By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, Jr. and team owner Richard Petty share a unique bond, having won on dirt tracks. Wallace is one of six drivers to win in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Eldora Speedway, and Petty was the last driver to win on dirt in what is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 1970 at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, N.C.
Last week, Tony Stewart, three-time NASCAR Premier Series Champion, and the owner of Eldora Speedway raised the prospect of bringing the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series to the famous half-mile dirt track. Should it happen, Eldora could become the first new track on the Cup schedule in nearly a decade, Kentucky Speedway being the most recent addition.
Wallace, a Sunoco Rookie of the Year competitor in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, is one of only eight Cup drivers to have competed on the clay at Eldora Speedway. Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson are the only other Cup drivers to have earned the ‘Golden Shovel’ trophy. Wallace, who won the 2014 running of the Eldora Dirt Derby was realistic about bringing the top Series to the dirt,
“I don’t know. I thought last week’s Truck race was probably the best finish we’ve seen,” said Wallace. “I thought that was pretty cool to see. To translate that over to Cup and Xfinity, Tony realizes it, but to the outsiders looking in, the difference between a Truck weekend and a Cup weekend is unreal. Just the amount of people that are in the garage, in the stands, it’s an action-packed weekend to be able to see it.
“That’s where we got our start, on the beaches. Why not go race on the ‘beach.’ But, who knows, we’re along for the ride. I’m game (for it).”
Meanwhile, Richard Petty Motorsports’ namesake, and co-owner last competed on dirt in 1970, prior to the Modern Era of NASCAR. From that last dirt race in 1970 to his retirement in 1992, ‘The King,’ saw NASCAR’s explosion in popularity and facilities. Many tracks either paved their racing surface or fell off the schedule. As a team owner, Petty also saw the addition of many more 1.5-mile tracks, including, but not limited to, Texas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and Chicagoland Speedway.
Petty was more skeptical about the prospect of a return to dirt for the top level of NASCAR, despite 30 of Petty’s 200 career victories coming on dirt tracks.
“No. No. Going to dirt would be like the (Carolina) Panthers going and playing in a high school stadium, it doesn’t work,” said Petty. “We’re way beyond that deal from a professional standpoint. I don’t see that as even being feasible at all. It would be a heck of a show, no doubt about that. We’re not ready for that. We (the sport) don’t want to back up, we want to go forward.”
With NASCAR’s five-year sanctioning agreement with tracks that are currently on the schedule, the gap between Premier Series races on dirt could be a 50-year minimum.