Will dirt racing experience finally pay off in Bristol?

Chase Briscoe recently raced in the Kyle Larson Late Model Challenge

The first two versions of the Food City Dirt race on the clay covered Bristol Motor Speedway have been won by drivers with very little dirt racing familiarity. Joey Logano won the inaugural running of this event back in 2021 then Kyle Busch took advantage of a spin in the final set of turns by two drivers with previous dirt experience to capture the checkered flag in 2022.

Going into the 2023 version of the only dirt race on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule, there are several drivers who have logged more than a few laps on dirt tracks in various forms of competition. Will that benefit them this time around?

The first such pilot to come to mind for most is obviously Kyle Larson. Coming off a win in last weekend’s Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway, the driver who has won some of the biggest events in all of Sprint Car, Late Model and Midget racing is riding a wave of momentum. That is especially true after ‘Yung Money’ triumphed in a thrilling Late Model feature held not far from Bristol on Thursday night at the Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tennessee.

Whether considering Larson or any other dirt racer, it has to be understood that driving a Cup Series car on dirt has virtually no similarity to steering a Late Model, Sprint Car, Modified, or Midget on that type of surface. Because of that, understanding of the type of car being driven appears to be more useful than familiarity with the track surface.

But if knowledge of dirt can be put to use, a NASCAR newcomer could offer a challenge to the regulars. As mentioned earlier, Larson won a thriller on Thursday evening at Volunteer Speedway. The driver he exchanged slide jobs with throughout much of that race was Dirt Late Model superstar Jonathan Davenport. Few have a dirt racing resumé to match that of the Georgia native as Dirt Late Model Dreams, World 100s, and the Eldora Million have all fallen his way.

Davenport will also benefit from a run in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event on Saturday at BMS in the Spire Motorsports No. 7 before climbing into the No. 13 Kaulig Racing ride for the Cup show.

Tyler Reddick and Chase Briscoe were the two drivers mentioned earlier in this piece who took themselves out on the last lap of the 2022 Food City Dirt Race. Both have shown they can get to the front in this race and would have to be considered contenders to win.

Reddick, who is the youngest driver to ever win on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, is coming off a recent win with his new team(23XI Racing) at Circuit of the Americas, so like Larson, he has some momentum on his side. Briscoe, a former NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series winner at Eldora, has recently increased his dirt racing exploits and was also in the recent Kyle Larson Late Model Challenge at Volunteer Speedway.

Alex Bowman is another driver who has raced more on dirt of late. The owner of a car that competes regularly in top Sprint Car races has placed himself in the driver’s seat on occasion. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. also owns a team that competes on the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series with driver Sheldon Haudenschild. The 2023 Daytona 500 winner, who finished second behind Logano in 2021 at Bristol, has experience on dirt having cut his racing teeth in that form of motorsports.

Justin Haley, who will be Kaulig teammates with Davenport, won multiple Modified races earlier this year at Volusia Speedway Park leading up the running of the Daytona 500. One of those wins came after an all night flight from Los Angeles following the Busch Light Clash.

Aside from Larson, Christopher Bell might be the most accomplished dirt racer among NASCAR Cup Series regulars. The multiple-time winner of the famed Chili Bowl Nationals has had his dirt racing exploits limited over the past few years by Joe Gibbs Racing.

Also, brothers Austin and Ty Dillon spent much of their early years in racing on dirt with each having won in either Late Model or Modified competition.

And of course, a number of NASCAR racers compete regularly at Millbridge Speedway. Kyle Busch is one of those and he also ran in the Kyle Larson Late Model Challenge this past Thursday.

There are several drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series ranks who have logged laps on clay surfaces. While in the past two attempts, that has not necessarily provided an advantage. Perhaps this will be the year for an actual dirt racer to win on Bristol Dirt.

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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.

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