Long: Dirt or pavement is wrong question to ask about Bristol


BRISTOL, Tenn. — In the debate on if the dirt race should return to Bristol Motor Speedway next season, the wrong question is being asked.

The focus should be when will Bristol get a better date for its spring race.

Drivers say Bristol Motor Speedway’s concrete track makes for one of the best racing venues on the circuit. It’s time to give Bristol a better date away from the cold, rainy conditions that have impacted the event in recent years.

One idea would be to move Bristol’s spring date to May and have the North Wilkesboro race move to April and become a points event next season. Promote North Wilkesboro as the first points race at that track since 1996 and run it on Easter night.

North Wilkesboro’s more intimate setting means a capacity crowd of around 25,000 will look much better on TV than the larger crowd that saw the Bristol race Sunday but still had many seats empty.

The Bristol race that moves to May could remain a points event and allow NASCAR to do something different with the All-Star Race. Maybe Nashville’s Fairground Speedway will be ready to host the All-Star Race in 2025.

Moving Bristol later in the season gives the track a chance to draw a larger crowd and possibly avoid some of the weather issues that have plagued the track.

Three times since 2017 he spring Bristol Cup race has finished on a Monday. Twice in that span the entire race was held on a Monday because of rain.

All three years Cup has raced on the dirt at Bristol has been plagued by bad weather.

  • In 2021, the rain postponed the dirt race to Monday, March 29.
  • In 2022, rain halted the April 17 dirt race twice but the event was able to run the full distance.
  • This year, the Cup practice was rained out on Friday.

As to the question of if Bristol should be a dirt event, Brad Keselowski noted the expiration date on such unique events.

“If you’re going to have a special event, I don’t think you do it more than two years,” he said. “I think it kind of loses its luster after the second year no matter what it is, not just here, but any of the ones that we do. You’ve got to keep it fresh.

“We’re in the era now of social media and instant gratification. Things are cool real quick and then they’re not cool real quick.”

Joey Logano likes the idea of a dirt race on the Cup schedule but could see it possibly elsewhere.

“I do think having a dirt race is cool … for our sport,” Logano said after he won last weekend’s Craftsman Truck race on the dirt at Bristol. “To be the most versatile sport in the world is pretty cool. Dirt racing is one part of that.

“You’ve got to be so versatile through every discipline (as a driver). I love that challenge. So I wouldn’t want to take a dirt race off the schedule. All I’m saying is Bristol a great racetrack either way.”

Chase Briscoe says to give the dirt race at Bristol a chance but on a different weekend.

“I would love to see this race on a non-Easter weekend just to kind of see the turnout,” he said after finishing fifth Sunday night. “I feel like we don’t get a true read about what the fanbase thinks about it.

“We have to have a dirt race, at least one. Now, if it’s here or not, it doesn’t really make a difference to me. I do think after (Sunday night), even last year, especially after (Sunday night), I think it’s show that they can put on really good racing.”

If not a dirt race at Bristol, then where?

“If we move it, we just have to be smart about it and where you run it because it’s going to be hard to just go and replicate something like this or something like Eldora,” Briscoe said of the half-mile dirt track owned by Tony Stewart that once hosted Truck races.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps said Cup will continue to have schedule variation in 2024. Moving Bristol’s spring race should be something to consider.


Christopher Bell’s victory Sunday at Bristol put him in a category above future Hall of Famers.

The victory was Bell’s fifth in 116 career Cup starts. Among active drivers, that’s more wins in the same amount of time than future Hall of Famers Kevin Harvick (four wins), Kyle Busch (four) and Denny Hamlin (four).

Only Brad Keselowski had more wins in his first 116 Cup starts than Bell did. Keselowski had eight wins.

Told how he ranked Sunday night, Bell said: “That’s incredible, something that I’m forever grateful to be in the position I am in, to drive for a team that’s capable of giving me race cars capable of winning.

“But I try to not look at the stats and focus on the task at hand. That is very rewarding to hear, and hopefully I’m not done here.”

Next on the Cup schedule is Sunday’s race at Martinsville. Bell won there last October to advance to the championship race.

Bell and his Joe Gibbs Racing team are taking advantage of the opportunity this month. With races at Richmond, Bristol dirt and Martinsville, this is a chance for Bell to grab strong finishes and strengthen his position in the season standings.

Bell opened April by finishing fourth at Richmond and followed it with the win at Bristol, moving him into the points lead. That’s critical. Those in the top 10 at the end of the regular season score bonus playoff points.

Bell entered last year’s postseason with only 11 playoff points, putting him 10th among the 16 drivers. Twice he had to win in elimination races to advance.

This stretch is a key point for Bell and his team to score as many points as possible. He’s scored 97 points in two races. Only two other drivers have scored more than 70 points in those events: Tyler Reddick (74 points) and Kyle Larson (72).

“Once we get into the playoffs, it’s all about bonus points to get through these rounds,” crew chief Adam Stevens said. “We were fortunate last year when our backs were up against the wall to be able to transfer. But you can’t rely on that. That’s tough. It took some situations and a little bit of a luck for that to happen.

“If you have a big old stockpile of bonus points, you get in that spot, maybe it’s not as foreboding as it was. Hopefully we don’t put ourselves in that spot. To do that, we need to capitalize on our strengths and we need to minimize our weaknesses.”

RFK Racing gains sponsorship from submarine recruiting group


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR racing and submarines? Yes.

RFK Racing announced Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that it has entered a partnership with BlueForge Alliance, which is involved in securing workers for the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Industrial Base (SIB) program. BuildSubmarines.com will be a primary sponsor for RFK drivers Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher in 10 Cup Series races this year and in 18 races per season beginning in 2024.

The sponsorship will showcase the careers related to the submarine-building program across the nation.

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“I’m proud to support a cause of such vital significance to our country with this new partnership,” Keselowski said. “The synergies between a NASCAR team and our military’s needs to stay on track fast are countless. We hope to inspire the workforce of the next generation across the country when they see RFK race and hear our message.”

The sponsorship will support the mission to recruit, hire, train, develop and retain the SIB workforce that will build the Navy’s next generation of submarines, the team said.

“We are excited and grateful to be teaming with RFK Racing to drive awareness of the thousands of steady, well-paying manufacturing jobs available across the nation. Innovation, working with purpose and service to others are hallmarks of both of our organizations,” said Kiley Wren, BlueForge chief executive. “Together, we aim to inspire NASCAR fans and all Americans to pursue career opportunities that will support our national defense.”

Kyle Larson visits Indianapolis Motor Speedway to survey the scene


Former NASCAR champion Kyle Larson, who is scheduled to run the Indianapolis 500 in 2024 as part of an Indy-Charlotte “double,” visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage area Sunday on Indianapolis 500 race day.

Larson said he wanted to familiarize himself with the Indy race-day landscape before he becomes immersed in the process next year.

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Larson later returned to Charlotte, where was scheduled to drive in the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night. Next year, he’s scheduled to run both races.

“I love racing,” Larson told NBC Sports. “I love competing in the biggest races. In my opinion, this is the biggest race in the world. I wanted to be a part of it for a long time, and I finally feel like the timing is right. It’s pretty cool to have a dream come true.

“I wanted to come here and kind of experience it again and get to experience how crazy it is again before I’m in the middle of it next year. I kind of want as little surprise as possible next year.”

In the 2024 500, Larson will be one of four drivers with the Arrow McLaren team.

Earlier this month, Larson and Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon attended an Indy 500 practice day.

Larson said Sunday he hasn’t tested an Indy car.

“I don’t know exactly when I’ll get in the car,” he said. “I’ve had no sim (simulator) time yet. I’ve kind of stayed back. I didn’t want to ask too many questions and take any focus on what they have going on for these couple of weeks. I’m sure that will pick up after today.

“I look forward to the challenge. No matter how this experience goes, I’m going to come out of it a better race car driver.”




Jimmie Johnson: Building a team and pointing toward Le Mans


CONCORD, N.C. — These are busy days in the life of former NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson is a co-owner of Legacy Motor Club, the Cup Series team that has struggled through a difficult first half of the season while it also is preparing for a switch from Chevrolet to Toyota next year.

Johnson is driving a very limited schedule for Legacy as he seeks to not only satisfy his passion for racing but also to gain knowledge as he tries to lift Legacy to another level. As part of that endeavor, he’ll race in the Coca-Cola 600 in Legacy’s No. 84 car, making his third appearance of the season.

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And, perhaps the biggest immediate to-do item on Johnson’s list: He’ll race June 10-11 in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the world’s biggest endurance race and another of the bucket list races the 47-year-old Johnson will check off his list.

“I’m excited, invigorated, exhausted — all of it,” Johnson said. “It has been a really exciting adventure that I’ve embarked on here — to learn from (Legacy co-owner) Maury Gallagher, to be a part of this great team and learn from everyone that I’m surrounded by. I’m in a whole new element here and it’s very exciting to be in a new element.

“At the same time, there are some foundational pieces coming together, decisions that we’re making, that will really help the team grow in the future. And then we have our job at hand – the situation and environment that we have at hand to deal with in the 2023 season. Depends on the hat that I’m wearing, in some respects. There’s been a lot of work, but a lot of excitement and a lot of fun. I truly feel like I’m a part of something that’s really going to be a force in the future of NASCAR.”

Johnson is scheduled to fly to Paris Monday or Tuesday to continue preparations for the Le Mans race. He, Jenson Button and Mike Rockenfeller will be driving a Hendrick Motorsports-prepared Chevrolet as part of Le Mans’ Garage 56 program, which is designed to offer a Le Mans starting spot for a team testing new technologies.

“For me, it’s really been about identifying marquee races around the world and trying to figure out how to run in them,” Johnson said. “Le Mans is a great example of that. Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 — these are the marquee events.”

He said his biggest concerns approaching the 24-hour race are being overtaken by faster prototypes in corners and racing at night  while dealing with the very bright lights of cars approaching in his rear view mirrors.

At Legacy, Johnson has work to do. Erik Jones has a top finish of sixth (and one other top 10) this season, and Noah Gragson is still looking for his first top-10 run. He has a best finish of 12th – at Atlanta.

“I think Erik (Jones) continues to show me just how good he is,” Johnson said. “He’s been in some challenging circumstances this year and keeps his head on — focuses, executes and gets the job done. I’ve really been impressed with his ability to stay calm and execute and just how good he is.

“With Noah, from watching him before, I wasn’t sure how serious he took his job in the sport. I knew that he was fast, and I knew that he liked to have fun. I can say in the short time that I’ve really worked with him closely, he still has those two elements, but his desire to be as good as he can in this sport has really impressed me. So I guess ultimately, his commitment to his craft is what’s impressed me the most.”







Dr. Diandra: Charlotte’s 600 miles test man more than machine


This weekend’s 600-mile outing at Charlotte Motor Speedway is NASCAR’s longest race. It’s the ultimate stock car challenge: not just making a car fast but making it fast for a long time.

Although 600 miles is nowhere near the 3,300-plus miles in the 24 Hours of LeMans, the pace is similar. Most of NASCAR’s 600-mile races run between four and five hours.

The 1960 World 600 set the record for this race, requiring five hours, 34 minutes, and six seconds to complete — and it had only eight cautions. The second longest race, the very next year, ran 12 minutes shorter than the previous year’s outing.

The longest race in the modern era (1972 to present) happened in 2005. That race took five hours, 13 minutes, and 52 seconds to complete and set a record for cautions with 22.

Last year’s event was the second-longest modern-era race. With four fewer cautions than 2005, the 2022 race took just 44 seconds less to complete.

The field for the 1960 race included 60 cars. Only 18 of those cars (30%) crossed the finish line.

NASCAR disqualified six drivers for making illegal entrances to pit road. The reasons for the remaining 36 DNFs reads like an inventory of car parts, from “A-frame” to “valve.”

The number of cars failing to finish the race decreased significantly over the years. In the 1960s and early 1970s, it was not uncommon for 50-70% of the field to drop out of the race before its end. As the graph below shows, the DNF rate is now in the range of 10-30%.

A bar chart shows how DNFs have decreased over time and turned the the 600-mile Charlotte race inot more a test of man than machine

Last year — the first year of the Next Gen car — had an abnormally high 46% DNF rate. That doesn’t signify a problem with car reliability.

Quite the contrary, in fact.

Increased car reliability makes people more important

Racecar evolution has changed the nature of NASCAR’s longest race. The car have become so reliable that Charlotte’s 600-mile race is now more a test of drivers than their cars.

“All of the components in the car are pretty standard,” Chase Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson said. “So you just want to make sure you have it all in good condition and dot all your I’s and cross your T’s.”

That wasn’t how it used to be. Kevin Harvick remembers that drivers used to be warned to take care of their equipment early so it would last until the end.

“The engine guys freak out because you have to go an extra 100 miles, but the parts and stuff on the car are a lot more durable than they used to be,” Harvick said. “Back in the day, it was ‘take care of the motor.’ ”

Drivers worry much less about their car’s engine today. The graph below shows how DNFs due to engine failure have decreased since NASCAR started running 600-mile races.

A bar chart shows that engine failures have gone from 50-70% to 10-30%, turning the 600-mile Charlotte race inot more a test of man than machine

In 1966, more than half the field lost an engine during the race. Only six cars have retired due to engine failure in the last five years.

While cars are more reliable, their drivers are still human. Crash-related DNFs (crashes, failure to beat the DVP clock and inability to meet maximum speed) show no clear trend over time.

A bar chart shows how the number of DNFs due to crashes doesn't show any overall trend with time

Typically, between five to 10% of the cars starting a race will fail to finish due to an accident rather than a mechanical failure. Last year’s race was an exception, setting a record for the largest fraction of the field taken out by crashes since the 600-miler began.

It’s only one data point as far as 600-mile races are concerned. It is, however, indicative of a trend observed since the Next Gen car debuted. The car is so sturdy that contact is no longer the deterrent it used to be.

Man versus machine

NASCAR’s only 600-mile outing has become an endurance race for humans. Drivers draw upon research in hydration, nutrition and fitness, hoping to create an advantage by preparation and conditioning.

“As a driver,” Daniel Suárez said, “your goal is to be as fresh at the end of the race as you are at the beginning. It isn’t about making it to the end of the race. It’s about being at your best at the end and taking advantage of other drivers who are tired.”

Harrison Burton, who ran his first 600-mile race last year, was surprised by how taxing that extra stage was.

“I figured it’s only 100 more miles than 500 and we do that fairly frequently and didn’t think it would be that different,” Burton said, “but for whatever reason when that fourth stage starts it’s definitely daunting.

Burton also noted that last year’s Coca-Cola 600 was the first time he got hungry during a race.

“It’s actually a really important race to have something to snack on in the car during the race,” Ross Chastain said. “I typically have some sort of protein bar that I can eat during a stage break just to try and keep my stamina up.”

The driver isn’t the only one whose mental acumen gets tested during the Coca-Cola 600. Crew chiefs and pit crews must work at peak form for a longer time.

“There’s more pit stops, there’s more restarts, there’s more strategy calls and there’s more laps,” Gustafson said. “There’s more everything.”

That means more opportunities to make mistakes or lose focus — or to take advantage of other drivers who do.