Mike Forbes examines the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway!!
This is the one they have been talking about for months now. The NASCAR Cup Series returns to a dirt track for the first time in almost 40 years as they head to Bristol Motor Speedway for the Food City Dirt Race and compete on a track covered with sawdust and dirt.
When the Truck Series started racing at Eldora, the possibility of the cup teams eventually racing on dirt became tangible. I don’t know many people who would have predicted that it would be on the high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway, but that is exactly what NASCAR and BMS decided to do.
NASCAR is full of diverse drivers who came up through many different channels to make their way into one of the three main series. That means there are different levels of experience in the field this weekend. Some drivers grew up racing on dirt and have continued to run at different tracks throughout the country, and other drivers haven’t been on dirt in years.
In anticipation, many of the competitors have found ways to get back on dirt and practice, whether it was in Late Model cars last weekend or the Truck Series race on Saturday. Austin Dillon was able to capture a checkered flag last weekend before he flew to Atlanta for the race Sunday. Of course, there was an Iracing event at Bristol on Wednesday where many of the Cup series drivers were entered. All of this should show you just how much preparation these teams and drivers are doing to get ready for the 250 lap feature on Sunday afternoon.
This weekend, the teams will be allowed to practice for the first time since the covid shutdown last year. Teams will then race in heat races to determine their starting position Sunday. Where they finish in their heat race and how many cars they pass for position will be added together, and that will determine the starting lineup for Sunday’s feature. There will be stages just like a race on asphalt, but pit stops will not be competitive.
Make no mistake about it; this will be a much different race than we have ever seen in the recent past. Whether you like it or not, you have to give NASCAR credit for trying something different to spice up their schedule.
This is a race that will have some very heavy favorites. These may not be the drivers we have come accustomed to using on a weekly basis. While it takes a ton of talent to become a superstar in NASCAR, racing on dirt when you do not have much experience is a whole new challenge.
There are plenty of drivers who are coming in with dirt backgrounds that will stand out from the rest. The one who has to be the favorite is Kyle Larson. The 5 car was dominant last week before falling off during the last run. Now you move this team to dirt, where Kyle has had a ton of success recently. Last year, if you recall, while suspended from NASCAR, Kyle tore up many of the local dirt tracks across the country. He was even labeled the “King of Dirt” at some point. There were even questions if Kyle wanted to come back to NASCAR because he was having so much success racing different types of cars on dirt.
Kyle will most likely have about 95% ownership this week, so using him will not win you your competition, but no matter where he starts unless he runs into trouble, he should be a lock to run in the top five.
Another driver many people are talking about who has already won this year is Christopher Bell. He is another driver who grew up racing on dirt. In the NASCAR circles, many people are thinking he may have the best chance to battle Kyle Larson for the win.
Bubba Wallace and the 23XI team should be considered a team to watch. Bubba has plenty of dirt racing experience. While racing in the truck series, he won at Eldora and finished seventh in his other race. This is going to be Bubba’s best chance so far to win a race, and you know he is going to be eager to get his team into victory lane.
Chase Briscoe has a chance to turn around his early-season woes with this run at Bristol. Like Bubba Wallace, Chase won on the dirt while racing in the Truck Series, and he finished seventh in the other race he competed in while running in the series. The 14 team has had their share of struggles this season, as has the Stewart-Haas Racing team as a whole, and nothing would be better than getting Chase into victory lane Sunday for their morale.
A driver who I have had a lot of faith in this year and has not paid off that well for me is Tyler Reddick. Tyler is another one of the drivers who has raced on dirt before and had some success. In his three races at Eldora in the Truck Series, he averaged a 6.33 place finishing position. He never was able to capture the checkered flag, but he also never finished worse than 11th. I can see Tyler having some success this weekend and potentially securing a top-five finish.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who has been a great play for us in many races this year, should be another driver to consider for this race. Ricky has some extensive history on dirt coming through the ranks, and seeing him near the top of the pylon when the checkered flag flies is expected. He is also one of the guys where I can see ownership being down a little, so we may be able to gain an advantage by using him this week.
There are two other Hendrick drivers who I could see being a factor this week. Alex Bowman, who has raced many times on dirt before, is considered one of the drivers who should be battling for a top-five at the end of the race. The other driver is Chase Elliott, who has run a couple different cars on dirt recently and had some success. I don’t see Chase battling for the victory, but I think he will be towards the top ten when all is said and done.
A driver I want to mention because he won a late model race last weekend on this track is Austin Dillon. I would not have put Austin at the top of my rankings prior to last weekend, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well he did in that race.
There are a plethora of other drivers who have either been entering into different dirt races lately or are going to be running in the Truck Series race on Saturday.
Guys like Kyle Busch, for example, who have a ton of talent and I would take running a race car any day are doing everything they can to gain experience, knowing the challenges they face Sunday. Kyle ran last Friday in Bristol and was scheduled to run the Saturday night race before he won in Atlanta in the Truck race and caused him to miss the night race in Bristol.
Kevin Harvick is another driver who has little to no experience on dirt but is running in the Truck race to gain some knowledge about how the cars will handle. Kevin has not had the best start to the season, and I don’t think it gets much better here this weekend.
Ryan Newman, who grew up running some USAC races on dirt, is also running in the Truck Series for experience. Running Sprint cars on dirt is very different than running the closed fender stock cars they will be piloting this weekend. I think Ryan could land a top ten when all is said and done.
There are also some drivers who will race Sunday that are proven dirt racers and will be making their Cup series debuts. This was something we used to see all the time on road courses where ringers like Boris Said would come in and get a cup ride for a race or two and actually factor in the finish.
For this race, we will see Stewart Friesen start his first cup race in the 77 car. Stewart is a prolific road racer who is considered by many as the favorite in the Truck race. Anytime you enter a driver like him into a dirt race, you have to believe he will be a factor. Although the 77 car isn’t the best equipment in the garage, this is a race where you can throw that out the window, and the driver’s skill becomes the most important factor. Stewart is worth a start no matter where he starts this week.
USAC champion Chris Windom is also entered into this race in the number 15 car. He may be worth a start in your fourth or fifth starting position.
Shane Golobic will make his Cup debut in the 78 car. Shane is another one of those dirt racers who is looking to make a splash racing with the cup series veterans.
Mike Marlar, who I love in the Truck race on Saturday, is also entered in the Cup race in the number 66. He should also be in consideration for a spot in your lineup this weekend.
Now, let’s go with our rankings overall for Sunday’s Food City Dirt Race!
- Kyle Larson ($12,000)
- Christopher Bell ($11,000)
- Bubba Wallace ($8,500)
- Stewart Friesen ($9,500)
- Kyle Busch ($8,900)
- Austin Dillon ($9,700)
- Alex Bowman ($7,700)
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($10,200)
- Tyler Reddick ($10,500)
- Chase Briscoe ($9,900)
- Chase Elliott ($8,700)
- Denny Hamlin ($9,100)
- Ryan Blaney ($9,300)
- Joey Logano ($8,300)
- Kurt Busch ($7,800)
- Mike Marlar ($7,200)
- Chris Buescher ($6,200)
- Brad Keselowski ($7,500)
- Ryan Newman ($6,900)
- Martin Truex Jr. ($8,000)
- Chris Windom ($7,400)
- Shane Golobic ($6,800)
- Matt DiBenedetto ($6,700)
- Kevin Harvick ($8,100)
- Ryan Preece ($6,000)
- Ty Dillon ($6,600)
- JJ Yeley ($6,400)
- Aric Almirola ($5,800)
- Cole Custer ($5,500)
- William Byron ($7,100)
- Erik Jones ($5,600)
- Daniel Suarez ($4,900)
- Michael McDowell ($5,200)
- Ross Chastain ($5,300)
- Anthony Alfredo ($4,800)
- Corey LaJoie ($5,000)
- Josh Bilicki ($4,700)
- Cody Ware ($4,600)
- Quin Houff ($4,500)
Wow, seeing guys like William Byron and Kevin Harvick in the bottom half of the ranking is actually eye-popping, but racing on dirt is just a different animal. These guys have enough talent to figure it out, but I am just not comfortable going into a race using guys who need to figure it out. I want the drivers who can go back on past experience and take their car to the front of the field.
My lineup construction piece of the article this week isn’t so in-depth. The fact that we have practice this week and the heat races make lineup construction less important before we see where drivers will start and how well some of the drivers at the bottom of the pre-race rankings improve during practice.
However, I will not leave you hanging. Here is my ideal lineup before we know where drivers will start.
- Kyle Larson
- Stewart Friesen
- Bubba Wallace
- Chris Windom
- Mike Marlar
- Daniel Suarez
If I had to pick before all of the other information we get prior to the green flag, my lineup would look something like that. Daniel Suarez is a problem at the bottom, but the fact that he is running the Truck race Saturday and will have experience makes it a little better.
If there is one race that we want to pay attention to all the data we get in practice, and especially the heat races, this is it. Like what we suggest for the Trucks, we want to match experience with those who may have had an issue in the heat races. We want to exploit the edges in the starting position if we can. This is not a race where I would set my lineup Friday and leave it for the weekend. I will be setting my lineup no earlier than Saturday night after what I see in the heats and what I see from the Cup drivers who are racing in the Truck Series. We need all of this information to pick our best lineups.
Of course, you will get updates from me all weekend long on Twitter @mikejforbes and from our guy Trevor, who will breakdown the race Sunday morning for you.
Before we go, let’s look at who we can bet to win this week in Thunder Valley.
For the favorite, you really can’t go wrong with Kyle Larson at 2.5/1. Now, for a guy like me who will place three bets, having Kyle win at those low odds doesn’t make me any money. For that reason, I will go with Christopher Bell at 7/1. If I was making one bet and just wanted to make a little cash, I would stick with Kyle.
For my mid-pack driver this week, I am going with Tyler Reddick at 20/1. I thought about Stewart Friesen at 16/1, but I like Tyler’s odds just a little better.
My longshot is going to be Mike Marlar at 35/1. Anytime you can use a specialist at these odds, you have to do it. My other thought was Alex Bowman at 35/1, but I like the specialist in a situation like this.