BRISTOL, Tenn. – Somewhere under the thick red haze floating over Bristol Motor Speedway, Joey Logano took the checkered flag for NASCAR’s first Cup Series race at a dirt track in 50 years.
He couldn’t see much – visibility was next to nothing during this Monday dust storm – but Logano clung to the familiar bottom lane around the bullring to collect the checkered flag on this NASCAR experiment.
Logano got a jump on Denny Hamlin on the overtime restart to earn his third career victory at Bristol. But this was not the Bristol of old, the track had been covered with 2,300 truckloads of red Tennessee clay so that NASCAR could add a dirt track to the Cup schedule for the first time since 1970.
“How about Bristol on dirt, guys! This is incredible,” Logano said to the crowd, a reduced capacity sellout of about 30,000 fans.
“There’s nothing like winning at Bristol, but putting it on dirt and being the first to do it is very special.”
Logano became the seventh race winner through seven races this season and gave Team Penske back-to-back victories. Ryan Blaney won in a Penske Ford last week.
The Logano victory closed a weekend of uncertainty and even some hysteria as NASCAR launched this drive through the dirt. It was broadcast partner Fox who wanted a dirt race on the Cup schedule and Speedway Motorsports, seeking some new energy at its beloved Bristol bullring. said it would take the race.
So NASCAR awarded the experiment to Bristol, bypassing dozens of quality established dirt tracks across the country. The snub extended to Tony Stewart, who had successfully hosted seven Truck Series races at his Eldora Speedway dirt track in Ohio but said was never considered for a Cup race.
Marcus Smith, the CEO of Speedway Motorsports, insisted concrete Bristol was up to the challenge and he told The Associated Press he’d spent nearly $2 million to make the dirt dream a reality.
He was pleased with the buzz generated by the event, even as NASCAR huddled for solutions to extreme dust, poor tire durability and shifting weather conditions that made the buildup a muddy mess. When race day finally arrived, torrential overnight rains had flooded the Bristol grounds and NASCAR had to postpone Sunday’s show by a day.
The wait seemed worth it and the end product has been deemed a win: before the race was even over, the track announced over the public address system that Bristol would run on dirt again next season.
Truex Jr. wins truck race
Martin Truex Jr. entered the Truck Series race for the first time in 15 years just to get extra laps on the dirt surface at Bristol Motor Speedway.
That reconnaissance mission turned into a runaway victory for Truex, who dominated the Monday afternoon race and then quickly turned his attention to the main event.
Truex, who ran one Truck Series race in both 2005 and 2006, had almost no dirt experience before Bristol. He led 105 of the 150 laps, won all three stages and beat series regulars Ben Rhodes, Raphael Lessard and Todd Gilliland for the win.
Chase Briscoe, a Cup Series rookie with a dirt racing background, finished fourth.
Truex won in a Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports and gave the organization its third consecutive win this season.
The converted surface had been a challenge since Friday when a thick dust began to swirl through Bristol’s stadium during roughly four hours of practice. Drivers said it clouded their visibility but the bigger problem was the Goodyear tires on the Cup cars.
The tires were fading down to the cords while the weight of the cars seemed to carve deep divots into the dirt track. Rain on Saturday complicated preparations.
The trucks were sent out to start heat races in the slop. Chunks of mud completely covered the windshields and caked the front grilles on the trucks after just one lap and the session was halted. It began to rain again and didn’t stop for nearly 24 hours.
All that water soaked into the dirt surface and actually made for better racing conditions. Although the trucks race was slowed by 14 cautions, some of that could be attributed to lack of driver experience on dirt instead of problems with the surface.
As soon as Truex took the checkered flag, the Bristol crew went to work prepping the track for the Cup race.
NASCAR is off for Easter and the Cup Series resumes Saturday night April 10 under the lights at Martinsville Speedway. Martin Truex Jr. is the defending race winner.