Joey Logano did something no one in the NASCAR Cup Series has done since Richard Petty in 1970, and that is win a race on dirt. Bristol Motor Speedway was turned into a temporary track filled with Tennessee red clay, and despite Mother Nature throwing a proverbial wrench into the machinery with rain over the weekend, the Food City Dirt Race happened.
That is if you could see through the dust cloud that hung over the track for most of the afternoon. When Logano passed then-leader Daniel Suarez with seven laps to go in the second stage, it was pretty much over at that point. He became the seventh different winner in this year's NASCAR Cup Series.
“Man, it’s incredible," Logano said, summing up his day. "How about Bristol on dirt? This is incredible, unbelievable racetrack -- great job by everyone that prepped the track. Obviously, a lot of work over here the last few days. We did a lot of work in the dirt department here the last few weeks.
"I was getting nervous. There were so many first-time winners and different winners than there has typically been I said, ‘We’ve got to get a win to make sure we get in the playoffs,’ so it’s amazing to get this Shell/Pennzoil Mustang into Victory Lane at Bristol. There’s nothing like winning at Bristol, but putting dirt on it and being the first to do it is really special.”
The win was No. 101 for Ford on dirt. Their last victory came in 1969 when David Pearson won at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, NC. Of note, Logano's was the second straight win of a Cup race after spending time in the television booth calling a Camping World Truck Series race that same weekend.
“I watch a lot of TV and that’s about the only thing I could do there," Denny Hamlin said when asked about his first Cup dirt race.
"Really had the top ripping there for a couple laps and that was my opportunity to get the 22 (Joey Logano). Ran him back down and then just kind of stalled out there behind him. I went back to the top and jumped the cushion, got a bunch of damage and that was all she wrote. All effort there.”
It had to be one of the most challenging races NASCAR drivers have ever encountered. The track was watered down several times, hoping it would help visibility, but it dried out rather quickly. Surprisingly, only seven cars were out of the race when the final fifty laps were underway, but that didn’t mean any of them came out of it with some sort of damage.
Several surprise drivers finished in the top ten, most notably Daniel Suarez. His best finish to this point was a P15, but he led a career-best 58 laps to finish P4.
Ryan Newman had a seventh at Homestead-Miami Speedway and topped that with a P5. In the No. 43 Wood Brothers Camaro, Erik Jones bettered his best finish with a P9.
How the NASCAR Food City Dirt Race played out
Denny Hamlin took the lead initially, but it didn’t take long for Kyle Busch to take command, opening up more than a second lead by lap five. After winning the Pinty’s Truck Race on Dirt earlier in the day, Martin Truex Jr. jumped in front as Busch peeled off because his car was overheating. Truex set a blistering pace, opening up a 1.5-second advantage over Ryan Blaney.
Vision became an issue by lap 20, but there was something more concerning for crew chiefs, as Busch found out. Dirt was building up on grills, and many drivers were starting to see engine temperatures rise.
Lap 41 brought out the first caution with Aric Almirola going into a spin, and Anthony Alfredo plowed into his back end. The No. 78 of Shane Golobic was the first to hit Almirola, followed by Stewart Friesen and Corey Lajoie. All this happened in front of Truex, who squeezed through the wrecking cars.
“Holy crap. That was close,” Truex said on his radio.
The race was red-flagged.
“The 77 (Friesen) slipped off the bottom,” said Almirola. “I was hunting the bottom, and he slipped off the bottom, and I was trying to get in between him and the silly humps there, and he turned back down across my nose and hit me in the right-front and kind of ran me up over the dirt hump and I spun. You can’t stop. You can’t see. That’s honestly the biggest problem. In dirt racing, you don’t have a windshield in front of you, so you can pull a tearoff. We can’t reach out there and pull a tearoff off our windshield, so you can’t see anything. Everybody just comes piling in because you can’t see.”
“I had a lot of fun, obviously Live Fast (Motorsports) has got a good car cause we were rolling [past] some pretty good teams out there, with a guy like myself, who doesn’t have a lot of experience out there,” said Golobic.
“Says a lot about the team, can’t thank everybody enough who made it happen, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. Bittersweet that we didn’t get to run all of the laps because it feels like the opportunity was there to get a strong finish.”
With just one lap to the competition caution, William Byron hit Ryan Newman. As cars tried to avoid the wreck, Kevin Harvick pushed Chase Briscoe into the outside wall, suffering significant damage. Newman was able to drive away. NASCAR made it a competition caution that became a red flag because NASCAR was putting some water on the track.
The third caution resulted in more damaged cars. Riding the high line, Christopher Bell lost his front end, and cars started to stack up. Kyle Larson hit him, and Kyle Busch, Ross Chastain, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. all banged into each other. Bell and Chastain joined Almirola and others out of the race.
“I was just trying to run the water in under yellow,” Bell said outside the care center. “I knew it was a little bit slick, but I felt like I could go up there and make some time, and I kind of entered shallow underneath of it and tried to pick it up on exit, and it was just really greasy up there. I hate it for all of our partners – IRWIN Tools, PristineAuction.com, Toyota, TRD. That was a lot of fun, being able to be out there for that first run was really cool, and hate it that I can’t be out there longer.”
Stage one winner was Truex, who just passed 10,000 laps led in the Cup Series, followed by William Byron, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Chris Buescher. Chase Briscoe, who Truex lapped with one to go, was the free pass, putting 25 cars on the lead lap.
The second competition caution at Lap 150 ended with Daniel Suarez in the lead. Byron, Truex, Logano, and Newman rounded out the top five. Suarez came into the race having led just 16 laps. He had 17 at the time the yellow, and then the red flag came out.
It took little time to create the latest pileup after the restart as drivers complained about dust blocking their view. Kyle Busch hit Ryan Blaney, and when Alex Bowman spun trying to avoid the wreck, seven other cars had dents and dings.
Kyle Larson, who continued with little left of his front end, was caught up in another incident. All involved continued to race. At Lap 159, Brad Keselowski and Briscoe tangled for another yellow.
When things got back to racing, NASCAR went for a single-file restart. The track had dried out so much that visibility was a significant problem. At the green, there were 31 laps left in the second stage. Daniel Suarez still paced the field.
With seven laps left in the second stage, Joey Logano pushed ahead of Suarez for the lead. He would go on to win it by a comfortable margin. Hamlin, Truex, Newman, Stenhouse, Wallace, Jones, Reddick and Elliott picked up stage points.
The race would be red-flagged so track crews could work on the track, hoping to help with the final 50 laps. Teams got ten minutes to work on their cars.
Bubba Wallace was having arguably his best run of the year and was running P8 when Stenhouse clipped the No. 23. A flat tire sent him into pit row and off the lead lap and out of contention.
Logano looked as if he would not be caught, but with four to go, Mike Marler lost a rear tire and hit the inside wall, bringing out a caution forcing overtime. The top five on a single-file restart were Logano, Hamlin, Truex, Stenhouse and Suarez. Logano took the white flag and easily held off Stenhouse.
NASCAR Food City Dirt Race Notes
NASCAR made adjustments to stages with the first and second 100 laps each and the final one just 50. For the first time, there were two competition cautions at laps 50 and 150. The most green-lap runs would be just 50 laps or 25 miles.
Kyle Larson was supposed to start on the pole but started at the rear due to an engine change. Matt DiBenedetto (damaged fender repair after unloading from the trailer) and Michael McDowell (issue with the throttle body) had unapproved adjustments and also went to the back.
With his P36 finish, Aric Almirola has started seven times this year, and he has finished 30th or worse for the fourth time.
Truex won Stage 1, his first of the year. However, it was career number 44, the most in NASCAR Cup Series history.
Daniel Suarez had one stage point all season before this race, but with a fourth and second at the end of each stage, he picked up 16.