NASCAR Cup series turn first laps on Bristol dirt

BRISTOL, TENNESSEE - MARCH 26: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Advance My Track Challenge Ford, drives during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 26, 2021 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

For the first time in 51 years NASCAR Cup cars turned laps on dirt. The Cup series staged two practice sessions Friday in preparation for Sunday’s Bristol Dirt Race at the .533-mile Bristol Motor Speedway which has been transformed into a dirt track.

The drivers at the top of the time sheets were a mix of those who have experience on dirt and those who do not.

Alex Bowman led the opening session followed by Christopher Bell. Both drivers have extensive dirt experience. Kyle Busch, who does not, was third. Denny Hamlin, another driver with no dirt experience was fourth with accomplished dirt race Kyle Larson fifth.

There were no major incidents in either practice sessions only a few solo spins by Martin Truex Jr., JJ Yeley in the first session and Cole Custer in the second.

In the second session Larson suffered an engine issue and the crew will need to change an engine. He will start from the read of the field Sunday.

The series’ most recent winner Ryan Blaney led the session with Alex Bowman, Hamlin. Joey Logano and Chase Briscoe rounding out the top five.

“It’s rough, slick, really rough actually,” Blaney said. “The track is kind of coming up and just crazy big divots. It’s definitely not smooth.  It’s rough, but you just run through things that you think will work and there wasn’t really much lane changing going on.  Larson and (Tyler) Reddick could kind of run the top for a little while and then it kind of went away after a handful of minutes, but just seeing how straight and smooth you can be and trying to keep tires on it.”

Those tires seem to be a developing story. Many drivers had right rear tires that had studs that were worn down turning the tire into a slick.

“Even right-fronts started to go pretty quick,” Blaney said. “That’s something that’s going to come into play is saving your tires when the track is probably going to be like this come race time.”

Saturday will see four qualifying races that will set the field for Sunday’s race. The starting positions for those heat races were determined by a blind draw. According to Blaney, where you start your heat race will be important.

“I don’t know how difficult it is going to be to pass tomorrow when it comes time for our heat races,” he said. “If it’s going to be just like this today, it wasn’t impossible to pass.  If someone missed the bottom and hit a rut wrong or something, you can kind of have forward bite and drive under them. It was tough, but it is what is. You can’t be happy or mad about it.  You just try to make the most of it.”

Blaney added that being the fastest car in practice really doesn’t mean much.

“I think what means the most is how your car drives after 5, 10 laps as you’re trying to save tires, stuff like that.,” he said. “How does it drive when the track gets slicker?  How did it drive at the end of practice because that’s probably what we’re going to have in the race.  We just cut a good lap there.  I don’t think it really means much.  You have to be good in the long run.  That’s really what we worked on and we got OK at it, just need some more work to do.”

The Camping World Truck series also held two practice sessions Friday. The race for that series will be Saturday night with heat races determining the lineup earlier in the evening. The Cup race takes the green flag Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Greg Engle