Returning to Bristol Dirt for the third consecutive season, the 2023 Food City Dirt Race brought with it some extra attention from the world of dirt racing, with the addition of a certain high-roller to the entry list.
Jonathan Davenport, known as ‘Superman’ in dirt racing circles, joined Kaulig Racing for his NASCAR Cup Series debut at the half-mile dirt oval, driving the No. 13 Chevrolet Camaro with sponsorship from long-time supporter Nutrien Ag Solutions.
The 39-year-old driver – who accumulated more than $2 million in winnings from dirt racing in 2022 – had his weekend get off to a soggy start, after inclement weather forced the cancelation of practice on Friday.
Luckily for the native of Blairsville, Georgia, there were still several opportunities to get laps around Bristol Motor Speedway, having signed up for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event on Saturday.
In doing so, Davenport became the first driver since Scott Pruett in February 2000 to debut in two of NASCAR’s top-three series in the same weekend, and the fifth driver ever to do so.
— Joseph Srigley (@joe_srigley) April 10, 2023
After logging laps in his two 15-lap heat races, Davenport was fortunate enough to go incident-free in Saturday’s Weather Guard Truck Race on Dirt, bringing his Spire Motorsports entry home in 14th, a solid top-15 result.
Though, Sunday didn’t go as smoothly. While running inside the top-25, Davenport looped his No. 13 Chevrolet Camaro in the third corner, 82 laps into the race, which placed him at the rear of the pack, amidst the hornet’s nest.
“It started out okay, then I spun out and lost a bunch of track position,” Davenport told members of the media after exiting the infield care center. “I just never did really get going where I felt like I could pass cars. I would pass two or three, and then I would kind of get in a lull and just kind of ride.”
According to NASCAR’s Loop Data, Davenport was never able to climb higher than 19th throughout the entire 250-lap event, only two spots higher than his initial starting spot of 21st.
“I was just trying to learn and make laps and wait until the racetrack got really slick, which the racetrack is awesome, right now, you can move all over, but I couldn’t really get the right feel for my car, but the guys did a good job, kept making changes on it I wanted, we were definitely getting better.
Being in the back had its detriments, which all came to a head inside the final 100 laps of the event when a tussle between Ryan Preece and Kyle Larson resulted in the Davenport tagging the spinning No. 5, ending his evening and relegating him to a finish of 36th.
“I saw Kyle [Larson] spinning up there, and I guess I’m – you always hear that it’s the last car in the field that gets him. I hate that I got into him there, I really don’t know what made him spin, but it ended our night early, and that was my main focus, was to run all 250 [laps].”
Furthermore, Davenport says that he had an overall good first experience in NASCAR and that he would love to return, should he be given that opportunity, even tossing out Richmond and Bristol as a couple of paved tracks he’d have interest in running.
Though, despite the good experience, there was still some noticeable hesitancy from the veteran dirt racer, when he was pressed about his overall opinion of “this type” of dirt track racing.
“I don’t know about this type of dirt racing,” Davenport responded. “I classify this more as a show than a race, really. I mean, these cars aren’t built to race on dirt, so I don’t know, I mean, it’s cool, it’s different, it’s a novelty, but this ain’t really true dirt racing, but it’s just something different.”
While the answer wasn’t as abrasive as some others, and pointed out the cool factor of the event itself, you have to wonder if a prominent figure in dirt racing such as Davenport vocalizing his opinion, will sway the decision of the sanctioning body and/or Speedway Motorsports.
Speaking of cool-factor, Davenport certainly added it to the Food City Dirt Race, bringing his own legion of fans to an event that has been circled in critique, displeasure, and down-right outrage since its introduction to the NASCAR Cup Series schedule in 2021.