NASCAR Cup Series
New Car Creates New Challenges in Bristol Dirt Return
Apr 15, 2022
As was the case last year in the inaugural Bristol Dirt Race, the leader will be the most comfortable driver on track simply because he’s the only one capable of seeing out the windshield.
Until he reaches traffic, anyway.
The ‘Bluff City Clay’ used for the annual temporary dirt track remains as sandy and dusty as ever. Its contents gets kicked up during long green flag runs once the track is entirely stripped of its moisture. The end result is a sandstorm.
Chase Elliott doesn’t think there is much to do be done about it nor a reason to fret over it.
"Visibility is definitely a thing," Elliott said. "It can get really hard to see. Hopefully, nighttime or a more moisture will potentially help that, but I don't know if we'll get there or not.
"It can get that way in certain (traditional) dirt races too when (tracks) dry out like this. There isn't much you can do about it. Obviously, having the windshields make it (harder) because the inside gets dusty and a tear-off wouldn't prevent that.
"But it's all good. It's the same for everybody."
Martin Truex Jr. won the Truck Series race at Bristol last year and agreed that visibility will be a factor.
"The dust is bad," Truex said. "You can't see anything after a few laps of running behind a car. It was not better in the second practice. I hope its better tomorrow night but from what we've seen, it's as bad this year as last year. I don't expect it to be too good tomorrow night."
There was some optimism that running the race on a Sunday night instead of the afternoon would help keep moisture in the track to produce something that more closely resembles a Late Model race. Chase Briscoe feels optimistic on that front.
"At the beginning it wasn’t ideal," Briscoe said. "It wasn’t perfect, but it was definitely raceable. Then there at the end it definitely got where it was pretty dusty. You couldn’t really see much in (Turns 1 and 2) but that’s typical for dirt racing when the sun is out.
"When you start with the track that dry, that’s going to happen. I don’t think the visibility will be as bad Sunday night. It’s still going to be dusty if they start off that dry but the sunlight is what really amplifies the dust."
Green flag is scheduled after 7 p.m. on Sunday night.
Visibility matters because the new Cup Series car and new layout for the Dirt Track at Bristol Motor Speedway rewards precision. Last year, the track was banked 19 degrees and this year it is 16 degrees at the apron and gets progressively steeper from 18 and then 19 degrees.
The Next Gen car also has wider tires with considerably more grip in addition to 675 horsepower from 750.
Kyle Busch felt the difference.
"More grip," Busch said. "I’m surprised about the amount of grip this car has. More drive off of the corners. I think most of that has to do with the tire. The tires are really wide. It has really good footprint on it based on looking at its tread pattern versus an open wheel tread pattern. It matches pretty well versus the truck tire, which is very rounded and crowned.
"I would say the tires are a benefit, but the car everywhere we have been with this thing so far has had added grip. Plus, we are a 100 less horsepower than we were last year, so that’s going to help with the throttle on time as well."
The changes hasn’t necessarily made it easier to drive, however.
The increased banking has unlocked the high side, but drivers have to be careful to hit their marks or risk tearing up their cars. There is speed to be found running the right sides in the moisture against the wall, but if you get too close, it could be the end of their race.
William Byron broke the rear toe link in second practice as a result of running against the wall.
"If you hit the wall with the right rear, you're going to have a hard time," Byron said. "I don't know what that's going to do with the strategy but you're going to have to be careful.
"If you're trying to race someone, you're going to have to putt around here. You just try to make them make the mistake before you. I feel like if you're the first one to make a mistake, you're going to bend something on the right side or lose a bunch of time. I'm going to try not to bend stuff and keep the car as straight as I can."
Dirt aces Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick all made running against the wall look easy at times on Friday evening, but Ryan Blaney said it was anything but.
"The top, where the moisture was, was really small by the end of practice," Blaney said. "Larson and Bell can do that pretty well, but by the end, they hit the fence pretty hard. So, I was right around the middle.
"I'm not good enough to run up there like they are, quite honestly, so I was like middle, had pretty decent grip. I think you're going to have that option Sunday night where it's going to be a narrow strip of moist mud, but the risk factor will be pretty high.
"There's no cushion to lean on so you're guessing where the right rear tire is. You can't get close to the wall because the quarter panel will hit before the tire does. I will not be up there because I'm not good enough, so I'll be in the middle trying to chase where the other group is."
Elliott spun three times on Friday just trying to get the right feel for how to drive hi Next Gen on dirt.
"Just trying to find the limit of where to live as far as being sideways," Elliott said. "I obviously stepped over that line a good bit. Just trying to learn. The truck was pretty good with making it do what I wanted it to do but certainly struggled on the Cup side. The tire feels different to me. Neither one of them seems to be wearing like last year which is a good thing."
The track will also undergo a lot of changes throughout the night. If last year is any benchmark, the track will start off wet and sloppy before making the transition to slick and rubbered in.
"I think we just have to see how they prep the track," Byron said. "I mean, the setup is different from a fresh track to a slick track. We're trying to marry the two."
That sentiment was echoed by Briscoe as well.
"It depends on what the guy with the keys to the water truck and tiller do, truthfully," Briscoe said. "Hopefully, we have multiple grooves. It was fun the first 5-10 minutes of practice. They could definitely get way more aggressive and till it deeper and water it more. ...
"Obviously, with the windshields we can’t get that heavy, but we can definitely be way more aggressive, I think, than what it is right now. Overheating is not a problem and just how this dirt is versus the dirt that we have at a place like Eldora, it doesn’t clump up as much, so I think we could get a lot more water on it and till it deeper and be fine."
And what the track’s transition can do to a driver and car was best illustrated by Truex on Friday.
"I went from feeling like I was pretty decent in the first practice to feeling like I was a bird with no wings the whole time," Truex said. "I couldn't do anything. I was just hanging on. I was very slow."