Ty Dillon scored his first top 10 of the season on Easter Sunday at the dirt-covered Bristol Motor Speedway.
His strong performance shouldn’t come as a surprise considering his upbringing, which featured plenty of dirt racing. But Dillon takes exception to his NASCAR Cup Series colleagues who criticize the sanctioning body’s decision to take its premier series back to dirt.
One week before winning the Bristol dirt race, two-time series champion Kyle Busch said he agreed with Richard Petty, co-owner of Dillon’s No. 42 Petty GMS Motorsports Chevrolet: “As Richard Petty said, dirt takes our sport backwards.”
Defending title winner and dirt dominator Kyle Larson lamented NASCAR’s decision to race on dirt with windshields, but further questioned the need for dirt at Bristol: “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.”
Dillon, on the other hand, defended the idea of continuing to run a points race on the dirt at the half-mile track.
“I think a lot of our drivers just like to complain because they’re bored and sometimes just want something to talk about it and try to show emotion in that way,” Dillon said in a Thursday media teleconference. “I mean, I think you’ve just gotta look at it a lot less selfishly. So what if you get a little dirty? … We’re all on the same track, and we’re all doing it together. The only thing that’s gonna make this sport continue to grow and be good for everyone is to have a positive outlook and see what worked and how we can make the things that didn’t work as good or better and move forward positively.”
Dillon, who is in his fifth full-time Cup season after a part-time ride in 2021, felt this year’s Bristol dirt race was “massively improved” from last season’s inaugural attempt. And with just two dirt races complete, Dillon isn’t ready to give up on the event.
“Sometimes people aren’t patient enough to let something mature and grow into what it really can be. And sometimes we’re quick to snap judge and say this isn’t gonna work and this is stupid,” he said. “And I just think that’s not a healthy way to look at things in our sport. I enjoy the fact that NASCAR is choosing a different way to go about racing at different tracks and trying to do things for our fans. I think if you take your driver-selfishness hat off and you look at it globally, that was an awesome event.
“And you think of all the things that we fixed from the previous event, that was great. And there’s another list of things that we can continue to do to grow it. But just saying this race isn’t worth it and hope we don’t go back, I think that’s kind of ridiculous.”
Busch and Larson weren’t the only former champions turned detractors. Kevin Harvick blasted the track preparation and said the event wouldn’t be happening if it was up to him. Chase Elliott, Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate and the 2020 champion, agreed with Larson’s windshield assessment.
“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,” Elliott said last week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “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.”
By the end of Sunday night, Busch, one of the more vocal opponents of the Bristol dirt race, found himself in victory lane after Tyler Reddick and Chase Briscoe tangled in Turn 3. Busch was pleased with how much better track conditions were than 2021 but said he still wasn’t a fan of the idea.
“The biggest thing that hinders me from enjoying this is just the application,” he said. “We’re trying to do something that isn’t applicable, in my opinion. I mean, the first 10 laps of the race, everybody is shooting mud off, we’re covering everybody’s grilles. Our windshields are covered with the dirt going off the windshield, stuff like that.
“Those guys talk about the windshields and stuff like that: If we get rid of the windshields, we could have tear-offs and stuff. That’s fine, but the cars are 3500 pounds. You saw what it’s like on the last corner, the last lap, to drive around here every single lap. You are on edge, on your toes, just trying not to crash every single lap.
“When you’re in a dirt car, I’ve now run micros, dirt late models, a few different types of vehicles on dirt. When there’s grip, it’s grip and rip. You are driving the heck out of that thing. Makes you breathe hard. This thing here, you’re just not breathing because you’re so tensed up of not crashing. It’s just the application.
“If it’s a good show, it’s a good show. I think Bristol is fine with or without. I’ve won on them all, so I think I have the best say.”
In a statement posted to the track’s website, Bristol Motor Speedway President and General Manager Jerry Caldwell confirmed the facility “will prepare for a spring night race on dirt in 2023” with a specific date to be announced at a later time.
That brings another dynamic into the Bristol dirt date debate: Does the race need to run on Easter Sunday?
Fox reported more than 4 million people watched Sunday’s race, which was the sport’s first scheduled contest on Easter since 1970. But while Dillon acknowledged his family was at the track with him, the impact of hosting a race on the holiday poses questions for other industry members who aren’t as fortunate.
“There’s a balance. I think we can work the schedule,” Dillon said. “I think the owners and NASCAR, in general, have to work together to do as much for their employees as possible in that situation. That’s the way I see it. But it’s a very positive thing that we had great viewership.
“I know next year, (an Easter race would) be going up against the Masters, which will be interesting to see how that works out. So we just have to work together to figure it out because these people that work so hard deserve time with their families, especially when you look at our schedule this year. We have one off weekend throughout this whole year and that is brutal.”
NASCAR Chief Operating Officer Steve O’Donnell, who joined SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” on Tuesday, noted that the sanctioning body is aware of the grind crew members face while also citing the significance of racing in a key time slot.
“I think this year in particular, the way the calendar falls out, there was already one less off weekend,” O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “So if you looked ahead to next year, that would be different. We’d be able to add a second off weekend. But for us, it’s what do we all want to do to grow the sport and expose it to more fans? And when you’re offered up the ability to be on an additional network race, you’ve got to take a hard look at that.”