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Dirt, Part 2: Cup Series ready for return trip to Bristol


Alejandro Alvarez | NASCAR Digital Media

Alejandro Alvarez | NASCAR Digital Media

The dust — and there was plenty of it – hadn’t even settled on last year’s inaugural dirt-track race at Bristol Motor Speedway when the announcement came that the format would return for 2022. Track officials interjected the news on the public-address system during the Stage 2 intermission.

One year later, that second edition has arrived with teams set to load in before Sunday’s Food City Dirt Race (7 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM). Teams learned plenty about the nuances of racing Cup Series cars on a packed dirt surface in the first go-around, but the amount of uncertainty remains high for the second running — especially with the new Next Gen car primed for its unpaved debut.

“I had fun last year,” said Joey Logano, who has good reason to say so since he won the inaugural Bristol Dirt Race. “You just kind of have to go with it. There’s still a lot of unknowns. We might know a little bit more than we did last year, but you have a whole new car now and there are areas I still want to be better at. That’s why I’m running the Truck race, so I don’t know. We’ll just kind of get up there and go racing like we do every other week.”

As new a concept as mud-slinging a stock car is, Cup Series drivers have sought out ways to sharpen their dirt skills, and the entry list of Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race (8 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM) is dotted with their names. Team DGR will field trucks for Logano and fellow Cup Series regular Harrison Burton, and Chase Elliott (Spire Motorsports) and Austin Dillon (Young’s Motorsports) also plan to participate.

Reigning Cup Series champ and dirt aficionado Kyle Larson isn’t on that list, but he has already tried his hand at Bristol’s surface this year. He won a qualifying heat and had a best mainevent finish of fourth in two nights of Late Model competition at the Karl Kustoms Bristol Dirt Nationals on April 1-2.

“The entries of the corners seem to be a little more sweeping, so a lot easier to run wide open in the late model,” Larson said last weekend at Martinsville Speedway. “So I don’t know if that’s good or bad or what it means for the racing, I felt like the track needs some character, some bumps and stuff, but natural kind of bumps. But I think they’ve learned a lot with track prep and things. And I felt like the track was really close to being really good, the two nights I was there. So, excited to get the cars on there.”

Truck Series regular Stewart Friesen, an avid dirt-track racer, shook down the Next Gen P3 test car last week at Bristol as NASCAR officials tried multiple configurations

– grille openings, windshield settings and diffuser adjustments among them — to dial the car in. This followed an initial dirt-track test for the car Dec. 10 at Lancaster Motor Speedway in South Carolina.

Another change in place for the 2022 edition is a shift to a nighttime event. The inaugural, which was pushed to a Monday start because of race-day rain and flooding, was run during sunny, daytime conditions. The shift is expected to help keep the track from drying out and stirring dust, aiding visibility for drivers and fans alike.

NASCAR CUP SERIES SCHEDULE (APRIL 2022)

Sunday, April 17………………………………………………………Bristol Dirt

Sunday, April 24……………………………………………………….Talladega

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