By Cole Cusumano
The better question would be what’s not trending at Bristol. For the first time in over two decades, the .533-mile track received a full transformation courtesy of over 2,000 truckloads of dirt. In order to maximize the racing product, the traditional 28 degrees of banking in the turns were reduced to 19 and the width of the surface was widened to 50-feet.
While the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has been racing on dirt since 2013 at Eldora Speedway, the NASCAR Cup Series will be doing so for the first time since 1970. With this in mind, many specifications are being implemented to the stock cars, as they’re not accustomed to competing on the dusty surface.
Teams will embrace the 750-horsepower package with the spoiler being shortened to six inches in height and 51 in length with no front splitter and screen coverings over various ducts. In order to ensure durability when the inevitable of getting into the wall or other cars happens, body stiffeners will be allowed in addition to reinforcing the deck lid hinge, spindle and steering arm. New gridded tires were also constructed for this weekend.
For the first time in almost one-year, practice and qualifying will be taking place at Bristol given the uncertainty of the venue. The Cup and Truck Series will have two-50-minute testing sessions each and four qualifying heat races per division will determine the starting lineup.
The heats will be 15 laps each and only green flag laps will be accounted for, but free passes and wave arounds will be in effect. The starting lineups for each event will be broken up into 10 cars per race (nine for the final Cup race) with a random draw based on owner points setting the field. Points will be accumulated based on finishing position and passing throughout the contest and these will be tallied to lock in the official lineup for the mains.
Finally, live pit stops will not take place. Teams are unable to work on their cars, change tires or add fuel until the stage breaks. The choose rule will also not be implemented this weekend.
Now that we know all of the rulings and logistics for one of the most highly anticipated weekends in NASCAR history in Thunder Valley, what could we expect?
NASCAR Cup Series
There’s no telling who will be favorite, if there is one, for the Food City Dirt Race. Only four full-time drivers have risen to the premier level with esteemed backgrounds on this type of racing surface – Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and Chase Briscoe.
The obvious choice for many this weekend will be Larson, and for good reason. The 28-year-old is completing at an elite level currently. With one win in 2021 and being a contender for victory in essentially every race this season, it’s hard to go against a scorching hot driver with a reputation for being one of the greatest dirt athletes of all time. The driver of the No. 5 is also determined to get over the stinger that took place in Atlanta last week.
Many Cup Series regulars had little to no experience competing on dirt prior to the past few weeks, but many have put in the effort to get some track time before March 28 so they aren’t going in blindly. Drivers like Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch and Cole Custer headlined various super late model events in Bristol last weekend, but it was Austin Dillon who really turned heads in winning the 602 Late Model Feature.
While those are some the Cup regulars that could be poised for strong run in at the .533-mile track, there are a few dirt aficionados in Stewart Friesen, Chris Windom, Mike Marlar and Shane Golobic making their premier series debuts.
Trending on Twitter: Good boys celebrate after a big win in Atlanta.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
To an extent, the Truck Series isn’t entering unfamiliar territory by taking to the dirt. What is abnormal is the depth of the field for Saturday night.
Seven Cup Series regulars, such as Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman — in addition to Myatt Snider from the NASCAR Xfinity Series — will be migrating to compete in trucks to gain experience for the unknown that is Bristol dirt.
It will be interesting to say the least to see how the stars of Truck Series handle the presence of the premier level competitors. Will we see some established dominance from these division veterans or will the younger drivers utilize this as a learning experience in rising through the ranks?
In one of the cooler stories of the weekend, Friesen’s wife, Jessica, will be making her Truck Series debut, and this will be the first time a husband and wife compete together in NASCAR.
Trending on Twitter: Jessica Friesen takes to the streets (literally) in her No. 62 Toyota Tundra.
There’s no telling what we’re going to witness this weekend at Bristol dirt, but one thing is certain — you don’t want to miss the spectacles that will be on display this weekend. Practice returns for the first time in almost a year on March 26 with the Truck Series getting things started at 3:05 p.m. ET on FS1. The following day, there will be four qualifying heats for each division, with the Pinty’s Truck Race on Dirt closing out the evening at 8 p.m. ET on FS1. Finally, the Cup Series closes out the madness with the Food City Dirt Race at 3:30 p.m. ET on Fox.