Rain cancels Bristol dirt heats, Trucks postponed to Sunday

If you have ever wondered what NASCAR would look like if it was a mud bogging discipline, the Camping World Truck Series provided a lap of that on Saturday. Rain plagued Saturday’s track activities at Bristol Motor Speedway, forcing the cancellation of the Truck and Cup Series‘ heat races to set the grids for their respective points races. The former’s Pinty’s Dirt Truck Race, which was scheduled for the evening, was also postponed to Sunday night, while Cup’s Food City Dirt Race will still take place on Sunday afternoon as planned. Both races’ starting lineups are instead determined by formula as with races without qualifying, which place Kyle Larson (Cup) and John Hunter Nemechek (Truck) on the poles.

Rain and oval racing rarely, if evergo well together, but the situation is exacerbated for dirt track racing as planned for Bristol. When the weather briefly complied, NASCAR began the first of four planned Truck heat races, but it proved to be a case study in the aforementioned statement as it lasted just one lap before being halted due to mud quickly covering the grilles and windshields. Driver visibility had been raised as a concern during Friday’s practice sessions in regards to dust, but the mud was an even more dangerous coating as vision was blocked completely.

Heat #1 pole winner Mike Marlar led the lone green-flag lap, but the qualifying formula placed his starting spot for the feature in thirty-eighth. It will be Marlar’s first Truck race since his début in 2019, while his Hill Motorsports team is a small operation that sits thirty-sixth in owner points. Raphaël Lessard and Ben Rhodes, who led the two Friday practices, will respectively start twenty-ninth and ninth.

Hill Motorsports owner Timmy Hill quipped, “Welp, it was short but we led all the laps today!”

Among the dirt ringers, Cody Erickson starts thirty-fourth in his fourth Truck race (last on Bristol’s concrete layout in 2020; he also raced at Eldora in 2014 and 2015), while Jake Griffin is thirty-sixth as he makes his first start since Eldora in 2019. Starting last will be Andrew Gordon in his first NASCAR start.

Trevor Collins and Jessica Friesen, both of whom were hoping to qualify for their maiden NASCAR races, and Cup driver Ryan Newman officially failed to qualify. J.R. Heffner withdrew from the weekend after wrecking his truck in Friday’s final practice.

Of the eight remaining Cup drivers dabbling in the Trucks for more seat time (which is ironically invalidated by the postponement as the Truck race is now after the parent series’), Martin Truex Jr. is the highest starter in fifteenth in his first Truck event since 2006. Daniel Suárez is twenty-sixth in his first Truck race in five years, while Kevin Harvick is thirtieth in his return after a six-year absence. A trio of drivers who won the Truck Series’ previous dirt race at Eldora Speedway also start in the bottom half with Larson (twenty-eighth), Bubba Wallace (thirty-second), and Chase Briscoe (thirty-third). Xfinity Series driver Myatt Snider will begin his night in thirty-seventh.

Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

For the Cup race, Larson is officially the pole sitter but will be sent to the rear for the green flag after changing his engine during his series’ final practice. As a result, third-placed Ryan Blaney—who led said practice—will take his spot. Larson’s team-mate Alex Bowman, the fastest in the first practice, rolls off seventh.

Among drivers making their Cup débuts, Truck regular and Friesen’s husband Stewart starts thirty-second ahead of Shane Golobic (thirty-fifth), Chris Windom (thirty-sixth), and Marlar (thirty-eighth again). J.J. Yeley is thirty-fourth in his first Cup race of 2021 while Ty Dillon starts last for his and Gaunt Brothers Racing‘s return to the series after taking the last four weeks off.

The postponement sparked much conversation on social media, including whether NASCAR should have implemented more changes to the vehicles to adapt to the circumstances such as removing windshields to emulate dirt cars, moving the Bristol spring race to another date with a lower threat of rain, or criticising the dirt experiment altogether. On the other side of the debate, one can argue removing windshields for a one-off, especially with the electronics in the cockpit, would be impractical. Others have also pointed out such a situation would have occurred anyway even for races on Bristol’s concrete surface or any other dirt event. The Truck Series will run another dirt race in July at Knoxville Raceway, while Eldora was the lone national series dirt event from 2013 to 2019.

“Maybe Richard Petty was right after all,” tweeted Cup driver Denny Hamlin. The remark was alluding to Petty’s comments to Autoweek in October 2020, shortly after the Bristol dirt race was announced, about dirt racing being similar to “taking a professional football team and going back to play at a high school field.” Petty had won the Cup Series’ last dirt event in 1970, but felt returning to such tracks would be a step backwards towards their smaller roots. Nevertheless, he added that although Bristol could “be another gimmick,” there was also the possibility that it is “what NASCAR needs to keep our base growing.”

“Just an FYI, when this race happens. We aren’t going to be able to see either way,” Griffin tweeted on Saturday evening. “The track has to be dry enough to not throw up mud so the engines can stay cool. But when it gets dry the dust is so thick that if you aren’t leading you can’t see the car in front of you.”

The Food City Dirt Race will begin at 3:30 PM Eastern, followed by the Pinty’s Dirt Truck Race at 9 PM. On Saturday morning, NASCAR announced that after analysing the results of Friday’s practices, the Cup race’s first two stages would end on laps 100 and 200 instead of 75 and 150 as previously planned, while competition cautions were added on laps 50 and 150. Teams will also receive an extra set of tyres.

Cup starting lineup

Start Number Driver Team Manufacturer
1 5 Kyle Larson Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
2 11 Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
3 12 Ryan Blaney Team Penske Ford
4 18 Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
5 19 Martin Truex Jr. Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
6 4 Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
7 48 Alex Bowman Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
8 24 William Byron Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
9 3 Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
10 22 Joey Logano Team Penske Ford
11 17 Chris Buescher Roush Fenway Racing Ford
12 21 Matt DiBenedetto Wood Brothers Racing Ford
13 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
14 6 Ryan Newman Roush Fenway Racing Ford
15 20 Christopher Bell Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
16 34 Michael McDowell Front Row Motorsports Ford
17 42 Ross Chastain Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
18 99 Daniel Suárez Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet
19 23 Bubba Wallace 23XI Racing Toyota
20 2 Brad Keselowski Team Penske Ford
21 41 Cole Custer Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
22 37 Ryan Preece JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
23 10 Aric Almirola Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
24 43 Erik Jones Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet
25 14 Chase Briscoe Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
26 9 Chase Elliott Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
27 8 Tyler Reddick Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
28 1 Kurt Busch Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
29 38 Anthony Alfredo Front Row Motorsports Ford
30 7 Corey LaJoie Spire Motorsports Chevrolet
31 51 Cody Ware* Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet
32 77 Stewart Friesen* Spire Motorsports Chevrolet
33 00 Quin Houff StarCom Racing Chevrolet
34 53 J.J. Yeley* Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet
35 78 Shane Golobic Live Fast Motorsports Ford
36 15 Chris Windom Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet
37 52 Josh Bilicki Rick Ware Racing Ford
38 66 Mike Marlar MBM Motorsports Toyota
39 96 Ty Dillon* Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for Cup points

Truck starting lineup

Start Number Driver Team Manufacturer
1 4 John Hunter Nemechek Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
2 16 Austin Hill Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota
3 2 Sheldon Creed GMS Racing Chevrolet
4 88 Matt Crafton ThorSport Racing Toyota
5 13 Johnny Sauter ThorSport Racing Toyota
6 21 Zane Smith GMS Racing Chevrolet
7 52 Stewart Friesen Halmar Friesen Racing Toyota
8 98 Grant Enfinger ThorSport Racing Toyota
9 99 Ben Rhodes ThorSport Racing Toyota
10 45 Brett Moffitt Niece Motorsports Chevrolet
11 42 Carson Hocevar Niece Motorsports Chevrolet
12 19 Derek Kraus McAnally-Hilgemann Racing Toyota
13 38 Todd Gilliland Front Row Motorsports Ford
14 40 Ryan Truex Niece Motorsports Chevrolet
15 51 Martin Truex Jr.* Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
16 75 Parker Kligerman Henderson Motorsports Chevrolet
17 22 Austin Wayne Self AM Racing Chevrolet
18 15 Tanner Gray David Gilliland Racing Ford
19 26 Tyler Ankrum GMS Racing Chevrolet
20 9 Codie Rohrbaugh CR7 Motorsports Chevrolet
21 18 Chandler Smith Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
22 1 Hailie Deegan David Gilliland Racing Ford
23 23 Chase Purdy GMS Racing Chevrolet
24 12 Tate Fogleman Young’s Motorsports Chevrolet
25 30 Danny Bohn On Point Motorsports Toyota
26 02 Daniel Suárez* Young’s Motorsports Chevrolet
27 25 Timothy Peters Rackley WAR Chevrolet
28 44 Kyle Larson* Niece Motorsports Chevrolet
29 24 Raphaël Lessard GMS Racing Chevrolet
30 17 Kevin Harvick* David Gilliland Racing Ford
31 20 Spencer Boyd Young’s Motorsports Chevrolet
32 11 Bubba Wallace* Spencer Davis Motorsports Toyota
33 04 Chase Briscoe* Roper Racing Ford
34 41 Cody Erickson Cram Racing Enterprises Chevrolet
35 10 Jennifer Jo Cobb Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing Chevrolet
36 34 Jake Griffin Reaume Brothers Racing Toyota
37 33 Myatt Snider* Reaume Brothers Racing Chevrolet
38 56 Mike Marlar* Hill Motorsports Chevrolet
39 6 Norm Benning Norm Benning Racing Chevrolet
40 49 Andrew Gordon CMI Motorsports Chevrolet
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for Truck points

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