Long: Dirt or pavement is wrong question to ask about Bristol
BRISTOL, Tenn. — In the debate on if the dirt race should return to Bristol Motor Speedway next season, the wrong question is being asked.
The focus should be when will Bristol get a better date for its spring race.
Drivers say Bristol Motor Speedway’s concrete track makes for one of the best racing venues on the circuit. It’s time to give Bristol a better date away from the cold, rainy conditions that have impacted the event in recent years.
One idea would be to move Bristol’s spring date to May and have the North Wilkesboro race move to April and become a points event next season. Promote North Wilkesboro as the first points race at that track since 1996 and run it on Easter night.
North Wilkesboro’s more intimate setting means a capacity crowd of around 25,000 will look much better on TV than the larger crowd that saw the Bristol race Sunday but still had many seats empty.
The Bristol race that moves to May could remain a points event and allow NASCAR to do something different with the All-Star Race. Maybe Nashville’s Fairground Speedway will be ready to host the All-Star Race in 2025.
Moving Bristol later in the season gives the track a chance to draw a larger crowd and possibly avoid some of the weather issues that have plagued the track.
Three times since 2017 he spring Bristol Cup race has finished on a Monday. Twice in that span the entire race was held on a Monday because of rain.
All three years Cup has raced on the dirt at Bristol has been plagued by bad weather.
- In 2021, the rain postponed the dirt race to Monday, March 29.
- In 2022, rain halted the April 17 dirt race twice but the event was able to run the full distance.
- This year, the Cup practice was rained out on Friday.
As to the question of if Bristol should be a dirt event, Brad Keselowski noted the expiration date on such unique events.
“If you’re going to have a special event, I don’t think you do it more than two years,” he said. “I think it kind of loses its luster after the second year no matter what it is, not just here, but any of the ones that we do. You’ve got to keep it fresh.
“We’re in the era now of social media and instant gratification. Things are cool real quick and then they’re not cool real quick.”
Joey Logano likes the idea of a dirt race on the Cup schedule but could see it possibly elsewhere.
“I do think having a dirt race is cool … for our sport,” Logano said after he won last weekend’s Craftsman Truck race on the dirt at Bristol. “To be the most versatile sport in the world is pretty cool. Dirt racing is one part of that.
“You’ve got to be so versatile through every discipline (as a driver). I love that challenge. So I wouldn’t want to take a dirt race off the schedule. All I’m saying is Bristol a great racetrack either way.”
Chase Briscoe says to give the dirt race at Bristol a chance but on a different weekend.
“I would love to see this race on a non-Easter weekend just to kind of see the turnout,” he said after finishing fifth Sunday night. “I feel like we don’t get a true read about what the fanbase thinks about it.
“We have to have a dirt race, at least one. Now, if it’s here or not, it doesn’t really make a difference to me. I do think after (Sunday night), even last year, especially after (Sunday night), I think it’s show that they can put on really good racing.”
If not a dirt race at Bristol, then where?
“If we move it, we just have to be smart about it and where you run it because it’s going to be hard to just go and replicate something like this or something like Eldora,” Briscoe said of the half-mile dirt track owned by Tony Stewart that once hosted Truck races.
NASCAR President Steve Phelps said Cup will continue to have schedule variation in 2024. Moving Bristol’s spring race should be something to consider.
Christopher Bell’s victory Sunday at Bristol put him in a category above future Hall of Famers.
The victory was Bell’s fifth in 116 career Cup starts. Among active drivers, that’s more wins in the same amount of time than future Hall of Famers Kevin Harvick (four wins), Kyle Busch (four) and Denny Hamlin (four).
Only Brad Keselowski had more wins in his first 116 Cup starts than Bell did. Keselowski had eight wins.
Told how he ranked Sunday night, Bell said: “That’s incredible, something that I’m forever grateful to be in the position I am in, to drive for a team that’s capable of giving me race cars capable of winning.
“But I try to not look at the stats and focus on the task at hand. That is very rewarding to hear, and hopefully I’m not done here.”
Next on the Cup schedule is Sunday’s race at Martinsville. Bell won there last October to advance to the championship race.
Bell and his Joe Gibbs Racing team are taking advantage of the opportunity this month. With races at Richmond, Bristol dirt and Martinsville, this is a chance for Bell to grab strong finishes and strengthen his position in the season standings.
Bell opened April by finishing fourth at Richmond and followed it with the win at Bristol, moving him into the points lead. That’s critical. Those in the top 10 at the end of the regular season score bonus playoff points.
Bell entered last year’s postseason with only 11 playoff points, putting him 10th among the 16 drivers. Twice he had to win in elimination races to advance.
This stretch is a key point for Bell and his team to score as many points as possible. He’s scored 97 points in two races. Only two other drivers have scored more than 70 points in those events: Tyler Reddick (74 points) and Kyle Larson (72).
“Once we get into the playoffs, it’s all about bonus points to get through these rounds,” crew chief Adam Stevens said. “We were fortunate last year when our backs were up against the wall to be able to transfer. But you can’t rely on that. That’s tough. It took some situations and a little bit of a luck for that to happen.
“If you have a big old stockpile of bonus points, you get in that spot, maybe it’s not as foreboding as it was. Hopefully we don’t put ourselves in that spot. To do that, we need to capitalize on our strengths and we need to minimize our weaknesses.”