Friday 5: Dirt race at Bristol gets another chance but what comes next?

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Dirt racing in the Cup Series gets a second chance this weekend.

Whether it deserves another will be among the key questions after Sunday’s race.

Rain, mud, tire wear and then dust spoiled last year’s attempt at Bristol Motor Speedway. Even with a new time (at night) and date (Easter), this year’s race remains under a microscope.

If Sunday night is the last time Cup competes on dirt — at least at Bristol — that will be fine for some drivers. 

“The most exciting thing about the dirt race is it’s almost over,” former champion Kevin Harvick said last weekend at Martinsville Speedway.

“I don’t think we belong on dirt, still. It wasn’t near as bad as what I thought it would be last year. It was very tolerable as far as driving it and racing it and doing all the things that we do. I don’t agree with racing on dirt.”

Two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch is more direct.

“It’s a mess … it’s not indicative of a good dirt show,” he said. “I’ve seen good dirt shows.”

Reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson raised questions about Cup cars on dirt this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. While he said on “Dailed In” that he thinks the racing will be “a lot better than what it was last year,” noting the night start and a tire better suited for the cars on dirt, he admits there remain “a lot of unknowns.”

One of Larson’s concerns is that the cars still have windshields. Last year, mud covered the windshields of Camping World Trucks two laps into the first heat race. NASCAR canceled the Truck and Cup heat races.

“We just shouldn’t race on dirt if we’re not going take the windshields out and actually have a dirt race with moisture in the track and being able to produce a real dirt race,” Larson said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “I feel like we’re 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.”

That leads to a bigger issue for Bristol, just as other tracks with two Cup dates have: How can each Cup race weekend be unique?

Bristol’s Night Race is a marquee event that serves as a cutoff event in the playoff. Last year’s race featured the confrontation between Chase Elliott and Harvick after the race on pit road. 

Bristol’s spring date, though, had seen declining attendance before the pandemic. Twice between 2017-21, the track’s spring race was moved to Monday because of rain. In 2018, rain interrupted the race three times.

Martinsville Speedway’s spring race also faces an identity crisis. The track’s playoff race is a highly anticipated and hotly charged event that often sees emotion spills over after the race. The spring race does not have the same cachet.

To make Martinsville’s spring race special, the event was moved to night, but an evening race in April can lead to cold temperatures that, among other things, turned last weekend’s race into a dud.

In some cases, new ideas work well immediately.

Speedway Motorsports came up with the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway when attendance and interest in the track’s fall race on the oval waned. 

A spectacular finish in that inaugural race in 2018 provided enough momentum to carry the event for a couple of years, helping the Roval build its own tradition.

Now, the idea of racing on the oval for the Charlotte playoff race would be viewed as a step back and something unthinkable. 

While the notion of dirt on Bristol is too different for some, former Cup champion Joey Logano says variety is a key element for NASCAR.

“I say this about our sport all the time, there are people that love short track racing,” he said. “There are people that love superspeedways and hate short track racing. There are people that love mile-and-a-half racing.

“We get to do it all, and some weeks you’re gonna see your favorite track and some weeks you’re gonna see something completely different. The fact (is) that NASCAR is going to different things.

“We just ran the Clash (at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in February). I thought that was crazy, but it was actually pretty good and really big for our sport. What’s next? We can race anywhere.”

That goes back to the question of if there is a place for dirt.

“I think Bristol last year, I know (it) was a bit difficult with the rain and having Truck go back-to-back with Cup on a Monday,” said Ben Kennedy, who oversees NASCAR’s schedule in his role as senior vice president, racing development and strategy. 

“It was exciting racing for our fans. I think we learned a lot from that event as well. I think having that on the schedule as a one-off event, I think, is a good way for us to be able to test what dirt racing looks like for our Cup Series. We’ll see how this weekend goes.”

2. Search for rides

While much has been made about the abundance of races won by drivers 30 and under since late last season, it underscores another issue within the Cup Series.

The younger the series gets, the harder it will be for those in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series to get good, quality rides. 

With the Xfinity Series featuring young drivers such as 19-year-old Ty Gibbs, 23-year-old Noah Gragson, 24-year-old Sheldon Creed, 25-year-old Brandon Jones and 18-year-old Sam Mayer, and the Truck Series featuring young drivers as 24-year-old John Hunter Nemechek, 25-year-old Ben Rhodes, 19-year-old Chandler Smith, and 22-year-old Zane Smith, there’s the potential for gridlock in getting to Cup.

Of course, that doesn’t even count such drivers in the Xfinity Series as reigning series champion Daniel Hemric (age 31), Austin Hill (27), AJ Allmendinger (40) and Justin Allgaier (35), among others.

With Cup drivers so young, there will be fewer natural openings through driver retirement. More moves will have to be made by firing a driver or not signing them to an extension.

Hendrick Motorsports’ lineup seems set for years. Chase Elliott, who is 26 years old, has a contract extension through the 2027 season. The contracts for reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson, 29, and Alex Bowman, who turns 29 on April 25, are each through the 2023 season. That leaves 24-year-old William Byron, the only multi-time winner this season. He’s due to sign a contract extension that will keep him at Hendrick for the next few years. 

Provided that are no significant performance drops, those four could remain at Hendrick through 2030. Larson, the oldest of the four Hendrick drivers, would be 38 then. Analytics expert David Smith, who once wrote for NBC Sports but now works for RFK Racing, calculated that a driver reaches their statistical peak at age 39. 

Team Penske’s lineup also could be set for years. Former Cup champion Joey Logano is 31 years old. Ryan Blaney is 28. Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric is a rookie at age 23. Team Penske is aligned with Wood Brothers Racing, which has 21-year-old rookie Harrison Burton. 

There may not be much opportunity for movement there.

Joe Gibbs Racing could have a spot in the near future. If so, it would seem as if Ty Gibbs could fill that spot. JGR has Martin Truex Jr. (41 years old), Denny Hamlin (41), Kyle Busch (36) and Christopher Bell (27) in its lineup. 

Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing have combined to win six of the last seven championships. Those teams also have combined to win 109 of 152 Cup races (71.7%) since 2018.

Chevrolet’s lineup with two other top teams is relatively young. Trackhouse Racing has Ross Chastain (29 years old) and Daniel Suarez (30). Richard Childress Racing has Austin Dillon (he turns 32 on April 27) and Tyler Reddick (26).

Toyota’s lineup with 23XI Racing has Bubba Wallace (28) and Kurt Busch (43). 

Ford’s lineup with Stewart-Haas Racing has an opening after this season with Aric Almirola (38) stepping away from full-time Cup race. Kevin Harvick, who is 46 years old, has a contract goes through the 2023 season. Chase Briscoe, who is 27, scored his first Cup win earlier this season at Phoenix. Teammate Cole Custer, who is 24, is in his third season with the team. The team does have former full-time Cup driver Ryan Preece, 31, as a reserve driver.

RFK Racing has Chris Buescher (29) and team co-owner Brad Keselowski (38).

One can see that while there could be some movement, it likely will be teams below the Hendrick, Penske and Gibbs level. What opportunities there could be also may be limited. 

3. Winning season

Consider what William Byron has done since the start of the year.

Feb. 14: Byron won the Clyde Hart Memorial Super Late Model 100 at New Smyrna Speedway.

Feb. 19: Byron won the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing Super Late Model race at New Smyrna Speedway.

March 19: Byron won the Easter Bunny 150 PASS Super Late Model race at Hickory Motor Speedway.

March 20: Byron won the Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

April 7: Byron won the Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway.

April 9: Byron won the Cup race at Martinsville.

Byron said after last season that he planned to race more beyond Cup. He called it a “hunger … to get better for our team.”  After seeing Hendrick teammates Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman run in other series, Byron, who has less on-track experience than those drivers, saw the opportunity to race more.

It’s made a big difference, according to NBC Sports analyst Steve Letarte. He made that point to Nate Ryan on this week’s NASCAR on NBC Podcast.

“I believe winning is not just a result of your talent and hard work, it’s something you have to practice,” Letarte said. 

Noting Byron’s success this season in NASCAR and beyond it, Letarte said:

“The concept of lining up on the front row of any race and getting it done, that means something. …  When William Byron lines up on the front row at a Truck race, he doesn’t think it’s a Truck race. He doesn’t think any more or less about the truck next to him or the truck behind him. He doesn’t think it’s a Sunday or a Friday or a Thursday or a Late Model.

“I think in that moment he’s using everything to win at that moment. I think that test of mental and physical and all of that together, there’s no simulator for that. You’ve got to step up and do it.”

Said Byron after his win last week at Martinsville: “I don’t know why I didn’t do more short track racing throughout the last few years, but it’s been a lot of fun to go back to the short tracks and be with great people on the Late Model side. There’s little things here and there that they’ve taught me that I feel like have helped me, and all those little tidbits pay off.”

4. Truck debut 

Toyota Racing Development driver Buddy Kofoid makes his Camping World Truck Series debut this weekend with Kyle Busch Motorsports.

The 20-year-old California driver won the 2021 USAC Midget national championship. He won his qualifying night feature at the Chili Bowl this year and finished fourth in the A main. He’s coming off a sprint car victory last weekend at Lincoln (Pennsylvania) Speedway.

Kofoid began racing on asphalt last year and finished third in the Pro Late Model division at the All-America 400 at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.

Kofoid will have Mardy Lindley as his crew chief. Lindley helped Martin Truex Jr. win the Truck race on the dirt at Bristol last year. Kofoid is scheduled to drive the same chassis Truex won with a year ago.

As for what Busch is looking to see out of Kofoid?

It would be nice to have him get in there and run well, but these heavy (trucks) on dirt are entirely different than what he’s accustomed to,” Busch said. “He’ll be with a good team with Mardy and those guys who won there last year with Martin, so would think that if he opens his ears and listens that should pay off.”

5. Unique training 

The prevailing thought is that those with dirt racing experience should have an advantage at the dirt track at Bristol.

Yet, that didn’t seem the case last year after Joey Logano won. 

He has a theory on why dirt experience may not matter as much among the Cup drivers.

“My honest opinion is that if you make it to the Cup level, you’re a pretty dang good driver,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. Dirt, asphalt, anything in between you get it. … If you give somebody that’s pretty good a little bit of time to figure it out, they’re going to get going.

“I also think the other piece to it is that as the track got slicker and drier it became more like asphalt. Drove it a little bit more like a traditional car would. Not completely, but a little bit that way. 

“All these drivers, just because they don’t have dirt experience, doesn’t mean they’re not in their backyard driving a four-wheeler or a side by side. … I’m out every day riding my quad with my kid in his go-kart. … I’m still pushing something to the limit on dirt and understanding a little bit when it’s tacky and when it’s dry and those types of things and trying to figure it out.

“As goofy as that sounds, I believe in that. I believe it helped me last year.”

Seven Cup drivers entered in Xfinity race at Sonoma


Kyle Larson is among seven Cup drivers entered in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Sonoma Raceway.

The race marks the first time the Xfinity Series has competed at the California road course. Teams will get 50 minutes of practice Friday because this is a new event on the schedule. That additional time will give those Cup drivers more laps on the 1.99-mile road course.

MORE: Sonoma Xfinity entry list

Here is a look at what Xfinity rides the Cup drivers will pilot this weekend:

The race is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. ET Saturday.


Winners and losers at WWT Raceway


Winners and losers from Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway:


Kyle BuschWins the pole, leads the most laps and holds the field off over the last five restarts to win the race. He scored six playoff points, giving him 16 on the season, second only to William Byron’s 17. Busch left Joe Gibbs Racing after last season for Richard Childress Racing. Busch’s three wins this year equals what JGR has done so far.

Ryan BlaneyHis sixth-place finish moved him into the points lead. He last led the points after the spring 2022 Richmond race. Blaney also won a stage Sunday to collect another playoff point. He has seven this season.

Kyle LarsonFourth-place finish was a big turnaround after struggles earlier in the race. It has not been easy for this team the last few weeks. He has three top-five finishes and four finishes of 20th or worse in the last seven races.

Daniel SuarezHis seventh-place finish moved him up two spots to 16th in the standings, the final playoff transfer spot at this time.


Ross ChastainHe finished 22nd for his third consecutive result outside the top 20. He entered the weekend leading the points and fell to fifth afterward. He is 29 points behind new series leader Ryan Blaney with 11 races left in the regular season.

Tyler ReddickRebounded from an early spin to lead but had his race end after a brake rotor failed. He was one of four drivers eliminated by brake rotor failures. The others were Carson Hocevar, Bubba Wallace and Noah Gragson.

What drivers said at WWT Raceway


Here is what drivers had to say after Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway:

Kyle Busch — Winner: “Just the restarts kind of went our way. We were able to get through on the outside on that one and push (Kyle) Larson out, then he took bottom of (Turns) 3 and 4, I was able to carry the momentum around the high side to take the lead. That was really important. I think that was kind of the key moment of us being able to win today. Being able to control the rest of the restarts for the rest of the race. Kyle is one of the best. It’s good to be able to sit up here and race hard with him, being a Team Chevy partner. He gave me great respect, I appreciate that. That will be given back down the road.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 2nd: “Yeah, I thought we were super dialed if it was 95 degrees like it was supposed to be with those delays – it kind of took away from the advantage I thought that we had. I’m proud of this whole Sport Clips Toyota team – pit crew did a phenomenal job keeping us in it and doing really good on the money stop with about 60 to go. We are going to have to wait another to get that 50th (win).”

Joey Logano — Finished 3rd: “I’m proud of the fight. We were mediocre – just outside the top five all day long. There was a group of cars that were a tick better than us. Then we executed at the end and beat a few of them. We tried some new things from last year, and we learned some lessons. But overall: Good. We needed a solid run. We’ve been going through hell here lately. So, it’s nice to get a top five, third place, and some points there in each stage. Good day.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 4th: “Proud of the effort today. It’s been a couple tough races. We’ve been so good all year long and the last few have been pretty bad and we’ve had to work on it quite a bit. The team got us in a place where we could contend for the win, so you can’t ask for much more than that. …  I wish I would have done a better job. When I was the leader, I hadn’t been at the front all day, so I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know where people were running on restarts, and I didn’t know how hard they could go. I just got kind of caught off guard and lost the control.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 5th: “Started off the race near the front and stayed there through Stage 1 and thought we could get a little bit better and maybe have a shot at the couple, three in front of us. We had a pit road penalty and had to go to the back, and it was just an uphill climb from there. Just really tough to get through the field. We got some damage from when someone’s brake rotor exploded, that slowed us down even more. Really with all we went through today, a top-five is a really good day for us. I’m proud of the effort.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 6th: “We ran pretty good today. Won the second stage which was good, second in the first stage. Just kind of lost track position, lost the lead. Through a couple stops and restarts, we could just never really get it back. I thought that (Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin) and I were similar. It was just a matter of who was out front. I just got a bad restart at the end and fell to sixth. But overall, it wasn’t a bad day. It was a good points day too, and we’ll keep going.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 7th: “The entire weekend was very solid for us. We barely missed the second run in qualifying and really, we missed it because of me and not because of the car. The car was capable of advancing. In the race, the car was strong right away. It was fun today and we really needed this as a team. We needed a result that we deserved, and I felt like lately it’s been a little difficult on us when it comes to that. Today, I felt like we deserved a top-10 or top-five and we came home seventh, so we will take it.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 9th: “We kind of learned last year that track position is super important. Taking two tires was an option last year, so we knew it’d be one this year. We did it early on and got track position, but we got spun out. So, went all the way to the back and then we put four on, and then you’re just buried back there. So, we had to go for it again, put two on and just left two on. We never took four again. There were a lot of laps on the left-side tires, but track position was super important. We had a great FR8 Auctions Ford Mustang, so I knew we could kind of hold our ground. Those last few cautions kind of hurt us a bit, but still came away with a Top-10. So, it was a good day.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 12th: “That was a long day – long race. There were a lot of cautions and red flags. It really started yesterday. I was in a little bit of a hole after qualifying, and I just didn’t do a good job. I had to dig out of that today. We had pretty good speed in our Fastenal Ford Mustang. I was pretty happy with it, and at times, had to move around the track quite a bit. I figured out Gateway really quickly. Not being able to run here last year, I felt a little behind getting going. Definitely found something there at the end. Honestly wish it was a 600-mile race because I felt like we could have kept getting better.”

Austin Cindric — Finished 13th: “Definitely frustrating having a speeding penalty … I’m a little frustrated with myself with that. You think something at the end of Stage 1 isn’t going to affect your race, but it just put us behind. We tried a bunch of strategy calls to get our Freightliner Ford Mustang up there. Had some good restarts at the end and made the most of it, I feel like. Those restarts got really scrappy. Proud of the team effort, proud of the recovery. Definitely a lot to clean up on my end to maximize what I thought was a Top-10 race car.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished 14th: “We had an up-and-down day today fighting the balance in our No. 16 Chevy. I felt like we had a top-15 car most of the day, but we had to play defense to stay there. I wasn’t able to roll speed through the corner like I needed to be more aggressive and keep moving forward. We made a strategy call to take two tires, which didn’t work in our favor. Then we got caught up on pit road and restarted pretty far back at the beginning of the third stage. We’ll take a 14th- place finish after everything we battled with our car today and move forward to Sonoma.”

Justin Haley — Finished 16th: It was an up-and-down day for this No. 31 LeafFilter Gutter Protection team. We fired off tight in traffic, and it was just hard to pass. My crew chief, Trent Owens, made some really good strategy calls and we had positive adjustments all day, despite a couple pit-road mishaps. We had another good Chevrolet hot rod, and we will take a 16th-place finish after a hard fought day.

Ryan Preece — Finished 17th: “That was a really long day. I fought a tight race car all day long and every time we came down pit road, my guys made really strong adjustments. It just wasn’t enough to get us to the front and stay there. There were so many cautions there at the end, I was just trying to save the car. Overall, it wasn’t a terrible day for us after qualifying 29th. The fans were out in full force today, too, that was awesome to see. We’ve just got to keep grinding for better finishes.”

Erik Jones — Finished 18th: “Just an up-and-down day for the No. 43 Chevy team. Didn’t end up how we wanted it to go, but we’ll go to work and get the car a bit better. I thought we had good speed, just didn’t have things go our way. We’ll work on it and hopefully go to Sonoma (Raceway) and have a solid day.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 19th: “We battled handing issues all day and just couldn’t find it. We were loose to start the day and it felt like our car was tight on aero and loose mechanically. Our long-run speed was really all we had today and we could pass cars late in the run, but we had so many cautions in the final stage we didn’t have the chance to run those cars down. Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) put me on offense on the last 20 laps with fresh tires and I thought we could’ve driven up to 15th, but someone missed a shift on the last restart and stacked us up and put us behind. Just one of those days. We had to battle to get all we could get.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 32nd: “We kept our track position just like we wanted to. We got stage points, and I felt like we had a top-eight or so car, which was a big difference from last year. Obviously we’re striving to be better everywhere. We had a really good streak going of really good runs. It looked like the No. 2 (Austin Cindric) just, for some reason, right-reared the No. 3 (Austin Dillon) and took both of us Chevy guys out, so that’s a bummer. We definitely had a top-10 car today.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 34th: “Our day kind of went bad early on, but our McDonald’s Camry was able to get through traffic pretty well, but as the track stated to cool off, it just started going away from us. It was starting to get frustrating out there for sure, to have a car that good, and it felt like it was just going away. I had a bad feeling that was coming soon. I was just getting ready to have to back off with how soft the brakes got, but I obviously should have been thinking about that a lap or two sooner.”

Carson Hocevar — Finished 36th: “I thought it was great. I had a blast. Just so thankful for the opportunity. I don’t have a job for next year. I know Al Niece and Cody Efaw wants me to run for them and I will forever run a race or however many. But man, I’m just so thankful that they gave me the opportunity – the opportunity to drive a Xfinity car and now driving a Cup car. I was running 16th.. just so surreal for the first time ever. I thought we were going to have a good day and be in a good spot for Schluter Systems, Celsius, Spire Motorsports, Ryan Sparks and the No. 7 Chevy team. Hopefully that call for a Cup ride isn’t the only one I get in my life.”

Cup results at WWT Raceway, driver points


Kyle Busch scored his third Cup victory of the season, winning Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway in overtime.

Busch is tied with William Byron for most victories this season. Busch and Byron have combined to win three of the last six Cup points races (two by Busch and one by Byron).

MORE: Cup race results at WWT Raceway

MORE: Cup driver standings after WWT Raceway

Denny Hamlin finished second. Joey Logano placed third. Kyle Larson overcame struggles early in the race to finish fourth. Martin Truex Jr. completed the top five.

Corey LaJoie finished 21st, driving the No. 9 for the suspended Chase Elliott.

Ryan Blaney placed sixth and took the points lead from Ross Chastain, who placed 22nd. Chastain fell to fifth in the standings.