Joey Logano Looks to Defend Win As NASCAR Returns to the Dirt at Bristol

BRISTOL, TENNESSEE - MARCH 29: Daniel Suarez, driver of the #99 Camping World Chevrolet, leads the field during the NASCAR Cup Series Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 29, 2021 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

NASCAR returns to a dirt-covered Bristol Motor Speedway for the second annual Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET, on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Held on Easter Sunday, it’ll be only the twelfth race in NASCAR history to run on the holiday, and will also be one of only three Sunday night races this season. More than that, though, it’ll be the first dirt race for the Next Gen car, giving a clean slate to every driver. 

One driver who might not appreciate a clean slate is defending winner Joey Logano. He currently sits fourth in the points after a second place at Martinsville, but the Bristol Dirt win was the only time he found victory lane last year. Despite the differences, Logano said coming off a win last year was still an advantage. 

“You never throw away what you learned and there’s plenty of things we learned about the racetrack,” he told media. “Even if the track’s supposed to be a little bit different than what it was last year, there’s still going to be some similarities. I feel far more prepared going into the race this week than I did last year.”

Kevin Harvick agreed that the changes wouldn’t be drastic: “Obviously, the car is different, but I still think it’s going to have a lot of the same tendencies that we have on a week-to-week basis.”

The changes to the scheduling don’t only serve to amp up the emotions by putting the race under the lights. They also eliminate a major problem the drivers experienced last year, when dirt packing up on windshields caused a safety issue. 

“I think it’ll definitely make the racing better, make visibility better,” said Cole Custer. “Last year, you couldn’t even see a foot in front of you, at times, just because of all the dust and the sun and the glare and everything. So, from a driver’s standpoint, it’ll definitely help a lot and it’ll also hopefully help the racing by keeping more moisture in the track.”

The drivers acknowledge that whatever the cars and conditions are like, dirt experience will help. While plenty of drivers, including defending champion Kyle Larson came into the series after finding success on dirt, other drivers are getting their feet wet. Daniel Suarez, who scored a top-five at last year’s race, has taken to running dirt sprint cars on off-weeks in his Cup schedule. 

I never thought I would be doing something like this,” laughed Suarez. “But this has been so much fun. It took a bit to get used to it. But I am getting better and better.”

Finally, headlining the race coverage is Darrell Waltrip’s return to the booth. The popular broadcaster will serve as the guest commentator for the Cup race this weekend. The most-successful Bristol driver ever said, “I’m thrilled to have the chance to drop in and call the Bristol Dirt Race. I was super excited because Bristol is, by far, my favorite track.”

BRISTOL, TENNESSEE – MARCH 29: Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, leads the field during the NASCAR Cup Series Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 29, 2021 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Truck Race Offers Valuable Experience

Truck Series regulars will continue their points battle on the dirt for the Pinty’s Truck Race on Dirt as Chandler Smith sits just four points behind points leader Ben Rhodes (8 p.m. ET, on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). They’ll be joined by several Cup Series regulars. 

Harrison Burton, Austin Dillon, and Joey Logano have all confirmed that they will run in the Truck Series race on Saturday to gain valuable experience on the surface before the Cup race. Burton and Logano will both drive for David Gilliland Racing, in the 17 and 54 trucks respectively. Dillon will drive the 20 Chevrolet for Rebecca Young. 

Kevin Harvick said gaining that kind of experience was valuable last year: “I think it definitely helped, and I think just getting over that anxiety of worrying about what it was going to be like, how it was going to drive, what you were going to do – it just allowed me to get through all that and then the rest of the weekend was fine. 

NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Food City Dirt Race
The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway
The Date: Sunday, April 17
The Time: 7 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 6:30 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 125.5 miles (250 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 75),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 150), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 250)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Next Race: Pinty’s Truck Race on Dirt
The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway
The Date: Saturday, April 16
The Time: 8 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 7 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 75 miles (150 laps)

Owen Johnson