Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt
Six races, six winners. Last week at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Ryan Blaney added his name to the list of new winners in the 2021 season. This marks the first season since 2014 that six different drivers took home trophies in the first six races. The record for longest streak of new winners came back in 2000 when the season started with ten different drivers winning the first ten races of the season. The relatively young Blaney has now picked up one Cup Series victory in each of the last five seasons as he locks himself into this season’s playoffs along with this season’s other winners.
This week offers up an interesting variable as teams head to Bristol Motor Speedway; but this won’t be any old Bristol Motor Speedway race. This week NASCAR returns to its roots by racing on a dirt track. This is the first dirt track race on the NASCAR schedule since 1970, so obviously there are no other races to compare this to. Many Cup Series drivers rose through the ranks by starting off as dirt track racers at their local hometown speedways and some still race dirt to this day in their spare time. Nobody knows what to truly expect this weekend, as this race profiles to be a complete wildcard on the schedule. I’ll try my best to give a few solid picks based on racers that have a solid dirt racing background.
The Food City Dirt Race is a 250-lap race around a half-mile, dirt-covered Bristol Motor Speedway. Once again, this is a unique race, so there is no track history involved that it going to be relevant when picking drivers below, but I’m going to use some data from some of the biggest dirt tracks throughout the country to help guide my decision making. Races such as the Chili Bowl, Knoxville Nationals, The Eldora Dirt Derby and even last week’s Bristol Dirt Nationals are just a few events that some Cup Series racers have run in the past. The guys I’ve picked have a solid dirt background and certainly have the potential to make some noise this weekend, but truly anything can happen.
Drivers I Like
Kyle Larson is perhaps the best dirt racer in NASCAR right now. His list of dirt racing accomplishments seems almost endless. Winner of the last two Chili Bowls, Larson exclusively ran dirt track races while suspended from the Cup Series last season. According to Floracing’s website, as of October 27th, 2020 Larson had run 82 dirt track races in his sprint car across the country, finished top-three in 60 of those 82 races; and picked up victories in a staggering 42-of-82 races. This obviously gives Larson a bit of a leg up on the competition as he has run so many dirt races recently. Though even when he’s not in peak form, Larson could more than likely run circles around many Cup drivers when it comes to dirt racing. Larson finished runner up in the 2018 Knoxville Nationals and in third place in the 2019 Knoxville Nationals in a sprint car. He is also the winner of the 2016 Eldora Dirt Derby, a NASCAR Truck Series race that is run on dirt. On a very recent side not, Larson finished runner-up in his class in a pair of races at last week’s Bristol Dirt Nationals in the Super Late Model Class. Just something to keep in mind when making picks this weekend.
If you don’t believe Larson is the best dirt racer in NASCAR, you must think Christopher Bell is the rightful owner of that title. Bell does have more Chili Bowl wins than Larson, with three consecutive wins from 2016-2019. Bell is also the winner of the 2015 Eldora Dirt Derby. Bell runs a ton of offseason dirt races and often finds himself battling with Larson for the win in many of these events. Bell won’t be an awful guy to back this weekend.
Austin Dillon isn’t the first guy I think of when I think about dirt racing, but his performance at Bristol Dirt Nationals last week makes him a must-watch this weekend. Larson picked up a few victories at Bristol Dirt Nationals in the Late Model class including the A-Main on the final night of the event. Dillon is also a winner of the Eldora Dirt Derby, having won the race in its inaugural season in 2013. Dillon could be a bit of a dark horse candidate this weekend.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has quietly been honing his dirt racing skills over the years. Stenhouse founded “Stenhouse Jr. Racing” in 2012 as a sprint car racing team in the American Sprint Car Series and moved up to World of Outlaws in 2017. Though he obviously doesn’t run a ton of races due to his NASCAR schedule, Stenhouse has picked up a few wins for his team here-and-there. While rising through the ranks as a racer, Stenhouse picked up victories in the USAC Silver Crown Series, National Sprint Car Series and National Midget Series. He is one of only three active Cup Series drivers to win races in all three of those series, joining Larson and Ryan Newman.
Chase Briscoe has had a rough go of things in his rookie season, but perhaps a dirt race is just what this young driver needs. Briscoe grew up racing on dirt in his home state of Indiana. Briscoe raced for his grandfather’s racing team and found enough success to get noticed and be given a shot in NASCAR. Briscoe is the most recent Cup Series driver to win the Eldora Dirt Derby, having won in 2018. Look for Briscoe to contend this weekend.
Drivers I’m Avoiding
Last week’s winner Ryan Blaney has an incredibly famous surname when it comes to dirt track racing. His grandfather, Lou Blaney, was a dirt racing legend and both his father, Dave, and uncle, Dale Blaney, have won races at the highest level of sprint car racing. The only problem is that Ryan Blaney himself has rarely ever raced on dirt. Blaney came up through the ranks strictly running asphalt tracks and to this day has rarely raced on dirt. Blaney was not one of the drivers to race at Bristol Dirt Nationals last week and he doesn’t have a ride for the upcoming Truck Series race on the track this week. This could put him behind many other drivers that have been competing on dirt over the past week.
Martin Truex Jr. is another driver that has very limited dirt racing experience. Truex grew up racing go karts on asphalt tracks in New Jersey before being discovered and climbing the NASCAR ranks. Truex has a little advantage over Blaney due to the fact that he will be running in the truck race this weekend, racing for teammate Kyle Busch’s truck team in the race. Even so, this will be some of the first laps Truex has run on dirt as a race car driver.
Kevin Harvick is another driver that did not participate in dirt track racing as a young driver and instead grew up running go karts on the California asphalt. The saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” comes to mind for Harvick as the 45-year-old will attempt some of his first ever laps around a dirt track this week at Bristol. Like Truex, Harvick will be running the Truck Series race, so he will get a ton of laps this weekend. However, I’m not sure it will be enough to keep up with the experienced dirt guys. Add that to the fact that Harvick seems to have taken a big step back this season, as the Stewart-Haas group has struggled in general in 2021. I’m staying far away from Harvick this week.
Michael McDowell seems like another good candidate to struggle this week. Like everyone else on this list, he has no dirt experience. McDowell grew up as an open-wheel racer, racing go karts and sports cars for the entirety of his career before switching over to NASCAR. McDowell has struggled lately following his hot start and has not/will not be racing any dirt races prior to the Bristol event. He’ll be in the same boat as Blaney, but in worse equipment. I see McDowell as an easy pass this weekend.
Chris Buescher comes off a solid top-ten finish at Atlanta, but unfortunately has no dirt racing experience to speak of. Buescher was noticed while racing Legends cars on the asphalt of Texas before signing on as a developmental driver for Roush-Fenway Racing. Buescher is another driver that doesn’t have a ride for any races other than the Cup Series race, so struggles could be in store for this fringe playoff team.
($50,000 budget, 6 driver lineup)
It was a tough week for the DraftKings' lineup. Our top-three guys all had problems that led to us not finishing anywhere close to the money. A flat tire put Kevin Harvick a lap down early in the race. He rebounded for a tenth place finish but did not lead any laps which is the reason he was in my lineup. Brad Keselowski also found himself in trouble early when Martin Truex Jr. slid up the track and caused Brad to run into him and mess up the nose of his racecar. Keselowski went down multiple laps and ended up scoring negative points. Tyler Reddick hit the wall in the first 20 laps of the race which ended any hopes of him having a respectable day. Our bottom-three performed admirably. Ryan Newman was our top scorer (45.45) with his 13th place finish. Cole Custer also had a nice day, finishing 18th and scoring 34.00 points. Anthony Alfredo also added 20.00 as our lowest-cost driver. This week I’m stacking up on drivers with dirt experience and hoping for the best. There will be heat races to set lineups this week, so this lineup is coming before we know where these drivers will be lining up to start the race. Let’s see how this goes.
Last week: 148.90 pts.
1. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ($10,200)
2. Austin Dillon ($9,700)
3. Stewart Friesen ($9,500)
4. Bubba Wallace ($8,500)
5. Ryan Newman ($6,900)
6. Corey Lajoie ($5,000)
Remaining Budget: $200
Well, the good times couldn’t last forever. For the first time this season we were skunked on our betting card, as none of our bets hit. Kevin Harvick’s flat tire, Brad Keselowski’s nose damage and Kurt Busch’s unfortunate accident cost us any chance of winning money last week. We’re on a cold streak and need a bounce back on the Bristol dirt. After losing ten units last week, we’re now up just 1.6 units on the season.
Christopher Bell Top-5 (+125, 1 unit)
Toyota to win (+275, 1 unit)
Christopher Bell top Toyota (+140, 1 unit)
Kyle Larson top Chevrolet (+140, 1 unit)
Ryan Newman top Ford (+1200, 0.5 unit)
Bubba Wallace to win Group C (+250, 1 unit)
Austin Dillon to win (+1200, 1 unit)
Bubba Wallace to win (+2500, 0.5 unit)
One and Done
*Rules for One and Done: Each driver can only be picked one time over the course of the season, unless you pick the race winner, then that driver can be picked again. Driver’s finishing position is the number of “points” you score each week. Goal: Finish with as few points as possible. Feel free to play along!
I don’t really want to talk about what happened last week, but Kurt Busch ended up with a last-place finish to cap an overall crappy week for anyone that tailed any of my picks. Busch was put into the fence by Denny Hamlin on a lap 115 restart and was the first car out of the race, giving him a 39th-place finish. There’s nowhere to go but up, so let’s move on to next week.
In desperate need of a reset and with nowhere to go but up, I’m going back to the part-timers this week. Friesen is a full-time Truck Series' racer that also does a lot of dirt racing in the off-season. As a matter of fact, Friesen skipped a truck race last season when a race was rescheduled to a date that he had committed to run his dirt car. Friesen is a former Eldora Dirt Derby winner in the Truck Series and should be able to get around Bristol well. He’ll be racing in the #77 car for Spire Motorsports. The same team that got us an eigth-place finish in the Daytona 500. In all honesty, I’m just hoping for a top-20 this week. Anything more is just icing on the cake.
Race Driver Finish
Daytona 500 Jamie McMurray 8th
Daytona RC A.J. Allmendinger 7th
Homestead Tyler Reddick 2nd
Las Vegas Kevin Harvick 20th
Phoenix Kyle Busch 25th
Atlanta Kurt Busch 39th