Bristol Dirt 101: Track info, heat races, story lines and more

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The NASCAR Cup Series is getting dirty.

Cup cars will race on the dirt-covered Bristol Motor Speedway for the second year in a row on Sunday night (7 ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). But perhaps more special is that NASCAR will race on Easter Sunday for the first time since 1989, when a February race at Richmond was postponed to the holiday.

Hop into the racing spirit and get all you need to know about the Food City Dirt Race:

DEEP IN THE DIRT

The first step to the weekend is getting acquainted with the red clay coating the 0.533-mile track this weekend, which is the same as was used in last year’s inaugural event.

Beneath the surface lies about two inches of sawdust to protect the concrete racing surface typically used by NASCAR. That is topped by 5,330 cubic yards of dirt saved from Bristol’s first foray into dirt racing back in 2000-01, followed by 4,008 cubic yards of dirt from the campground as well as lime-treated clay.

The top layer features Bluff City Red Tennessee Clay, which will be what the Next Gen car’s tires contact all weekend long.

RELATED: Next Gen changes for dirt | Bristol schedule | Cup Series standings 

DIFFERENT SURFACE, DIFFERENT FORMAT

Teams will be allotted two 50-minute practice sessions on Friday afternoon (4:05 p.m. ET, FS1) to familiarize themselves and the new vehicle to the surface.

Unlike typical race weekends, there will be no single-car or group qualifying. Instead, teams will line up for four 15-lap heats Saturday evening (6 ET, FS2), with starting positions for each heat selected by crew members via random draw in order of owner’s points. With all 36 chartered teams on the entry list, nine cars will compete in each heat.

At the conclusion of each heat, drivers will be awarded both finishing points and passing points. Finishing points will be awarded just like stage points — 10 points for first place down to two points for ninth place. Drivers will also accumulate passing points, gaining one point per position gained from their initial starting position. No points will be deducted for lost positions. Combined point totals will then determine the starting lineup for Sunday night’s 250-lap feature event.

RELATED: Dive deeper into how the Bristol format works

NASCAR’S HISTORY OFF-ROADING

— The last Cup Series race on dirt before last year’s Bristol spring race was held on Sept. 30, 1970 at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh.

— In all, there have been 490 Cup races held on dirt, including the series’ inaugural race at the 0.75-mile Charlotte Speedway on June 19, 1949, an event won by Jim Roper.

— Lee Petty holds the all-time record for dirt wins, claiming 42 of his 54 career wins on dirt.

— Richard Petty’s first of 200 career wins came on the dirt-surfaced Southern State Fairgrounds in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Feb. 28, 1960. Thirty of his 200 wins came on dirt.

— Darlington Raceway became the first asphalt track to host a race in Cup history back in September 1950. The first 20 Cup races were held on dirt, clay or sand, including the 4.15-mile Daytona Beach & Road Course that featured both sand and asphalt.

— The Camping World Truck Series began racing on dirt in 2013 at Eldora Speedway and continued through 2019. Last year, the series joined Cup at Bristol before heading to the iconic Knoxville Speedway in Iowa for another dirt race.

Source: Racing Insights

GOODYEAR TIRES

Credit: Goodyear Tire

After developing a tire for last year’s inaugural Bristol dirt race, Goodyear had to go back to work in preparation for the Next Gen’s dirt debut, going from the 15-inch bead diameter for the Gen-6 tire to the 18-inch tire this year.

Additionally, this year’s tire is a radial tire as opposed to the bias ply tire that was used in 2021.

“We had to develop a new package for the 18-inch dirt tire this season, so it gave us the opportunity to totally re-imagine this Cup tire set-up,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing. “We felt the right move was for a radial tire, which provides a greater degree of size consistency. However, a radial tire incorporates a much stiffer tread surface, so we made adjustments to the tire construction to achieve a more compliant feel, similar to that of a bias ply, and able to handle the irregularities of a dirt surface. The 18-inch package also includes a new tread pattern, which incorporates a lot of dirt tire technology we’ve developed over the years, and tread compounds adjusted to be more resistant to heat and wear.”

BRISTOL DIRT STORY LINES 

— Sunday marks the first scheduled Cup race on Easter since 1970, when Bobby Allison won a March 29 race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. This will be the 12th such race in Cup history.

— William Byron became the only repeat winner of 2022 with his win a week ago at Martinsville Speedway. It was Byron’s second win in four weeks and marks the first multi-win season of his career.

— Joey Logano is on a 37-race winless streak, with his last win coming in this race last year, his only win in the last 47 races aside from his victory in the exhibition Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in February. This is his longest points-paying winless streak since joining Team Penske.

— Ryan Blaney is the first driver since Tony Stewart in 2006 to lead in each of the first eight races of a season.

— Martin Truex Jr. led the most laps in this race a year ago (126) and also won last year’s Truck race at Bristol.

— Including Logano, Truex is one of seven drivers to win a NASCAR-sanctioned race on dirt, joining Austin Dillon, Bubba Wallace, Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell and Chase Briscoe, who all won the Eldora Dirt Derby.

— Logano, Dillon, Chase Elliott and Harrison Burton will compete in Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race to get extra track time at Bristol.

— Denny Hamlin’s average finish through eight races is 17 spots worse than it was at this time a year ago, but the No. 11 Toyota was the only car to run inside the top 10 for all 253 laps on Bristol dirt a year ago, eventually finishing third.

Source: Racing Insights

FEELING LUCKY?

When dirt comes into the picture, so does Kyle Larson.

Las Vegas is keen on Larson’s dirt supremacy as the defending Cup champion continues to dominate dirt circuits, winning the Chili Bowl Nationals, King’s Royal, Prairie Dirt Classic and Knoxville Nationals all in the same year in 2021. The driver of Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 5 Chevrolet is listed as the 9-2 favorite courtesy of BetMGM — but beware. Larson has not shown near the consistency he and crew chief Cliff Daniels did in 2021 and has posted just three finishes better than 19th all year (of course, those three finishes were all top fives and include an Auto Club Speedway victory).

Christopher Bell is listed as BetMGM’s second-best bet this week at 8-1 odds. However, Bell spun from second place a year ago in this event at Lap 53, falling right into the path of Larson and Ross Chastain. If Bell can avoid getting turned around this week, he should be an excellent pick: The Oklahoman was the 2013 USAC National Midget champion and is a three-time winner of the Chili Bowl Nationals.

RELATED: Odds for Bristol dirt | @nascarcasm: Friendly tips for Bell and Larson

FANTASY LIVE

Want to manage a team and race your way to the top of the leaderboards? Check out NASCAR Fantasy Live, which is open now. The free-to-play game lets you choose your drivers each week and show off your crew-chief instincts by garaging a driver by the end of Stage 2, and there is a $25,000 prize for the winner.

The 2022 Fantasy Live points leaders are Chase Elliott (282), Ryan Blaney (277) and William Byron (276).

How to play: Fantasy Live | Set up a team today!

ALSO ON NASCAR.COM

Get additional camera views by logging on to NASCAR Drive, where each week a select number of in-car cameras will be available — as well as a battle cam and an overhead look.

NASCAR has partnered with LiveLike to add fan engagement in the NASCAR Mobile App. Log in to the mobile app during the race for polls, quizzes, the cheer meter and more — and see instant results from NASCAR fans like you.

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