Alex Bowman, Ryan Blaney top Cup Bristol dirt practices

For the first time since 1970, the NASCAR Cup Series officially turned laps on a dirt course. With the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway two days away, the series conducted two practices on Friday that were led by Alex Bowman and Ryan Blaney.

With the switch from asphalt to dirt, the Cup cars featured various changes from usual, many of which have already been used by the Camping World Truck Series since it began running dirt races in 2013.. For example, the splitter is removed while a different spoiler, ducts, and screens are used. Goodyear also provided a treaded, bias-ply version of its Eagle tyres; it will be first time that the Cup Series used bias ply tyres in a race since 1989.

In Saturday’s four heats to set the field for the Food City Dirt Race, Bowman will start on the pole for Heat #3 while Blaney begins Heat #4 in seventh.

“I don’t know how difficult it is gonna be to pass tomorrow when it comes time for our heat races,” Blaney said in a post-practice media session. “If it’s gonna be just like this today, it wasn’t impossible to pass. If someone missed the bottom and hit a rut wrong or something, you can kind of have forward bite and drive under them. It was tough, but it is what is. You can’t be happy or mad about it. You just try to make the most of it.”

First practice

Bowman was quickly the fastest driver on track ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, followed by his Hendrick Motorsports team-mates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott. The first caution of the session came out for debris.

The first driver-related yellow flag came for Martin Truex Jr.‘s spin; he also spun out in the Truck practice an hour prior. Larson, another driver running both series’ races, also went around. Cody Ware produced another caution for his own spin. J.J. Yeley, running his first Cup race of 2021, also fell victim with less than five minutes remaining, leading to a minute of green-flag practice time.

The top five remained mostly unchanged throughout the the hour-long practice until Christopher Bell, a noted dirt ace, shot up to second ahead of his JGR peers with a lap time of 20.225 seconds and speed at 88.999 mph. Nevertheless, Bowman led the way with a 20.155-second fastest lap and 89.309-mph speed. William Byron and Truex, the only Hendrick and JGR drivers to to be with their team-mates, respectively finished ninth and thirteenth. Elliott recorded a session-high sixty-eight laps as he finished sixth.

Joey Logano and Stewart-Haas Racing‘s Cole Custer and Chase Briscoe, the latter of whom is also entered in the Truck race, are the lone drivers in the top ten who do not drove for Hendrick or Gibbs.

Among the four Cup Series newcomers, Truck regular Stewart Friesen was the fastest in twenty-ninth. Chris Windom followed in thirty-fourth followed by Shane Golobic (thirty-seventh) and Mike Marlar (thirty-eighth).

“That was FUN, arguably the most fun I’ve had driving a cup car,” Ware tweeted afterwards.

Position Number Driver Team Manufacturer Best Time Best Speed (mph) Laps
1 48 Alex Bowman Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 20.155 89.308 42
2 20 Christopher Bell Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 20.225 88.999 46
3 18 Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 20.248 88.898 57
4 11 Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 20.266 88.819 42
5 5 Kyle Larson Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 20.314 88.609 46
6 9 Chase Elliott Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 20.334 88.522 68
7 22 Joey Logano Team Penske Ford 20.434 88.089 58
8 41 Cole Custer Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 20.523 87.707 39
9 24 William Byron Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 20.535 87.655 36
10 14 Chase Briscoe Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 20.548 87.600 39
11 6 Ryan Newman Roush Fenway Racing Ford 20.550 87.591 47
12 17 Chris Buescher Roush Fenway Racing Ford 20.557 87.561 49
13 19 Martin Truex Jr. Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 20.568 87.515 44
14 4 Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 20.574 87.489 47
15 8 Tyler Reddick Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 20.595 87.400 38
16 7 Corey LaJoie Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 20.626 87.269 46
17 37 Ryan Preece JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet 20.650 87.167 58
18 42 Ross Chastain Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet 20.707 86.927 49
19 21 Matt DiBenedetto Wood Brothers Racing Ford 20.711 86.910 34
20 10 Aric Almirola Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 20.717 86.885 45
21 38 Anthony Alfredo Front Row Motorsports Ford 20.728 86.839 43
22 1 Kurt Busch Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet 20.751 86.743 50
23 43 Erik Jones Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet 20.760 86.705 26
24 99 Daniel Suárez Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet 20.771 86.659 66
25 53 J.J. Yeley* Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet 20.776 86.638 33
26 2 Brad Keselowski Team Penske Ford 20.781 86.618 46
27 23 Bubba Wallace 23XI Racing Toyota 20.794 86.563 39
28 96 Ty Dillon* Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota 20.796 86.555 41
29 77 Stewart Friesen* Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 20.810 86.497 31
30 34 Michael McDowell Front Row Motorsports Ford 20.818 86.464 55
31 12 Ryan Blaney Team Penske Ford 20.838 86.381 44
32 3 Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 20.840 86.372 50
33 00 Quin Houff StarCom Racing Chevrolet 20.852 86.323 40
34 15 Chris Windom Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet 20.866 86.265 35
35 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet 20.898 86.133 53
36 52 Josh Bilicki Rick Ware Racing Ford 20.998 85.722 19
37 78 Shane Golobic Live Fast Motorsports Ford 21.012 85.665 35
38 66 Mike Marlar MBM Motorsports Toyota 21.109 85.272 45
39 51 Cody Ware* Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet 21.112 85.260 50
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for Cup points
Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Final practice

With the Cup and Trucks running multiple practices, the dirt was inevitably going to kick up dust that obscured some driver visibility. Blaney noted “it rained really hard here yesterday. There was a big storm, so maybe they couldn’t work on it as much as they wanted to, but it was like a really thin layer of flaky dirt on top of the black, hard-packed, rubbered down dirt when I walked on it this morning.

“Then that went off pretty quickly. The trucks run that off fast, so I’m not sure what they could do, unless you water it and till the whole thing and just kind of churn all the dirt over that you can to try to make it last a little bit longer, but you’re kind of handcuffed because we’ve got windshields in these things. You can’t make it super tacky to where mud is flying everywhere, so I’m not sure. I just wish it was a little bit smoother because there are so many ruts and things like that, but maybe they’ll be able to put their heads together and work on it.”

Although it was a greater concern during the first practice, he added that things got “better when the sun went down. Right before that it was pretty dusty and the sun was hitting it and it was hard to see, but not bad.”

The lone caution of the day came for Custer spinning. Meanwhile, Blaney was the fastest at 20.172 seconds and 89.233 mph on his first lap, ahead of Bowman and Hamlin. Hamlin turned eighty laps, more than any driver in either series.

Larson, who was fifteenth fastest, exited the practice due to engine damage and spiking temperatures that have forced the #5 Hendrick team to replace the injured component. As a result, he will start both Saturday’s heat and Sunday’s race from the back; he was initially set to roll off second in Heat #1.

Josh Bilicki elected to skip the practice to preserve his #52 for the Saturday heat and Sunday’s race.

“Man, this was the most fun I’ve had driving a racecar in a long time! First time on dirt and we fired off right on pace,” Bilicki tweeted. “We opted to skip second practice to save the car for the rest of the weekend. Crazy how much the track changes. All a big learning curve, but I love it!”

Position Number Driver Team Manufacturer Best Time Best Speed (mph) Laps
1 12 Ryan Blaney Team Penske Ford 20.172 89.233 67
2 48 Alex Bowman Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 20.194 89.135 43
3 11 Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 20.228 88.986 80
4 22 Joey Logano Team Penske Ford 20.262 88.836 69
5 14 Chase Briscoe Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 20.313 88.613 51
6 19 Martin Truex Jr. Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 20.319 88.587 66
7 9 Chase Elliott Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 20.320 88.583 54
8 34 Michael McDowell Front Row Motorsports Ford 20.321 88.578 67
9 24 William Byron Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 20.410 88.192 57
10 18 Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 20.415 88.171 64
11 99 Daniel Suárez Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet 20.428 88.114 40
12 20 Christopher Bell Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 20.451 88.015 53
13 21 Matt DiBenedetto Wood Brothers Racing Ford 20.460 87.977 54
14 2 Brad Keselowski Team Penske Toyota 20.461 87.972 69
15 5 Kyle Larson Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 20.466 87.951 35
16 42 Ross Chastain Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet 20.467 87.947 59
17 37 Ryan Preece JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet 20.485 87.869 75
18 38 Anthony Alfredo Front Row Motorsports Ford 20.516 87.736 60
19 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet 20.520 87.719 56
20 41 Cole Custer Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 20.545 87.613 65
21 17 Chris Buescher Roush Fenway Racing Ford 20.565 87.527 71
22 6 Ryan Newman Roush Fenway Racing Ford 20.566 87.523 56
23 10 Aric Almirola Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 20.568 87.515 62
24 1 Kurt Busch Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet 20.581 87.459 58
25 8 Tyler Reddick Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 20.594 87.404 61
26 3 Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 20.642 87.201 49
27 23 Bubba Wallace 23XI Racing Toyota 20.680 87.041 78
28 15 Chris Windom Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet 20.686 87.015 41
29 51 Cody Ware* Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet 20.687 87.011 17
30 77 Stewart Friesen* Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 20.690 86.999 28
31 96 Ty Dillon* Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota 20.723 86.860 49
32 43 Erik Jones Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet 20.732 86.822 43
33 53 J.J. Yeley* Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet 20.752 86.739 27
34 00 Quin Houff StarCom Racing Chevrolet 20.799 86.543 16
35 66 Mike Marlar MBM Motorsports Toyota 20.845 86.352 49
36 7 Corey LaJoie Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 20.845 86.352 60
37 4 Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 20.875 86.228 67
38 78 Shane Golobic Live Fast Motorsports Ford 20.896 86.141 48
39 52 Josh Bilicki Rick Ware Racing Ford No Time No Time N/A

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