The NASCAR Cup Series will run on dirt for the first time since 1970 with Monday’s Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway (4 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
A host of NASCAR drivers have dirt racing backgrounds — Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, Chase Briscoe, Tyler Reddick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Alex Bowman to name a few. Many of the series regulars have taken turns in recent weeks, logging laps on dirt tracks across the country and in the Bristol Dirt Nationals held last week at the .5-mile dirt track this weekend.
The wild-card event will surely be a spectacle to behold to close out the month of March on the NASCAR calendar. As we head into the event, NASCAR.com’s Zack Albert and RJ Kraft go head to head to determine which driver with a dirt-racing background has the best shot to leave Bristol a winner.
ALBERT: Feels like this list needs to start — if not necessarily end — with Larson. This owes plenty to his exceptional abilities on non-paved tracks, especially during the last year as he gathered checkered flags by the dozens in multiple dirt-track disciplines. He’s also a former winner in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competition on Eldora Speedway’s dirt, where he contended in all three events before ultimately prevailing in 2016.
But making this call also has a measure to do with Larson’s strength so far this season in the NASCAR Cup Series, where he has quickly rounded into a top performer in his first year with Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 5 Chevrolet team. He sits second in the series standings after six races, leading laps in all but one event so far.
With a nod to the others on the list — plus a worthy added mention of dirt-diligent brothers Austin and Ty Dillon — the No. 1 draft pick here is Larson, who has the extra benefit of a solid team foundation beneath his feet.
KRAFT: I don’t disagree with much of what you said about Larson, except I don’t think the list ends with him. There’s another driver who deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as him when it comes to dirt racing. A driver who is a three-time Chili Bowl winner and also a former winner at Eldora’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event that has a great shot to win: Bell.
Bell won both the Chili Bowl (2017-19) and at Eldora (2015) before Larson did. I’ll acknowledge Larson has certainly been more consistent to open the 2021 season, although Bell also has a win this season with his victory coming in the second race of the season at the Daytona Road Course. He’s only in his second NASCAR Cup Series season, but crew chief Adam Stevens has him positioned in the top of the standings — Bell’s peak position last year was 19th in the standings.
In addition to some of the drivers you mentioned, I wouldn’t sleep on Briscoe, Reddick or Bubba Wallace here. Briscoe and Wallace both won the Eldora event, and Reddick plied his trade on the same dirt tracks Larson did growing up. Bell and Larson are still in a class by themselves for this one — as evidenced by the opening odds at BetMGM — but these drivers are also worthy considerations.