Since the debut of the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, there have been several drivers and industry members alike that have come together to say that the half-mile dirt oval is no place for a NASCAR event.
Whether that’s because they don’t think Bristol Motor Speedway should lose a date on its concrete surface to be covered in dirt, or because they don’t believe the NASCAR Cup Series belongs on the dirt, that faction of people have sung the same tune for many years.
For the third straight year, the debate has been a hot-button topic in the week leading up to the event, to which several drivers gave differing answers, some in favor of racing on the dirt, and some against it.
KYLE LARSON, arguably one of the best dirt racers in the country, is one of the drivers that believe the Bristol Dirt Race should be scrapped, going as far as saying that the NASCAR Cup Series doesn’t belong on dirt, at all.
“I think we all really enjoy the concrete surface here at Bristol,” Larson said. “I think the crowd is typically bigger, at this point now for the concrete stuff. Yeah, it’s up to the series and the promoters, but I would love to get back to running two races on the concrete here.”
After finishing third in Sunday’s Food City Dirt Race, AUSTIN DILLON was overjoyed about not just the outcome of Sunday’s event but the exciting nature of the 250-lap event, in which he scored a season-high third-place finish.
“I mean, it should speak for itself, I mean it’s probably one of the best – I don’t know what everybody else thought, that was one of the best races of the year,” Dillon said. “I can see guys slide-jobbing, running against the fence, running into each other, and pretty clean for what it was because you could get into people.”
The 32-year-old driver, who won the inaugural NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event at Eldora Speedway, paid off the excellent efforts by Speedway Motorsports Inc. to prepare the track, which Dillon stated was in great condition.
“I have been in a lot of asphalt races this year that weren’t nearly as good as that.”
BUBBA WALLACE, however, brought up a different issue with the NASCAR Cup Series continuing on the dirt surface of Bristol Motor Speedway, which involves the recent prioritization of entertainment value over the racing itself.
“We were told last week that this is an entertainment business, so it concerns me that at certain racetracks it doesn’t matter because it’s entertainment. So, if it’s here to stay, it’s here to stay.”
Though, overall, Wallace agrees with the notion put forward by Kyle Larson, that Bristol Motor Speedway should return to its original form, a half-mile concrete track, saying that the track’s new form has seemingly “run its course” and that he’s “ready to get back to the concrete”.
CHASE BRISCOE, another driver with an extensive background in dirt racing, weighed in on the matter, also, saying that although he believes the NASCAR Cup Series should race on the dirt, he isn’t totally sold on the idea of it being at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“We definitely need a dirt race, the only thing is you want to see it at an actual dirt track, right, but the infrastructure of a normal dirt track isn’t really the infrastructure to host a Cup race, so, that’s the hard thing,” Briscoe said. “If we’re going to keep it at a NASCAR track, maybe a New Hampshire track might work. I know ARCA runs the dirt miles, I feel like that’s one you could put dirt on it and might be okay.”
The Mitchell, Indiana-native did also provide a potential solution to the issue of needing a real dirt track, suggesting the NASCAR Cup Series travels to Rosberg, Ohio to compete at Eldora Speedway, a track owned by Briscoe’s team owner, Tony Stewart.
“I feel like Eldora would be the perfect answer, but it probably doesn’t have the infrastructure from a hotel standpoint and things like that to hold a Cup race, then again at all the other dirt races it is max capacity and they make it works anyways,” Briscoe continued. “I don’t know, I think if we’re going to an actual dirt track, I’d love to see it at Eldora, I feel like it’s kind of the perfect racetrack for us.”
Interestingly enough, the NASCAR Truck Series did compete at Eldora Speedway from 2013 to 2020, until the half-mile dirt oval chose not to renew its contract with the sanctioning body heading into the 2021 season, leaving the sanctioning body to move to both Bristol Dirt and Knoxville Raceway
After scoring a top-five finish on Sunday, RICKY STENHOUSE, JR. also mentioned the prospect of NASCAR returning to Eldora Speedway, while also giving insight into the reasoning behind the excellent racing in the third annual Food City Dirt Race.
“I feel like this racetrack is really wide, really smooth and I feel like it would be kind of hard to come up with anything better,” said Stenhouse. “I think the banking helps a dirt track. Racing at Knoxville it seemed like they just ended up at the bottom most of the time because the top is as flat as the bottom and there’s no advantage to really going up there.”
Like Briscoe, the Olive Branch, Mississippi-native cites the seven-year success of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series at Eldora Speedway, saying he always thought it put on a decent show, “especially when they worked the bottom line”.
Though, just one day prior, Stenhouse mentioned that he didn’t believe the NASCAR Cup Series should be running on the dirt at Bristol, saying the event has run its course, but offered up another unique solution, similar to that of Chase Briscoe.
“I don’t think we should run dirt here,” Stenhouse said on Saturday. “I think Bristol puts on such a good race in its normal configuration, that I would rather do that. I would rather put dirt on like Martinsville or something, I think that place is not very… I don’t like it.”
Winner of the 2023 Food City Dirt Race, CHRISTOPHER BELL, seemed fairly unbothered by the potential discussion of Bristol reverting back to two concrete-surface events in 2024, and beyond, saying that he’d be fine no matter what happens.
“I don’t know. I guess that’s more for the general public to decide. From my seat, it seemed like it was a pretty good race,” said Bell. “This is also one of the best short tracks we have on the schedule. I don’t know, maybe we have three Bristol races, and that’s probably not likely. Yeah, I’m good either way on it.”
From the perspective of an outsider, JONATHAN DAVENPORT had a couple of interesting quotes about the prospects of the NASCAR Cup Series racing on the dirt, after being taken out in an accident prior to the end of Sunday’s Food City Dirt Race.
“I don’t know about this type of dirt racing,” Davenport said. “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.”
NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports Inc. will have a critical decision to make for the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season, and beyond, as the two parties work to decide whether or not the Food City Dirt Race will return for a fourth season.
Though, the testimony given this weekend by some of NASCAR’s most talented drivers, who also come from a background of dirt racing, or still regularly compete on the dirt, in the case of Larson and Briscoe, seems to be pretty damning.