The fact that the NASCAR Cup Series will race on what is now a dirt covered Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend has driven numerous stars who normally spend most of their time on pavement to seek out opportunities on clay surfaces for the sake of gaining experience before racing in a points-paying contest. That led several top stars from NASCAR to the Karl Kustoms Bristol Dirt Nationals to hone their skills in the various classes that were in competition in that week-long event.
Among those who competed in the Super Late Model division at the Bristol Motor Speedway were former NASCAR Cup Series champions Kyle Busch and Chase Elliott along with phenom Kyle Larson. Some NASCAR drivers in action in the other classes to hit the high banks were former Cup champion Joey Logano, former Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon, Corey LaJoie, Cole Custer, Chris Buescher and former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton.
And don’t think fans at Bristol Motor Speedway didn’t notice. Lines of autograph seekers and photograph takers found their way to the pavement racing stars throughout the weekend. But at the same time, fellow competitors also noticed their NASCAR counterparts as the racing action played out.
Among those to pay attention were two of dirt racing’s most prolific winners.
The Lance Landers-owned team that normally prepares Longhorn Chassis cars for three-time Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series Jonathan Davenport also added a ride for Kyle Busch in the Bristol Dirt Nationals. While the NASCAR star’s final results in the features might not necessarily have been impressive, his runs getting to those features were noteworthy.
After just missing a transfer position in his heat race on Friday night, Busch had a dominate run that led to a win in one of the two B-main qualifiers. He then went on to finish 13th in the 25-lap main event.
But it was on Saturday when Busch had his most impressive performance. After spending the early part of his day winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, the Las Vegas native jetted to Tennessee’s Tri-Cities to race for a second night on the dirt half-mile.
Because of the time required for travel between Atlanta and Bristol, Busch missed qualifying and his heat race. He then had to start at the rear in a B-main race that required a top-4 finish to make it into the $50,000-to-win feature. Not only did Busch achieve the minimum to make the main event but he charged through the field all the way up to second place, crossing the finish line right on winner G.R. Smith’s tail.
Davenport, who won the Saturday night Bristol Dirt Nationals feature race, discussed his time spent as Busch’s teammate in the time leading up to and during the weekend.
“I didn’t get to talk to him a lot,” Davenport pointed out during his post-race media availability. “He’s got a lot of fans and this is way more relaxed, I guess people can get close to him easier here at a dirt track. He would kind of veer off and go off to himself when everybody would start coming around which I totally understand that, but he was cool. We would text each other back and forth about the car and we’ve been texting each other back and forth about the racing a week or two before now.”
Davenport was impressed with Busch’s ability to get the hang of driving a Dirt Late Model so quickly considering it had been back in 2012 when the NASCAR champion was last in that type of car. The former World 100 winner admitted that he even learned a few things from his weekend teammate.
“Hopefully he had a good time,” Davenport said. “He put it on them today in Atlanta in the truck race and then came here, starting in the back, and he done a really good job. He hadn’t been in a Late Model since the Prelude to the Dream that he won in Scott’s(Bloomquist) car. Hell, in three laps he actually hot lapped faster than I did. He’s a hell of a talent, he’s a good wheelman. He knows what he needs to do. It was awesome to hear his different perspective of how the car feels and what it’s doing for not being in one of our cars, ever, really. It opened my eyes up to a few different things that I might need to do to my car.”
National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame member Scott Bloomquist offered rare praise for one of his competitors. The legendary winner of more than 600 Dirt Late Model features singled out Larson as a driver who has earned his respect. The NASCAR regular for Hendrick Motorsports finished second on both Friday and Saturday at BMS.
“I never have been impressed by any of that, really,” Bloomquist declared when asked if the presence of NASCAR drivers provided him with extra motivation. “I’ve got to say that my hat’s off to Larson. He’s definitely proven that he can drive anything and he did a great job all weekend. But he’s just another guy out there who’s a good driver as far as I’m concerned.”
Bloomquist did go on to say that he believes the driver known as “Yung Money” would find the competition tough as a regular Late Model racer.
“If we raced against him every week, I think we’d all have some good runs like Jonathan did tonight,” Bloomquist insisted. “This sport’s so competitive you really don’t know what to expect. I get up for big events and it doesn’t matter who’s there, the more the merrier. When you’re on, your going to win them. Anybody could have been here tonight and Jonathan would’ve won the race.”
Perhaps Davenport offered Larson the greatest complement a dirt racer could give a NASCAR star.
“Kyle(Larson) is more one of us, really.”
Both of the top dirt drivers ended their time in the Bristol Motor Speedway with thoughts on this coming weekend’s Food City Dirt Race for the NASCAR Cup Series.
“Hopefully, next weekend the Cup race goes really well and the race track and everybody makes some money so we can come back and do this again,” Davenport stated.
“I don’t watch Cup racing, but I’ll be watching next week,” Bloomquist declared. “It’ll be interesting to see how these guys do, at least the whole field. I already know how some of them are going to do but I don’t know about the rest.”
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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