As NASCAR continues to take hits in the fan department, the powers that be decided to try a visit back to the good ole days of racing this past weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway. After 50 years, NASCAR returned to the surface that made this racing what it is today. Drivers from the NASCAR Cup Series had the opportunity to compete in the dirt at one of the most famous short tracks in history, and one driver would make his own history in the muddiest of races this series has ever seen.
While Mother Nature pushed the final race to Monday afternoon, Joey Logano and his Penske Racing team pulled off some of the drama that this sport has been missing, but not without a lot of trial by fire (or, really, rain). First, Friday’s practice resulted in shocking levels of tire wear, causing Bristol to re-adjust the race format on the fly. Then rain showers postponed both the Truck Series and Cup Series races on both Saturday and Sunday, ultimately resulting in a shortened race format for both Truck and Cup drivers.
These are normal obstacles, but another one proved to be the true issue – a lack of experience in the dirt. Several young drivers tore up the newly resurfaced dirt track in Monday’s truck race, leaving the stars of the Cup Series with some serious challenges on their hands. This would become obvious after the drop the green flag in Monday’s race would lead to an early red flag due after visibility issues led to a chain reaction wreck started by a single spinning car. Inside the first stage, Chili Bowl champion Christopher Bell seemed to struggle inside a heavy Cup car on the dirt surface and would take Kyle Larson out in a hard wreck. While the experienced dirt drivers seemed to struggle in the first Cup Series dirt race, a drying track service would give an experienced Cup driver the chance to prove that he could pull off a win on any surface. As the dust would continue to fill the air, the yellow Penske dream machine seemed to come to the rescue. Before long, Logano’s machine would pull ahead of Daniel Suarez on Lap 193 of 250 and held it the rest of the way through a caution for the second stage break and a late yellow that sent the race three laps beyond the prescribed distance.
On the final restart, on Lap 252, a single file restart would give Logano the chance to pull ahead of Denny Hamlin for his first history making victory of the season.
“Man, it’s incredible,” said Logano. “How about Bristol on dirt? This was an incredible race and an unbelievable racetrack. It is obvious that a lot of work went into this track over the last few days, and I know that we couldn’t have pulled off this win without all of this work. There is nothing like winning at Bristol but putting dirt on it and being the first to win at this race is really special.”
While the Cup Series will take a break for the Easter weekend, drivers will get a chance to return to their asphalt short track racing roots on April 10th at Martinsville Speedway. Stay tuned to RacingJunk for the latest in all of your NASCAR coverage.