First Bristol Dirt with Next Gen is Something to Build Upon

The Next Gen proved capable of racing like a true dirt car.


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Say what you will about the second iteration of the Bristol Dirt Race, but it frequently looked like an honest to goodness dirt race.

With its lower profile wider tires and independent rear suspension, Cup Series drivers were ripping the top, throwing sliders and generally driving their cars sideways all around the temporary clay half-mile embedded into Thunder Valley.

Credit has to be given to Speedway Motorsports for the decision to modify the track layout by adding progressive banking to catch the cars as drivers slung them into the corners all weekend in a way the previous generation of Cup car just weren’t going to accomplish.

Defending Cup Series champion Kyle Larson, the most decorated dirt racer in the field, said the Next Gen largely did what everyone hoped it could on this type of surface.

"It was fun," Larson said. "It felt like a dirt race. Obviously, there are some small tweaking that could be done to make it better, but it was overall a good race, I thought. The rain kept the top a little bit moist and a little faster. It was good. Hard to pass. I don't know how it looked on TV, but I thought it was good racing."

The suggested tweaks have been brought up ad nauseum the past month. They include replacing the windshield with a screen or series of bars, better radiator shields and a means to keep the engines free of dirt.

Christopher Bell wants to see the Next Gen evolve to feature more true dirt car elements for these type of events.

"They need to put an emphasis on the car itself to make it a true dirt car," Bell said. "With the car we brought here, we’ve put ourselves in such a tight box in terms of track prep. You need water to eliminate dust, but if you put too much water down, you get mud and you can’t have mud either.

"You have to put an emphasis into making this more of a dirt car, which is absolutely possible."

To their point, the rain that frustrated those in attendance on Easter Sunday was also a contributing factor to making the racing product similar to what might take place during the Super Late Model or Modified races at Bristol over the past two years.

The inaugural NASCAR event took place during the afternoon, on a cloudless sunny day, which caused the surface to immediately become dry and dusty. By halfway, the track was just a slicker, slower version of concrete Bristol.

An overnight shower, two rain delays and racing at night on Sunday kept the track wet and fast for Kyle Busch’s surprise victory following the last lap heartbreaker involving Tyler Reddick and Chase Briscoe.

"They did a better job with the track this year for sure," Busch said. "God helped us out a lot tonight with watering it periodically, so that was really good. We didn't even have to rely on the water truck driver."

With that said, Busch has made it clear over the past two years that he generally isn’t in favor of racing Cup cars on the dirt at Bristol … or probably anywhere else for that matter.

How come?

"The biggest thing that hinders me from enjoying this is just the application," Busch said. "We're trying to do something that isn't applicable, in my opinion. I mean, the first 10 laps of the race, everybody is shooting mud off, we're covering everybody's grilles. Our windshields are covered with the dirt going off the windshield, stuff like that.

"Those guys talk about the windshields and stuff like that: if we get rid of the windshields, we could have tear-offs and stuff. That's fine, but the cars are 3500 pounds. You saw what it's like on the last corner, the last lap, to drive around here every single lap. You are on edge, on your toes, just trying not to crash every single lap.

"When you're in a dirt car, and I can say this because I’ve run Late Models and Micro Sprints on dirt now, it’s grip and rip when there’s grip. You are driving the heck out of that thing. It makes you breathe hard. This thing here, you're just not breathing because you're so tensed up of not crashing. It's just the application."

But even the problematic opening stint, in which several cars were forced to pit for clogged grilles, was arguably a matter of one misstep in track prep before the start of the race. Ross Chastain and Denny Hamlin fell out with engine failures caused by dirt getting inside the power plants, but the racing itself was smooth between the rain delays.

Even Cup Series dirt racing critic Kevin Harvick felt like this went as well as it could have after Lap 15, even if this isn’t exactly what he wants to be doing at Bristol Motor Speedway.

"The racetrack was fine," Harvick said. "They just did a terrible job at the start. They’ve done this before, but, obviously, it doesn’t look like it."

In the heat of the moment after crashing out of the race, Harvick said NASCAR wouldn't listen to driver feedback about the surface, not that it mattered because he doesn't want to be doing this anyway.

'I think it’s ridiculous that we’re doing what we’re doing," Harvick said.

But Reddick, who has a victory with the Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series and World out Outlaws called

it a fun race.

"Certainly, the conditions we had, things that came our way weren't ideal, but the amount of time the track had to sit after it was prepared and ready to go, it held up pretty well, I thought," Reddick said. "If we could have it softer on the top, we could probably build a cushion and it could get gnarly.

"The way it played out with cars getting mud on the grilles, having the length of cautions we did wasn't ideal but I thought it was fun."

He agreed that there were elements of his Late Model days that carried over to the Cup car on Sunday night.

"It was pretty wild," Reddick said. "Not quite the grip of a Late Model but just the feel you're looking for, it drove pretty well considering the grip of the car and all those things."

Ultimately, if this will continue at Bristol will be decided by the television ratings and social media metrics.

"I guess the TV ratings will tell us everything," Harvick said. "If the TV ratings are high, it’ll be great."

And then there's Busch with a signature quip during his post-race press conference.

"If it's a good show, it's a good show," Busch said. "I think Bristol is fine with or without dirt. I've won on them all, so I think I have the best say."

This was after midnight in the media center and there wasn't a single laugh.

"It must be late," Busch said with a grin. "Not a single bite."