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.”
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|
* – Ineligible for Cup points
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|