Jerry Caldwell

Photo: Bristol Motor Speedway

NASCAR Cup Series to go dirt trackin’ at Bristol in 2021

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Cup teams will compete on a dirt track for the first time in more than 50 years when the series races March 28 at Bristol Motor Speedway, the track announced. 

The full Cup schedule is set to be released at 3:30 p.m. ET today.

“Bristol Motor Speedway has hosted many historic events over the years and we will be adding to that resume,” Jerry Caldwell, general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, said on Wednesday. “We can’t wait to see how the stars of NASCAR take to the dirt.”

MORE: 2021 Cup schedule features new tracks, bold changes 

Said Austin Dillon of the race on dirt: “I’m super pumped. … I’m hoping it becomes a staple.”

Caldwell said the track will work with NASCAR on the race format for the dirt event.

“This is returning to our roots in racing,” Caldwell said. He noted that this concept has been talked about for “awhile.” He also said the track will “explore other options” on any other series that could race on dirt beyond NASCAR.

Caldwell said the change comes from feedback from fans. Marcus Smith, Speedway Motorsports President and CEO, said Wednesday that he pitched the idea of a dirt race at Bristol for the 2020 schedule.

Bristol hosted dirt races in 2000-01 with the World of Outlaws (see video below of 2001 race) and dirt late models. The track used 14,000 truckloads of dirt for the project.

The last Cup race on dirt was Sept. 30, 1970 at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds. Richard Petty won a 200-lap race on the half-mile track. He earned $1,000. Petty was among one of five Hall of Famers in the 23-car field that day. Bobby Isaac finished third, Bobby Allison placed sixth, Benny Parsons was 14th, Wendell Scott placed 20th.

The NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Series raced on dirt at Eldora Speedway from 2013-19. It was not held this year because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Bristol also will host a second race. That event again will be in the playoffs. The Sept. 18 race again will be an elimination race in the first round. The playoff race will be on the concrete track surface.

Bristol sells out its allotment of tickets for Cup playoff race

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Bristol Motor Speedway has sold all of its ticket capacity for the Sept. 19 Cup playoff race, the track announced Wednesday.

Bristol is expected to have about 30,000 socially distanced fans for the final race in the first round of the Cup playoffs. The track was approved for that total for the July All-Star Race and had an estimated crowd of 20,000.

A limited number of tickets remain for the track’s Sept. 18 Xfinity Series race, the regular-season finale.

“We are grateful to those guests who are placing their confidence in us during these unprecedented times,” said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice present and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, in a statement. “We want to thank our community and state leaders, our colleagues at NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports owners, Bruton and Marcus Smith for trusting us to put on these historic events with Playoff implications at Bristol Motor Speedway. We take this responsibility seriously and will work hard to ensure our team and vendors execute this event in the safest manner possible.”

Bristol will deep clean the facility prior to the arrival of fans and institute procedures to reduce contact and crowd density. Fans will have their temperature screened upon entry and required to wear a mask in common areas. Fans will be able to remove their masks at their seats. For more on the track’s safety plan prior, go to the track’s website.

Fans will not be permitted for the Sept. 17 Truck playoff race and ARCA race. The Xfinity and Cup races will air on NBCSN.

Fans will be allowed at Bristol Cup, Xfinity races

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Fans will be able to attend the Cup and Xfinity races at Bristol Motor Speedway next month, track officials announced Friday.

The Sept. 18 Xfinity race is the regular-season finale. The Sept. 19 Cup race is the cutoff event in the first round of the Cup playoffs. NBCSN will broadcast both races.

Track officials stated that exact attendance figures will vary based on group sizes and placing fans in a socially distanced manner.

MORE: Richmond races will be held without fans 

Bristol hosted a crowd estimated at more than 20,000 for the All-Star Race in July. The track was allowed to have up to 30,000 fans for that event. Track officials stated that the same protocols for that event – fans must wear a face covering in common areas – along with one additional protocol will be used this time. New is that fans entering the facility will have their temperature checked.

An updated list of the primary protocols for this event include:

  • All ticketing transactions will be conducted digitally to reduce touch points
  • Fans will receive temperature screenings upon entry into the stadium
  • Masks must be worn in common areas such as gates, concessions, restrooms and concourse areas
  • Spectators can remove their masks once they are in their socially-distanced grandstand seats
  • Social distancing will be in place for all grandstand seats and encouraged for fans at all times
  • Enhanced cleaning and sanitation will be conducted in high-touch, high-traffic public areas
  • Hand-sanitizer stations will be available to spectators throughout the facility
  • Focused reminders to mask up following the conclusion of the race while exiting the facility

“We are thrilled that fans will be joining us this September for both the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race and Food City 300,” said Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager, Bristol Motor Speedway, in a statement. “We realize hosting major events here with fans during these unprecedented times comes with great responsibility. We anticipate a similar crowd size to July’s NASCAR All-Star Race for Saturday’s event and we will reduce capacity further for Friday night’s race. We will continue to be steadfast in our execution of our protocols and modified procedures to ensure these events are as safe as possible for everyone involved.

“The opportunity to safely welcome back a limited number of guests to Bristol Motor Speedway for the first-ever NASCAR Cup Series playoff race in Bristol Motor Speedway history is certainly a privilege that our team doesn’t take for granted. Our extensive plan that we used successfully in July during the NASCAR All-Star Race, which has been utilized as a blueprint recently by other sports leagues in their planning to conduct live events, definitely meets or exceeds all recommended state and local guidelines. We remain in constant communication with local and state leaders and NASCAR about our safety plan and we’ll continue to carefully work with them to ensure we’re doing everything we can to keep our customers, participants, employees and surrounding communities safe.”

The Sept. 17 Truck playoff opener and ARCA Menards Series race will be run without fans.

Bristol Motor Speedway states that if needed, masks will be provided to fans upon entry. Fans also will be allowed to bring in one clear bag (14x14x14) with food and beverages. Coolers will be prohibited to reduce checkpoint contact between spectators and speedway staff. Shuttle buses and trams will not be running for this event. Free parking will be available at Speedway Parking located at the corner of White Top Road and Hwy 394 and paid parking options are available at neighboring properties.

For additional ticket information, click here.

Face masks among precautions for Bristol All-Star Race

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Fans attending the July 15 All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway will be required to wear face coverings in common areas, the track announced Thursday.

Common areas include gates, restrooms, concessions, souvenir stands, elevators, concourses and suite-level hallways.

The face covering requirement does not apply when fans are at their seat.

Previously, fans had been highly encouraged to wear masks.

Required face coverings in common areas are among the COVID-19 safety precautions Bristol Motor Speedway has announced for the All-Star Race, which will allow up to 30,000 fans to attend.

Organizations BMS has been in discussion with regarding precautions include Sullivan County Health Department officials, Ballad Health representatives, Tennessee state health experts, the city of Bristol, Tennessee and regional/state travel and tourism advisors.

“It was a very collaborative process,” Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, said in a statement to NBC Sports about the reasoning behind the face mask requirement. “We’ve had a number of discussions with state and local officials and as more information, data and statistics and have been made available to us, it was just a common sense solution we all agreed upon.”

Caldwell also addressed how the track will enforce the common area requirement.

“We’ve had a whole list of prohibited items over the years and it will be addressed just like those other items are,” Caldwell said to NBC Sports. “We’ll have team members positioned throughout the facility assisting guests and helping to remind them of new protocols.”

More: Format, rules for All-Star Race

Here is the full list of precautions Bristol will have in place for the All-Star Race.

Face Coverings
• Guests are encouraged to put on masks once they enter the property
• Facial coverings are required whenever guests are in common areas such as gates, restrooms, concessions, souvenir stands, elevators, concourses and suite-level hallways
• Masks may be removed once guests are socially distanced in their assigned seats

Ticketing
• All ticketing, from initial purchase to scanning, will be conducted digitally to eliminate contact points
• Seating will be strategically assigned at the time of purchase to ensure social distancing between groups
• No will-call or in-person ticket pickup services will be available (all ticketing will be conducted digitally)
• Tickets start at $35 for adults, $10 for kids 12 and under, and are on sale at www.bristolmotorspeedway.com
• Guest Services personnel will be on hand during the event to help answer questions and provide guidance

Transportation
• Trams and shuttle buses will not operate during this event
• Golf cart shuttles will be reserved for guests with limited mobility
• Free parking is available at Speedway Parking (located at the corner of White Top Road and Highway 394)
• Paid parking options are available at neighboring properties

Wellness
• If a guest purchases a ticket and then becomes ill, a refund will be issued
• All BMS personnel will be temperature screened on event day and wear a face covering at all times. Personnel will also wear gloves, as needed.
• Whether on grounds or off, BMS encourages all residents and guests to observe the practices of social distancing, frequent hand washing, wearing a face covering in all public spaces, and using hand sanitizer

Entry/Exit
• Guests will receive notification of designated entrance times and assigned gate
• All guests accessing the suites will undergo temperature screenings before entering elevators
• No re-entry after leaving the facility
• On completion of the race, a staggered exit plan will be in effect (BMS will provide guidance for dismissal of seating areas to help reduce crowding on concourses and in aisles)

Social Distancing
• Guests are asked to socially distance at all times while on grounds (floor markings at concourse, concession and souvenir stands and directional traffic flow signage will be provided)
• BMS’ Ticket Office will stagger seating throughout the stands to provide for a minimum of 6 feet of distance between groups
• Suites will operate at a reduced capacity, in line with Tennessee state guidance

Cleanliness
• Hand sanitizer stations are available throughout the grounds
• BMS will follow enhanced cleaning procedures, especially in high-touch surface areas such as handrails and bathrooms

Food & Drink and Souvenirs
• All purchases from food and souvenir stands will be electronic transactions (debit and credit cards only, no cash or checks)
• Only clear, soft-sided bags 14” x 14” x 14” and smaller will be allowed
• No coolers or glass containers permitted
• Bristol Motor Speedway’s gift shop inside the Bruton Smith Building, will be closed

Camping
• No on-grounds camping, other than a limited number of overnight RV spaces, will be available
• Area campgrounds will open on Tuesday, July 14, and close on Thursday, July 16.

Additional Changes
The following amenities have been temporarily halted in order to comply with industry guidelines and help reduce the risk of transmission:
• On-grounds concerts
• Public access to infield (no track walks or hot/cold passes)
• Public access to drivers’ meeting
• Driver meet-and-greet sessions
• Headset/scanner rentals
• Golf cart rentals
• Fan Zone, corporate and vendor displays
• Pay phones

Friday 5: Free agency could dramatically alter 2021 driver lineup

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Sunday’s Daytona 500 begins a Cup season unlike any other in NASCAR’s history.

Among the year’s biggest storylines is the robust free agent market that could see a number of winning rides change drivers. Among those with contracts expiring after this season are five who won Cup races last year: Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman and Erik Jones.

They represent rides at some of the sport’s top teams: Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske, Hendrick Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing.

“When you look at this, there are always rides available, but there are usually limited amounts of very good rides and this year there are several of them but it is all driven off sponsorships and things like that,” said Clint Bowyer, whose contract with Stewart-Haas Racing expires after this season.

“It isn’t a knock to any driver you see out there, and hell I am putting myself in that group. I think we all – we all know that you are only as good as your last race. You can’t go on a swing of bad races or have a bad year or whatever else. You have to be the total package and that is probably more so today’s day in age than ever. You have to be the total package in that race car and out of it as well.”

Larson, whose future has been speculated on the past few years, admits: “I’m excited to see how it all plays out.”

Larson says that continuing to race on dirt is important in his next deal. He also noted that “just being with a competitive organization is the number one thing. I want to be able to win races consistently, run up front consistently and battle for championships year after year. I feel like at Chip Ganassi Racing, we are very close to being able to contend for championships year in and year out. I feel like we’ve got a great group of people. It will be an interesting year as it plays out.”

With this Jimmie Johnson’s final full-time Cup campaign, the No. 48 Chevrolet is open for next year. Who fills that ride could create a ripple effect in the garage — unless another team makes a move first. 

“There’s high profile rides up for grabs and only two or three drivers that can be really successful with them,” said Keselowski, who is in his 11th season at Team Penske. “There’s going to be a lot dominoes to fall.”

He’s confident that veterans will receive those top rides that are available.

“I think Kevin Harvick said it best: It’s been a great youth movement but those aren’t the guys winning,” Keselowski said. “The guys winning are the ones that are going to get the top rides. I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to run the last four seasons straight with three (or more) wins and that puts me in a great position for those talks and those things that are going to go down. We’ll see how all the cards unfold.”

A key issue could be how much owners are willing to spend on a driver. Teams will face additional costs switching to the Next Gen car for next season, although some of those costs could be offset by a reduction of workforce with the cars being produced by an single entity instead of by each teams.

Corey LaJoie, whose contract with Go Fas Racing expires after this season, thinks the additional costs to teams with the move to the Next Gen car could favor drivers who won’t cost owners as much.

“I think teams are going to be forced to look at that because the expense to switch over from this new car is not going to be taken lightly,” LaJoie told NBC Sports. “It’s going to be $3 million cash up front. That’s big for those teams and they’re going to look at guys. They’re going to have to save on that payroll. Driver number on that spreadsheet is probably one of the bigger ones.”

Jones, who has won a race each of the past two years at Joe Gibbs Racing, admits this will be an interesting time for many drivers.

I have no intention of leaving my role there,” Jones said. “I’d love to continue that. But it is definitely a crazy year. There’s a lot of things happening. There’s a lot of things in motion, I guess, already probably for people, not really for me. I’m excited to see.”

Blaney, who has won a Cup race each of the past three years, said he anticipates talks to pick up in the coming months.

“It’s always performance, whether it’s the last two years or the first two months of this year,” Blaney said. “It’s always performance. We’ve had good enough performance the last couple of years and start off the season strong and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

2. Making the right move

William Byron admitted he thought the winning move came too early. But what are you to do?

In the second Duel Thursday night, Kevin Harvick led fellow Ford driver Matt DiBenedetto. Erik Jones, in a Toyota, was third and was followed by the Chevrolets of William Byron, Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson.

The move was going to come from either Byron or Busch with the Chevys lined up.

It came with three laps to go.

“It’s just based on when that run comes,” Byron explained after the win. “In an ideal world, everyone would wait until one to go and fan out just because where we were was a good points position to finish the stage or the race. It would have been good to have six points or whatever it was.

“I had kind of not been paying attention, not been pushing as aggressively. A run just kind of luckily formed right there.  I figured if I didn’t take it, Kurt was going to.”

Races can be won with such split-second decisions. Just as they can be lost.

DiBenedetto attempted to move up to block the charge by Byron and the Chevys but was too late, allowing Byron to get by. DiBendetto finished seventh.

“I’m a little bummed that I didn’t stall out that top lane, I was a little too late to it and didn’t want to cause a crash and wipe us all out,” DiBenedetto said.

But had it been with three laps to go in the Daytona 500, DiBenedetto would have reacted differently.

“It would have been a more erratic move,” DiBenedetto said. “It’s tough. It’s always hindsight … and you learn.”

Every time on the track is a learning experience and it was for both Byron and DiBendettto on Thursday.

3. What about the 2021 Clash?

With news earlier this week that the 2021 Daytona 500 will be held Feb. 14, the question is what will happen to the Clash.

The Clash typically is held the week before the Daytona 500 but the Super Bowl will be played Feb. 7 in Tampa, about two hours from Daytona Beach.

Although some sports hold events the day of the Super Bowl, should NASCAR still hold the Clash and Daytona 500 qualifying that day?

“I don’t think anybody should do that,” said Clint Bowyer, who attended this year’s Super Bowl to watch his hometown team, the Kansas City Chiefs. “It would be like them going up against the Daytona 500. We are all in this business together. It is an entertainment business and there is a footprint for all of them.

“That is a historic event which is America’s event. The Daytona 500 is a historic event that is also an American showcase. But I don’t think about TV all the time. I don’t think about ratings. I think about asses in the stands. I want to be able to go to the Super Bowl, and if I am not in the car, I want my ass in the stands of the Daytona 500 someday. I feel like we do owe enough respect to everybody and there is enough room for any venue to not be stepping on the toes of another and to respect that.”

Said Chase Elliott of NASCAR trying to run the Clash and Daytona 500 qualifying the day of the Super Bowl: “I think you could expect not many people to be tuned in.”

NASCAR President Steve Phelps said Friday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that officials will look at various options for those events.

“It is on a radar and probably have to make an adjustment,” he said. “What that looks like, we’ll talk about in the coming weeks.”

4. New role for David Ragan

David Ragan isn’t racing full-time in Cup this season but he will still be busy.

Ragan, who is in Sunday’s Daytona 500, will look to race in a variety of racing series and work with Ford Racing.

As part of the Ford Racing program, Ragan also will work with Ford’s development drivers, including Hailie Deegan, from time to time throughout the season

MORE: A new hope: Hailie Deegan’s success could transform NASCAR

“I can help her with some of the things that I’ve seen, that I’ve learned that were good for me and bad for me and that I can hopefully help her get up to speed a little bit quicker,” Ragan said of Deegan, who moved to Ford’s development program in the offseason.

“If I can give her some pointers and some things to think about, spend a little time with her on the simulator and let her know some of those tools that are at her disposal, it’s going to help her avoid a lot of heartaches on the racetrack learning the hard way.”

5. Nashville and Martinsville Track news

Speedway Motorsports Inc. remains encouraged with its talks with Nashville and Tennessee officials about a proposal to bring NASCAR back to Fairgrounds Speedway.

SMI has proposed $60 million in renovation to the track but a deal has not been completed.

The city and Nashville’s new Major League Soccer team reached a new agreement Thursday for the team’s stadium at the fairgrounds near the track.

Jerry Caldwell, executive vice president and general manager of Bristol Motor Speedway, has been leading SMI’s efforts. He issued a statement Thursday after the new agreement between the city and the soccer team:

“We congratulate Mayor John Cooper and John Ingram on reaching an agreement to move forward with the MLS stadium development. We are encouraged by our conversations with the city and share Mayor Cooper’s vision for a truly comprehensive redevelopment of the Fairgrounds that includes a plan to restore the speedway and sustain its future. We will continue to work with the city and stakeholders to bring NASCAR racing back to Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.”

Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell told NBC Sports on Thursday that of all the tickets sold for the track’s May 9 night race, 55 percent are either new orders or orders from fans who had stopped purchasing tickets from the track but returned for this race.

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