By David Morgan, Associate Editor
For the first time since 1989, the NASCAR Cup Series is racing on Easter weekend as it makes its return to the dirt on Bristol Motor Speedway for Sunday night’s running of the Food City Dirt Race.
A year after the Cup cars made their dirt debut at Bristol on a sunny Monday afternoon, the 2022 version of the event will see the Next Gen car make its dirt debut under the lights on Easter Sunday.
The car was put through its paces on the dirt surface in the week between the series stops at Richmond and Martinsville, with NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver and dirt racing veteran Stewart Friesen getting the honors of testing vehicle out.
In lieu of the typical practice and qualifying setup that has been in place for the majority of the season thus far, teams will have two 50-minute practice sessions on Friday to get their cars dialed in before heading into qualifying on Saturday and the main event on Sunday.
The 36 car field will be set by four qualifying races, featuring nine cars each. At the conclusion of each of the 15-lap heat races, drivers will be awarded finishing points (10 for first, 9 for second, etc.), as well as passing points, giving drivers one point per position gained from their starting position. A combination of those points will determine the final starting grid for Sunday’s race.
The race itself will be broken down into three stages, with the first and second stages lasting 75 laps each, and the final stage stretching 100 laps to the checkered flag.
By the Numbers
What: Food City Dirt Race, NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 9 of 36
Where: Bristol Motor Speedway – Bristol, Tennessee
When: April 17, 2022
TV/Radio: FOX, 7:00 pm ET / PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90
Track Size: 0.533-mile dirt oval
Banking: Turns: 24 to 28 degrees; Straights: 5 to 9 degrees (Front)/4 to 8 degrees (Back)
Race Length: 250 laps, 125 miles
Stage Lengths: First two stages – 75 laps each, Final stage – 100 laps
March 2021 Race Winner (Dirt): Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford (Started 10th, 61 laps led)
Top-10 Driver Ratings at Bristol Dirt:
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 128.5
- Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 126.1
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 120.0
- Daniel Suarez – No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet – 114.4
- William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 110.3
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – No. 47 JTG Daugherty Chevrolet – 98.4
- Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 95.7
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 90.6
- Tyler Reddick – No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet – 89.8
- Erik Jones – No. 43 Petty GMS Racing Chevrolet – 84.6
From the Driver’s Seat
“It feels all new again, with the new car and not knowing what to expect on how the car drives,” said Alex Bowman. “I’m looking forward to it. I think it being a night race is obviously a great call. We’ll see how it plays out.
Hopefully we’ll eliminate some of the struggles from last year; whether it’s the dust, the mud and just lack of being able to see. I’d like to be able to see where my race car is traveling. But other than that, I’m really looking forward to it.”
“We were really strong last year until we broke a transmission. So, I’m all for it. Hopefully the sequential is a little harder to break for me and I don’t create my own issue there again and have to ride around in third gear all day. I think it’s fun. The cars are really fun to drive.
“Obviously, it presents its own unique set of challenges and we’ve only had one try to get it right so far. I think the more we do it, the better it’s going to get.”
Last Time at Bristol Dirt
Pushed to Monday afternoon due to rain, the inaugural running of the Food City Dirt Race lived up to the hype, with Joey Logano being the first to claim victory on Bristol’s dirt surface.
Fighting through the dust kicked up by the heavy stock cars, a number of multi-car crashes slowed the race, with Martin Truex Jr. and Daniel Suarez leading the lion’s share of laps on the day. However, with 61 laps to go, Logano made his presence known, taking over the lead from Suarez and never looking back, leading every lap to the finish.
Logano’s victory wasn’t assured though, as a single car spin on the frontstretch with three laps to go in regulation pushed the race into overtime and gave the others one final shot at taking down Logano and scoring the win for themselves.
Their hopes of winning the race would be short-lived as Logano pulled away on the restart, as Denny Hamlin struggled to find grip behind them. Logano would go on to cross the finish line first ahead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Hamlin, Suarez and Ryan Newman.
“Obviously an exciting race,” Logano said. “A lot of different things happening throughout it. But, you know, I think the biggest thing was just being methodical throughout the race. For us, we had a good Shell-Pennzoil Mustang, one that was probably the best on the long run. The last 15, 20 laps of a run is where we would really shine. I was just trying to make sure I had some tires on it for that moment.
“The thought in my mind at least was get two cars per run. If I can get a couple, get a couple more, get a couple more, I’ll be in position to win this race. I was able to pounce at the right times, get by Suarez, which was a lot of fun racing him. We’re friends, so that was pretty cool to see.
“Being able to maintain the lead and race Denny there at the end was nuts. They watered down the racetrack, that’s the thing with this dirt racing, man, you just don’t know what you’re going to have next. You’re forced to figure something out quickly.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern
- Friday, April 15
- NASCAR Cup Series Practice (3:05 pm to 3:55 pm – FOX Sports 1)
- NASCAR Cup Series Final Practice (6:35 pm to 7:25 pm – FOX Sports 1)
- Saturday, April 16
- NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying Races (Four races, 15 laps each – 6:00 pm – FOX Sports 2)
- Sunday, April 17
- Food City Dirt Race at Bristol (7:00 pm – 250 laps/125 miles – FOX)