Bristol Dirt Race to Return in 2023

Both dirt and racing on Easter Sunday appear poised to continue into the future.

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Following a television ratings success over the weekend, the Cup Series race on dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway has been renewed for a third iteration in 2023 and racing on Easter Sunday could continue as well.

FOX earned 4.007 million viewers for the twice delayed Food City Dirt Race, which the network says is the highest rating for any spring race at Thunder Valley since 2016, with that caveat that two of those races were postponed to Monday and the 2018 event was similarly often interrupted.

For the sake of comparison, the Cup Series race at the newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway drew 4.003 million viewers on FOX while the race at Phoenix drew 3.991 and Circuit of the Americas drew 3.73 million viewers.

It was the biggest rating since the second and third races of the season at Fontana and Las Vegas, which drew 4.5 million viewers, following the Daytona 500 at 8.87 million. (H/T NBC Sports) NASCAR provided data that showed the race was the No. 2 sport of the week behind only the NBA Playoffs. At its peak, right before the first red flag, 4.5 million viewers were tuned in. The sanctioning body also said it was the most viewed race in the coveted 18-49 demograpic since the Daytona 500.

Meanwhile, Saturday night's Truck Series averaged 1.2 million viewers and was the most watched Truck Series race on any track or network since Martinsville in April 2017. It was the most viewed Truck Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway according to NASCAR's internal records that date back to 1995. At its peak, 1.3 million viewers were tuned in.

Bristol Motor Speedway general manager Jerry Caldwell says they're going to run it back next year at a to be determined date.

"I’m so thankful for our owners, Bruton and Marcus Smith, for allowing our Bristol Motor Speedway team to put on an amazing Easter celebration and NASCAR race weekend that exceeded our expectations with strong ticket sales and primetime viewership on FOX," Caldwell said in a statement. "Bristol Motor Speedway will prepare for a spring night race on dirt in 2023, giving the fans two great NASCAR shows on different surfaces. The dates for our NASCAR events will not be available until later this year."

What about Easter?

NASCAR Chief Operating Officer Steve O’Donnell says the decision to race on Easter, a traditional modern off weekend for the sport, came down to the opportunity to race on network television and in front of a broader audience.

"For us, it’s what do we all want to do to grow the sport and expose it to more fans," O’Donnell told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Tuesday morning. "When you’re offered up the ability to be on an additional network race, you’ve got to take a hard look at that and that’s what we did. We expect that when the viewership numbers come out we’re going to be in a better place than we were last year in terms of who was able to see the race, who was able to come out.

"If you compare that to being on a cable race, maybe back in 2019 or 2018, it’s a significant bump to the entire industry. We don’t take it lightly. We know it’s an important holiday for a number of people out there. I thought the track did a terrific job, as well as our TV partner in celebrating the holiday and certainly celebrating the race at the end of the night."

If NASCAR were to replicate this approach in 2023, Easter Sunday falls on April 9, which is also the scheduled final rounds of the Masters golf tournament.

O'Donnell says that's a factor, but green flag would likely fall well after the finale of the tournament.

"We’re proud of our sport and feel like we can go up against anything," O’Donnell said. "Certainly, if you can own a weekend or stand alone, that’s something you want to do. When we look at the Masters weekend, that’s probably going to wrap up around 7, so probably a good bet, if we do race on (Easter) Sunday, you don’t want to be racing from 4-7 p.m. You want to probably put a night race in there or get your race done before the late round of the last round."


O'Donnell also sees dirt racing of some kind remaining part of the Cup Series. Drivers mostly gave the new car a vote of confidence in terms of its capability of racing on dirt over the weekend, while also suggesting several improvements to augment the race.

"I think we’re definitely interested in continuing to look at dirt," O'Donnell said. "Still kind of dissecting what took place this weekend, what we can do, where we could be, but all in all, I think the direction, as of today, would be certainly to remain on dirt."

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