After a less than stellar weekend of attempting to race on the new dirt track at Bristol, Monday saw clear skies that allowed to race to continue. The rains meant the track was basically a “mud pit” and any attempt at practice or qualifying coated the cars in mud in just a single lap. If you weren’t the lead car, you literally couldn’t see. It was a scene that was very reminiscent of the disastrous tire issues at Indianapolis in 2008.
With tire wear also being a concern at Bristol, the first two Stages were lengthened to 100 laps each with a lap 50 competition caution. In essence, it was the Bristol version of the Indy tire cautions, just with a little longer time between them. But at least we were treated to some decent green flag runs although knowing what tire issues there were, I would have preferred to see the teams manage their own tires and had some green flag stops. As it was, the field was frozen each caution, then pitted and restarted in the same position.
So yeah, there was a race and it was about as good as it could have been given all those circumstances. You saw cars sliding around quite a bit but it wasn’t like an oversized dirt car, they just weren’t rotating that much as I think some folks thought they might.
The race was supposed to be the ultimate duel between dirt heavyweights Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson. But those two got together on lap 51 after Bell looped his Toyota collecting Larson and Ross Chastain. That retired Bell and Chastain to the garage and Larson spent the rest of the race several laps down.
What we did see was Martin Truex, Jr., winner of the truck race, dominate the early stages of the race. Truex had no experience on dirt until the truck race and claimed that perhaps he had missed his calling as this was way too much fun. Another driver having zero dirt experience but tons of fun was Daniel Suarez. Suarez was pacing Truex through Stage 1 and then took over to lead 58 laps and just finished second to Joey Logano in stage 2.
The final stage was set as Denny Hamlin, Truex, Suarez and Logano battled for the lead in the final 50 laps. Logano got to the front and managed lap traffic perfectly to hold off Hamlin. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was charging to the front as several other drivers were starting to fade. Stenhouse said his car was as good as it was all day and it showed. On the final overtime restart, Truex cut a tire and ran up into the dirt just missing the wall. He went from a Top 5 to finishing 19th in a heartbeat.
The race restarts were where the action was since it tended to be a cloud of dust until it all blew off. But in the meantime, it was pretty hard to see in the setting sun. That made the inside the car camera shots were pretty interesting. Driving off into a corner surrounded by bouncing cars and no visibility took a lot of faith that you were coming out the other side still facing forward.
All in all, I think NASCAR was happy, and lucky, with the outcome of the race. So much so that they announced they would have the dirt race again next year. And given the fickle spring weather in Bristol, expect more of the same issues that plagued the race this year.
Kyle Busch Watch
Kyle Busch did not appear to be a big a fan of the race and was yelling that he couldn’t see anything. Busch finished 17th and sits 13th in points. He has four Top 10s in the last 6 races at Martinsville with his best finish of second in 2018. Once again, no practice at Martinsville, so he may struggle with a Top 10 finish.
Other Bristol Standouts
Ryan Newman (P5) did a complete 180, had to hit pit road for a blown tire and still managed a Top 5.
William Byron (P6) hung on to the Top 10 much of the race although he was never a serious threat to win.
Tyler Reddick (P7) started deep in the field, managed his tires and was there at the end.
Ryan Blaney (P8) looked like he might challenge but had a couple of run ins, least of all with Kyle Busch. He should be a contender at Martinsville.
Michael McDowell (P13) and Matt DiBenedetto (P14) ran strong enough for a Top 15 finish.
Bubba Wallace (P27) actually ran better than he finished. The tire issue had to be a major disappointment for the team as they ran so well.
Next Up: Martinsville
Martinsville is next up and there are several contenders for that win. Mart Truex, Jr. has two wins in the last six race, the most recent in June 2020. He should be a serious threat to win.
Chase Elliott is the defending winner of the race. It feels like his team is on the verge of a strong win. Alex Bowman and William Byron may also be threats for Top 10 finishes or a sneaky dark horse win.
Ryan Blaney has five Top 10 finishes in the last six races and two runner up positions. If he has the speed and corner rotation he needs, he could be the second time winner of 2021.
Brad Keselowski is glad to be off the dirt and back to a hard racing surface. He won at Martinsville in 2019 and manages to be in the Top 10 most of the time. Teammate Logano won in 2018 and has been strong at Martinsville. Team Penske should be strong here.
Denny Hamlin only has three Top 10 finishes in the last six races but you can never count him out. His team has consistency this year.
Enjoy the Easter break. He has risen!
(Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)