*Turn 2 Blog is a regular feature on InsideCircleTrack.com. Here, site operators Michael Moats and Richard Allen take turns offering their thoughts on the NASCAR and pavement short track racing topics of the day.
There have now been two NASCAR Cup Series and two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races held on the dirt surface at the Bristol Motor Speedway and none have been won by drivers with extensive dirt racing experience. Is having a dirt background really an advantage in these races?
Richard: As the time approaches for the dirt races at Bristol to take place, I and probably many other people immediately consider Stewart Friesen to be the favorite going into the Truck Series event and someone such as Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, Chase Briscoe, Tyler Reddick or Austin Dillon to be a favorite on the Cup side of things. However, none of those drivers have won at BMS.
Martin Truex Jr., who had almost no dirt experience, won the first Truck race there while Ben Rhodes, who raced Karts on dirt when he was young but is far from being considered an accomplished dirt racer, won this year. And of course, dirt non regulars Joey Logano and Kyle Busch have triumphed in the pair of Cup races on the Bristol clay.
When I think of dirt racers having any sort of advantage when NASCAR takes to the dirt, I remember back to when Scott Bloomquist entered the first Truck Series race held at the Eldora Speedway and just how poorly that went. And he is an all-time master at Eldora and was in a Kyle Busch Motorsports truck.
Ultimately, I believe familiarity with the machine itself is probably more important than dirt experience although I would think having at a least a little feel for the car or truck sliding through the turns would be helpful. Granted, there were two drivers with a good bit of dirt experience racing for the win on Sunday night in the Cup race until they took each other out on the last lap, but still, getting the most from the car under any circumstances still seems to be king, no matter what the surface.
Michael: It’s funny this question came up. As I was thinking about Kyle Busch and Joey Logano winning the two Bristol Cup races on dirt, I got to thinking about how we used to hear about road course ringers and how they were going to win a Cup race on a road course. That never happened. Now, we rarely see a ringer on the Cup level.
The dirt aspect is a little different because we have Cup drivers that have extensive experience in all different kinds of dirt cars. The bottom line is that little translates from anything that normally runs on dirt to a Cup car or a Truck on dirt. The only thing that would come close is a Street Stock or a Modified Street car with a high-horsepower engine. Even then, the suspensions are drastically different.
Cup drivers, especially today’s generation, don’t get enough credit for being the good drivers they are. And the fact they still win when these “specialists” are in the field shows that.
There have been eight different winners in the first nine Cup Series races. Sixteen drivers will make the NASCAR Playoffs following the cutoff after the 26th race in Daytona. Might there be sixteen winners or more before playoff time?
Richard: In previous years, even last year when the season started off in a similar way, I have never thought there was an actual chance of having sixteen or more winners by the time the cutoff is made at Daytona. However, this year is different. The Next Gen car seems to have changed the game, and as a result, we have seen three first-time winners already in 2022(Cindric, Briscoe & Chastain) and there seems to be the real possibility of adding others as Tyler Reddick and Daniel Suarez have looked like they could also grab a win.
The early part of this season has favored younger drivers, which at least in some part, appears to be because of the new car. That said, though, I would think the veterans and the traditionally strong teams will get things figured out and some veteran drivers who haven’t yet won may do so soon. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch have already demonstrated that for Joe Gibbs Racing.
With the new winners already in the record books and several big stars such as Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch still winless, there could very be a scenario that could result in sixteen of more winners before the Playoff cut. If that be the case, simply piling up points wouldn’t be good enough to earn a shot at the title.
However, I have said all along that I expect one of the power teams to get a handle on the Next Gen in the near future and have their drivers reel off several wins in a short amount of time thus taking away opportunities for new victors.
Ultimately, if I had to bet one way or the other, I would say that there will not be sixteen or more separate winners before the end of the 26th race.
Michael: Just when you think there might be 16 or more winners in a season, someone goes on a tear and/or a driver has an unexpectedly poor season. I think we’ll see that type of thing again.
We do have Talladega coming up this weekend and nearly every driver in the field has a chance for a win. I think one of the winless drivers will score a win to make it 9 different winners in ten races. As the weather finally starts to warm up, I think we’ll see a few drivers finally get a good feel for the new car and start winning multiple races.
NASCAR will go from one extreme to the other- Bristol Dirt to Talladega. Which provides a truer sense of a team’s strength?
Richard: It is an odd thing that NASCAR is essentially going from one track that is an anomaly to another track that is an anomaly. So, not much in terms of the rest of the schedule can truly be learned from either of these races.
But to answer the question of which provides a truer sense of a team’s strength, I would probably say, oddly enough, that it’s Bristol because there isn’t quite as much randomness in the final outcome. Yes, the winner in Bristol was determined in somewhat of a random way this year, but still, we know Kyle Busch is a threat to win at any track he goes to. The two big Super Speedways of Daytona and Talladega have produced shocking winners such as Michael McDowell, Trevor Bayne and David Ragan. As was said above, it is not surprising for Joey Logano or Kyle Busch to win a NASCAR race no matter where it takes place.
All that taken into account, these two races don’t really tell us very much of anything about the rest of the schedule.
Michael: Talladega seems to be more of a crap shoot than Daytona. Maybe it’s because the track is wider. I think the second Talladega race went years before finally getting a repeat winner. There seems to always be something weird or odd take place there.
Having said that, I agree that Bristol provides a more truer sense of the teams. Early in the Bristol race, the drivers with the dirt experience were in the top-10 except for a couple of drivers. As the race wore on and the track got more slick, things balanced out as far as who was running up front. Talladega is a pure crap shoot all day long.
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