know – that we don’t need windshields, so they don’t even really need to ask me my opinion on that.”
Elliott added Friday he didn’t seek those conversations with NASCAR officials and preferred to deal with circumstances behind the wheel.
“I don’t go there, man,” Elliott said. “Look, I’m good with whatever they decide and I’m going to do my very best behind the wheel, and I’m going to support it and I’m going to tell people to watch and try to put on the best race I can put on and do the best job that I can do. That’s my job, right? Those decisions are for the folks at NASCAR and the folks throughout the industry that decide those things.
“And as I’ve told you guys before, I’m not sure I even want a seat at that table. I’m not smart enough to deserve a spot at the table anyway. So I’m going to focus on the things I do and enjoy racing for a living and all the things that we have.”
The pessimism surrounding the windshield conversation is countered by Larson’s anticipation of a better overall product on Sunday. After communication with Steve Swift, who has handled Bristol’s track preparation, and competing in a Late Model on this year’s slightly different banking configuration, Larson is encouraged heading into the second iteration of the Bristol dirt race.
“I really think our racing at Bristol this year with the Cup car is going to be a lot better than what it was last year,” he said. “I think with us running at nighttime, it’s going to be great for the racing. Goodyear has brought a much better dirt tire it looks like, so I think it’s going to look more similar to a dirt race. And I think those dirt fans that are hopefully going to show up for the race this Sunday are going to be in for a treat. I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a fun weekend. A lot of unknowns still, but it should be a good time no matter what.”