Logano conquers inaugural Bristol Dirt Course

In the first NASCAR Cup Series-sanctioned race on the dirt in half a century, Joey Logano made a late charge to the front and prevailed on an overtime restart to win the inaugural Food City Dirt Race at the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Course on Monday, March 29.

Qualifying was initially set to occur on Saturday, March 27, featuring four 15-lap qualifying heat events and the starting lineup was based on a formula weighing the results and position gained during each heat. The qualifying heats, however, were cancelled due to rain, and the starting lineup was determined by qualifying metrics, based on race/points results and the fastest lap from the previous Cup race. 

Kyle Larson was awarded the pole position based on the metric formula, but he started at the rear of the field due to an engine change. The move propelled Denny Hamlin, the regular-season points leader, to the front row along with Ryan Blaney, winner of last weekend’s Cup event at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Along with Larson, Matt DiBenedetto and Michael McDowell dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments.

Delayed by weather and steady rain, the race was delayed from starting on Sunday, March 28, as the main event commenced on Monday, March 29. When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Hamlin launched his No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry ahead with an early advantage on the outside lane as he led the first lap ahead of teammate Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney.

The following lap, Kyle Busch powered his No. 18 M&M’s Messages Toyota Camry to the lead. Shortly after, teammate Martin Truex Jr., winner of the Truck Series event at the Bristol Dirt Course, moved into second place as Hamlin dropped to third place. Behind, Blaney was in fourth followed by Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman and William Byron.

On the ninth lap, Truex emerged as the new leader of the event while Kyle Busch, who fell off the pace, pitted due to an overheating issue.

By Lap 15 and with the dirt kicking up on the cars through every turn, Truex was leading by more than a second over Blaney, who was locked in a battle with the No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE driven by Byron. Hamlin and Bowman were in the top five followed by Joey Logano, Christopher Bell, Kevin Harvick, Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman. Meanwhile, Kyle Larson, one of NASCAR’s dirt specialists who started at the rear of the field due to an engine change, was up into 18th place.

Through the first 30 laps of the event, Truex continued to lead as he was ahead by two seconds over Blaney. Teammates Bowman and Byron battled for third and fourth while Christopher Bell, one of the favorites as a dirt racing specialist, moved his No. 20 IRWIN Toyota Camry into fifth place. By then, Larson was in 12th. Kyle Busch, on the other hand, was in 38th place and trapped two laps behind the leaders.

Not long after, Bowman slipped his way into the runner-up spot. In addition, Byron slipped his way on the inside lane in the dirt to take over third place, thus dropping Blaney to fourth. 

On Lap 41, the first caution of the NASCAR Cup Series’ dirt event at Bristol flew due to a vicious multi-car wreck in the backstretch that involved Corey LaJoie, Stewart Friesen, Shane Golobic, rookie Anthony Alfredo and Aric Almirola, whose No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang sustained heavy damage after being hit three different times. The wreck, which occurred in front of the leaders, was enough for NASCAR to display the red flag, with the event being stopped for six and a half minutes.

When the red flag was lifted and the race returned to racing under green on Lap 45, Truex retained the lead following a strong restart. Teammate Bell moved up into second place followed by teammate Hamlin while Bowman fell back to fourth ahead of Ryan Newman and Byron. Larson, meanwhile, moved up to seventh.

Two laps later, the caution returned when contact from Byron sent Newman around in the backstretch. Fortunately, the field dodged Newman as he continued without any serious damage. In the midst of Newman’s incident, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick and rookie Chase Briscoe made contact with one another, where Harvick pinned Briscoe’s car against the outside wall and resulted with both competitors sustaining damage. Cody Ware was also involved in a separate incident with his car coming to a rest towards the backstretch’s inside wall.

The incident was enough to send the field to the first scheduled competition caution on Lap 50. Under the competition caution, the field pitted and the teams were placed on a three-minute clock to work on the adjustments of the cars.

When the field returned to the track and the race returned to green on Lap 51, Truex retained the lead followed by teammate Bell and Bowman. Larson charged up to fourth place followed by Hamlin and Daniel Suarez.

Shortly after, the caution returned when Bell ran up the track in Turn 1 and entering the backstretch, got loose and spun in the dirt, collecting Larson and Ross Chastain, who ran into Larson’s No. 5 Freightliner Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE after having his path blocked. Teammates Harvick and Briscoe also sustained damage along with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Under caution, Larson drove his damaged car into the rear bumper of Bell’s car to express his displeasure as both competitors pitted for heavy damage on both of their cars. Bell and Chastain were knocked out of the race following the incident while Larson continued, though he dropped off the lead lap.

When the race restarted on Lap 59, Truex retained the lead following a strong start while Suarez moved up into second place. Byron and Blaney were in third and fourth followed by Stenhouse and Hamlin. Chase Elliott and Logano were in seventh and eighth followed by Chris Buescher. Tyler Reddick, Bowman, Bubba Wallace and Ryan Newman

By Lap 70, the No. 19 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota Camry driven by Truex remained as the leader by nearly a second over Suarez while Byron, Blaney and Hamlin continued to run in the top five. Logano was in sixth while Elliott and Bubba Wallace battled for seventh. Stenhouse and Newman were in the top 10. Meanwhile, Kyle Busch, who returned to the lead lap under the first competition caution, was in 17th behind brother Kurt Busch.

Ten laps later, Truex stabilized his advantage to less than two seconds over the No. 99 Camping World Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE driven by Suarez while third-place Byron was trailing by less than three seconds. Hamlin was in fourth ahead of Team Penske’s Blaney and Logano while Wallace was in seventh ahead of Elliott. Newman and Stenhouse continued to run in the top 10 and just ahead of Buescher, Reddick, Ryan Preece, Erik Jones and Bowman. The Busch brothers were in 17th and 18th, Harvick was in 20th, Brad Keselowski was in 23rd in between Michael McDowell and Stewart Friesen and Briscoe was in 25th in front of Austin Dillon.

Through the first 90 laps of the event, Truex’s advantage increased to more than two seconds over Suarez, with Byron closing in on Suarez’s rear bumper for the runner-up spot. 

With early action igniting in the inaugural Cup Bristol dirt event, Truex was able to cruise to the first stage victory on Lap 100 and become the ninth different competitor to record a stage victory through the first seven Cup events of the 2021 season. Byron crossed the start/finish line in second place followed by Hamlin, Suarez and Blaney. Logano, Wallace, Newman, Stenhouse and Buescher were scored in the top 10. By then, 24 of the 39-car field were scored on the lead lap, with names like Briscoe and Austin Dillon pinned a lap behind. Larson, meanwhile, was in 30th, two laps behind the leaders.

Under the stage break, the leaders returned to pit road as the teams were given three minutes to service the cars.

The second stage started on Lap 101 with Truex and Byron on the front row. At the start, Truex retained the lead and Suarez reassumed second place on the outside of Byron while Logano made a charge for fourth place against Hamlin. Newman, following his early spin, charged his way back into sixth place ahead of Wallace and Blaney as the dirt was kicking up around the track in the midst of the competitive racing.

By Lap 110, Truex was ahead by nearly a second over Suarez while Byron, Logano and Hamlin were in the top five. Newman, Wallace, Blaney, Buescher and Chase Elliott were in the top 10 followed by Reddick, Erik Jones, Bowman, Matt DiBenedetto and Kyle Busch.

With the field reaching the halfway point on Lap 125, Truex remained in command of the field by less than a second over Suarez while third-place Byron was trailing by less than two seconds. Logano continued to run in fourth place followed by Hamlin and Newman.

Not long after, Suarez started to close in on Truex’s rear bumper for the lead as he was behind by three-tenths of a second. Byron also started to close in with his deficit being a second behind.

On Lap 134, Suarez, who came into the main event with little dirt racing experience and in his seventh race with the newly formed Trackhouse Racing Team, put the bumper on Truex to move Truex out of the racing groove in Turn 3 and assume the lead in Turn 4. Not long after, Byron moved into second place while Truex dropped back to third place ahead of Logano and Newman.

By Lap 140, Suarez was ahead by a narrow margin over Byron while Truex continued to retain third place over Logano and Newman.

When the second competition caution flew on Lap 150, Suarez remained as the leader over Byron, Truex, Logano and Newman. 

Under the second competition caution, the leaders returned to pit road for tires and service.

When the race restarted on Lap 152, Suarez and Byron battled dead even for the lead through the first two turns before Suarez prevailed on the outside lane. Not long after, the caution returned for a multi-car wreck on the frontstretch that started when in the midst of the dust, Kyle Busch ran into Blaney’s No. 12 Advance Auto Parts Ford Mustang, turning him and stacking up the oncoming competitors behind. The incident also involved Austin Dillon, Bowman, Michael McDowell, Ryan Preece, Cody Ware, J.J. Yeley and Larson.

The race restarted on Lap 158, and Suarez retained the lead following a strong start. Behind, Logano was able to take over second place while Byron and Truex battled for third place. Two laps later, however, the caution returned due to a single-car incident on the frontstretch involving Briscoe, who was turned by Keselowski.

Following the recent wrecks and the rising dust amid the restarts, NASCAR announced that the competitors will restart in a single-file line, not double lanes, for the remainder of the race.

When the race restarted on Lap 169, Logano challenged Suarez for the lead, but Suarez was able to retain the top spot. Behind, Truex was in third followed by teammate Hamlin, Byron, Newman, Elliott, Wallace, Reddick and Stenhouse.

By Lap 180, Suarez remained as the leader by half a second over Logano with Truex, teammate Hamlin and Byron remaining in the top five. 

Six laps later, the caution flew due to an incident involving Cody Ware and J.J. Yeley in Turn 3.

On Lap 190, the race restarted and Suarez continued to lead, though Logano mounted another challenge for the lead. The following lap, Logano, following a brief battle with Suarez, emerged with a narrow advantage, though Suarez refused to give in.

By Lap 195, Logano was leading by nearly half a second over Suarez while Joe Gibbs Racing’s Hamlin and Truex battled for third place. 

Following his late surge to the front, Logano was able to come back around and win the second stage on Lap 200. Suarez settled in second place followed by Hamlin, teammate Truex and Newman while Stenhouse, Wallace, Erik Jones, Reddick and Elliott were scored in the top 10.

Under the stage break, the leaders returned to pit road for adjustments. In addition, the teams were given approximately 10 minutes to work on the cars to allow track officials to work on the track in preparation for the final stage.

With 48 laps remaining, the final stage started with Logano remaining as the leader. At the start, Hamlin jumped to the outside lane to take the runner-up spot over Suarez. He then went to work on Logano for the lead while Truex started to close in on Suarez for third place. 

Five laps later, Hamlin drew himself alongside Logano’s No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang, with both competitors locked in a heated battle for the lead in the dirt. Following a lengthy side-by-side battle, Logano retained the lead by a narrow margin over Hamlin.

While Logano and Hamlin battled for the lead, Suarez remained in third place ahead of Truex, Newman and Tyler Reddick. Not long after, Reddick moved into the top five after overtaking Newman’s No. 6 Oscar Mayer Ford Mustang.

Under the final 35 laps of the event, Wallace’s hopes for a top-10 result evaporated when contact from Stenhouse sent Wallace around and cut the left-rear tire on Wallace’s No. 23 DoorDash Toyota Camry. He was able to limp back to pit road and have the tire changed.

With 30 laps remaining and the dirt continuing to kick up, Logano extended his advantage to under half a second over Hamlin with third-place Suarez trailing by three seconds. Truex and Reddick were in the top five followed by Newman, Stenhouse, Byron, teammate Elliott and Jones. By then, the leaders were mired in heavy, lapped traffic.

Down to the final 20 laps of the event, Logano remained as the leader, but by less than half a second over Hamlin. Behind, Truex moved into third place over Suarez.

Five laps later, Logano continued to lead by nearly half a second over Hamlin, with Logano starting to catch Bowman, Briscoe and Austin Dillon to lap them.

With 10 laps remaining, Logano was still leading by a reasonable margin over Hamlin. Meanwhile, Truex was trailing the two leaders by less than three seconds.

Down to the final five laps of the event, Logano extended his advantage to more than three seconds over Hamlin, who was still navigating his way through lapped traffic.

Just then, the caution flew due to Mike Marlar spinning on the frontstretch due to a flat tire. The caution all but evaporated Logano’s advantage of more than three seconds over Hamlin, who was briefly overtaken by teammate Truex after Hamlin made contact with the outside wall while trying to close back in on Logano. By then, Stenhouse was in fourth followed by Suarez, Reddick, Newman, Byron, Jones and Blaney.

The race restarted in overtime. At the start, Logano took off with the lead while Stenhouse mounted a challenge on Hamlin to take over the runner-up spot. Truex, meanwhile, fell off the pace after losing a tire.

When the final lap initiated, Logano was still leading while Stenhouse was able to overtake Hamlin for the runner-up spot.

With no challengers mounting close behind, Logano, who came into the event with little dirt experience, was able to come back around and claim the checkered flag ahead of Stenhouse.

By winning the first stock car event on the Bristol Dirt Course, Logano became the first competitor to win a Cup event on dirt since Richard Petty made the last accomplishment at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in September 1970. Logano also became the seventh different winner through the first seven Cup events of the 2021 season as he also collected his 27th career victory in NASCAR’s premier series.

“Man, it’s incredible!” Logano exclaimed on FOX. “How about Bristol on dirt, guys?! This is incredible! Unbelievable racetrack! Great job by everybody that prepped the track. Obviously, a lot of work over here the last few days. We did a lot of work in the dirt department here the last few weeks…I was getting nervous. There were so many first-time winners and different winners than there has typically been. I said, ‘We’ve got to get a win to make sure we get in the Playoffs,’ so it’s amazing to get this Shell/Pennzoil Mustang into victory lane at Bristol. There’s nothing like winning at Bristol, but putting dirt on it and being the first to do it is really special.”

“Everyone at Team Penske really put together some really good cars to come here and wing it,” Logano added. “That’s what this is about. Nobody really knew what to put in the car and we were able to adjust the right way throughout practice and get into victory lane. It’s great.”

Stenhouse crossed the finish line in an impressive second-place result and for his first top-five result in nearly a year followed by Hamlin, who secured his sixth top-five result of this season. Behind, Suarez notched a strong fourth-place result for his first top-five result since November 2019 and for a career-best result for the newly formed Trackhouse Racing Team. Newman finished in fifth place for his first top-five result since October 2019. 

“Yeah, our Kroger Camaro was really good on the long run; we needed a little bit more NOS Energy Drink for the restarts,” Stenhouse said. “I just couldn’t get going, couldn’t get the turn in the race car that we needed. But, we made a ton of adjustments and we kind of went back and forth overnight of what we were going to do…Man, we had a blast. At the start of the race, I was terrible with the green race track and a little bit of moisture in it. But as it blew off, we got back to where we were in practice and felt really good with it. A good way to go into the off week. I’m going to go run my sprint car with my dad this weekend. Hope everyone has a good Easter.”

“I thought I could, on that last restart, run the top-end hard, but they didn’t prep it in-between cautions like they did before, so it was just marbles up there,” Hamlin said. “I’m proud of this whole FedEx Camry team. Man, I thought I had a shot there. I cut t[Logano] too many breaks there when he was cutting us off, but at the end of the day it looked like he had a little bit better car in the long run. I’m proud of this whole team. We are third-best again.”

“To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing,” Suarez said. “But, we’re having fun. Everyone at Trackhouse Racing did an amazing job. This is the second week in a row that we’ve had very fast race cars capable of running in the fop-five, top-10. I couldn’t be more proud of all these guys [like] Justin Marks, Ty Norris, and everyone that helps in this program…Everyone has been a huge support of myself. It just feels so good to be back. It’s been a little bit difficult the last year, and it feels so good to be able to race with these guys and to have some fun up front. Hopefully, our time will come soon.”

Byron, Reddick, Blaney, Jones and Elliott finished in the top 10.

Harvick finished 15th, Kyle Busch finished 17th behind brother Kurt, Truex dropped all the way back to 19th after leading a race-high 126 laps, Briscoe was the highest-finishing rookie in 20th, Stewart Friesen finished 23rd in his Cup debut, Wallace settled in 27th and Larson ended his long run in 29th.

Following an eventful, successful first-year run of the NASCAR Bristol Dirt Course event, NASCAR announced that the event will return in Spring 2022.

There were five lead changes for five different leaders. The race featured 10 cautions for 39 laps. 

Following the first seven NASCAR Cup Series races of the 2021 season, Hamlin continues to lead the regular-season standings by 58 points over Logano, 80 over Truex, 85 over Larson and 95 over Keselowski.

Results.

1. Joey Logano, 61 laps led, Stage 2 winner

2. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

3. Denny Hamlin, one lap led

4. Daniel Suarez, 58 laps led

5. Ryan Newman

6. William Byron

7. Tyler Reddick

8. Ryan Blaney 

9. Erik Jones

10. Chase Elliott

11. Brad Keselowski

12. Michael McDowell

13. Matt DiBenedetto

14. Chris Buescher

15. Kevin Harvick

16. Kurt Busch

17. Kyle Busch, seven laps led

18. Ryan Preece

19. Martin Truex Jr., 126 laps led, Stage 1 winner

20. Chase Briscoe, one lap down

21. Austin Dillon, one lap down

22. Alex Bowman, one lap down

23. Stewart Friesen, one lap down

24. Cole Custer, one lap down

25. Quin Houff, one lap down

26. Ty Dillon, one lap down

27. Bubba Wallace, two laps down

28. J.J. Yeley, four laps down

29. Kyle Larson, five laps down

30. Josh Bilicki, six laps down

31. Mike Marlar – OUT, Accident

32. Cody Ware, 11 laps down

33. Chris Windom – OUT, Engine

34. Christopher Bell – OUT, Accident

35. Ross Chastain – OUT, Accident

36. Aric Almirola – OUT, Accident

37. Shane Golobic – OUT, Accident

38. Corey LaJoie – OUT, Accident

39. Anthony Alfredo – OUT, Accident

The NASCAR Cup Series will enter a one-week Easter break before returning at Martinsville Speedway in Henry County, Ridgeway, Virginia, for the series’ first Saturday night race of the season on April 10. The event is slated to occur at 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

Andrew Kim
An avid motorsports enthusiast from California with aspirations of working in any form of communications, PR or digital/social media in motorsports.

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