2021 NASCAR Cup Series preview: Bristol Dirt

For the first time in 50 years, NASCAR will go off-roading as Bristol Motor Speedway transforms into a dirt track for the weekend. After hundreds of dirt samples from across the United States and feet of dirt layered over the Thunder Valley asphalt, NASCAR is ready to hit the dirt…somewhat. 

The highly-anticipated weekend is in a standstill as torrential storms hit the northeast part of Tennessee. The scheduled heat races to set the starting lineup for both the truck series and Cup Series were canceled and the lineups were set by the standard formula. The truck race is now scheduled to run after the Cup race at 9:00 p.m. EST on Fox Sports 2. 

For the first time since Mar. 2020 at Phoenix Raceway, the Cup Series held multiple practices as drivers attempted to get used to racing on dirt. The Cup cars will run without a splitter, a different-sized spoiler and tires fit for racing competently on dirt. 

While the track was dusty and dry, the rains soaked the dirt and now NASCAR will have to put an emphasis on getting heat in the track. Packing it won’t do much as the track will remain muddy like what happened on the first lap of the opening truck heat and drivers will lose their vision rapidly. 

Unfortunately, there is a 100% chance of rain on Sunday, which doesn’t help the odds of racing. 

Regardless, let’s look at some of the top stories to watch for whenever the Cup race begins. 

Kyle Larson is the obvious favorite to win on the Bristol dirt with his extensive experience in other racing series like the World of Outlaws. However, The No. 5 Chevy team for Hendrick Motorsports will have to change engines before the start of the race, which will force Larson to drop to the rear of the field before the green flag. He is also a NASCAR winner on dirt as he won the Eldora Dirt Derby in the truck series back in 2016.

Along with Larson, five other Cup entrants have won at Eldora — Austin Dillon (2013), Bubba Wallace (2014), Christopher Bell (2015), Chase Briscoe (2018) and making his Cup debut, Stewart Friesen, who won the most recent Eldora race in 2019. 

Of the 17 Cup drivers, Briscoe holds the highest-average finish at Eldora at 3.7. 

Other dirt ringers joining the field for the Cup Series race are Shane Golobic and Chris Windom. 

Golobic is an accomplished winged/non-winged sprint car and midget racer. He is a talented young driver with the ability to adapt to various racing surfaces and cars. He has made three ARCA Menards Series West starts posting two top-10 finishes. Golobic is also a World of Outlaw Feature winner, USAC National Midget Feature Winner, 2016 Trophy Cup Champion, 2014 Civil War Series Champion, 2012 and 2014 Ocean Speedway Champion, 2009 Calistoga Speedway Champion and has claimed over 45 career feature wins. Golobic will pilot the No. 78 Live Fast Motorsports Ford this weekend.

Windom was the seventh driver to complete a United States Auto Club (USAC) Triple Crown by winning titles in sprint cars, midget cars, and Silver Crown. He won the 2017 USAC National Sprint Car Championship, the 2016 USAC Silver Crown Championship, and the 2020 National Midget Car championship. He is also a two-time Indiana Sprint Week (2011, 2018) & Eastern Storm (2017, 2018) champion, and a two-time winner of the Little 500 (2011, 2015). Windom has also made seven career starts in the ARCA Menards Series between 2011-2015 posting two top fives and five top 10s. He has also made five career starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series including two starts at Eldora Speedway where he posted a best finish of 14th. He will run the No. 15 Chevrolet for Rick Ware Racing. 

Ryan Blaney and Alex Bowman posted top speeds in the two practice sessions, but don’t look too much into those times as the track will change dramatically across 250 laps and conditions will be much different than what they were Friday. 

Due to concerns about tires on what could be a gritty track filled with holes and cracks, NASCAR will allot an extra set of tires for the race and the final stage will only last 50 laps. The first two stages will each be 100 laps with a competition caution halfway through each stage. 

The race is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. EST on FOX. The Performance Racing Network will handle the audibles.

Starting lineup:

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