Commentary

OBSERVATIONS: Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway

By: Ashley McCubbin

Some times when you make a first attempt at something, it is met with a mix of success, and lessons learned that you hope go towards a second chance. Fortunately, we know Bristol Motor Speedway will get an opportunity do this again – making a review of Monday that much more important.

First, it goes without saying, everyone involved deserves all the credit in the world. They accomplished something many said was not possible in laying dirt on Bristol to create a raceable surface, as evident by the other division’s events prior to NASCAR coming to town. They also went beyond levels initially expected by handling the diversity of heavy rains for two straight days to give the fans a product worth watching on Monday. Their efforts deserve recognition, no matter if you thought they were perfect or not.

To a degree, they did a good job in preparing the track despite everything. The first portion of the event saw two apparent grooves, with drivers able to make moves on the bottom and top. The water laid down between cautions certainly helped, and it had everybody’s attention. It showed right there that yes, you can take heavy stock cars to a dirt track and put on a show.

Unfortunately, the second half is where it seemed to go all away as dust became the story headed towards the checkered, rather than the competitors. It resulted in single-file restarts, taking away from the opportunities for side-by-side battles, and a couple wrecks due to drivers unable to see.

On top of that, a lack of speed in the second groove just made it more tough to watch as the field strung out single-file without the usual appeal of someone sliding the top and gaining ground to keep you tuned in. Of course, there were some people happy as it brought back the old Bristol form in the bump-and-run reigning supreme.

Many people have theories as to how this developed – whether due to track prep being off between stages in ensuring they had the right surface, or whether it’d be a better show if the race was shorter. After all, 250 laps is certainly the longest dirt event we’ve seen for a long time. There’s also theories whether running at night could help all of the above combined together.

Everybody will offer you a theory, but end of the day, the experts and tracks should be sitting down the sanctioning body and reviewing what they know, so perhaps we have a better game plan to tackle this in 2022.

Until then, Joey Logano will get the bragging rights as he rose to the occasion when it mattered to take the race lead late before the biggest part of the dust storm, and led from there on out.

Denny Hamlin easily could have stolen those away, but a decision to utilize the outside on the final restart with under 10 laps to go spoiled his chances. It’s a choice that has many questioning, considering he was not gaining ground on Logano prior to the caution running up there, and no track prep was done during the yellow.

It also becomes more puzzling when he initially complained about being cut-off on the restart prior with 50 laps to go, and told the No. 22 team to watch out as he was not going to allow the same thing to happen. That would make you expect a bump and run move, but Hamlin said he did not as they race differently than others. Glance through their history and think that over – it makes as much sense as some people could of the dust.

Daniel Suarez seemed to be in the catbird seat as he led through the middle portion of the event, but ultimately faded back to place fourth. While not the victorious day they may have dreamed of, it’s certainly above the expectations many had for Trackhouse Racing in being a new team in the series. The decisions by Justin Marks, though, are paying off with three other performances inside the top-20 in 2021. If you are looking for a dark horse in the season of the unexpected, here you go.

The dirt track aces, meanwhile, were not to be found most of the day, thanks to an incident involving the pair which many focused on entering the event. Nobody probably predicted Christopher Bell coming down into Kyle Larson in the first half, but that’s exactly what happened. While you may think these events sway in the favor of the experienced, the mixed bag in the top-10 says otherwise and speaks to the talent and adaptability of everyone in the field.

Speaking of unexpected, nobody saw seven different winners through the start of the year happening but here we are. It shows the parity, and why many believe the lack of practice is a great equal factor in not allowing the big teams to do research. It makes you wonder how long can this be sustained, and how much extra pressure are those on the outside looking-in feeling right now.

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