While Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell may be the favorites for Monday’s Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway (4 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN, SiriusXM), there are plenty of other drivers who could steal a victory away.
There are many in the NASCAR Cup Series who don’t have an extensive dirt racing background, but that doesn’t mean you should count them out. Defending champion Chase Elliott grew up racing late models on asphalt but has put a recent focus on improving his dirt prowess by participating in events like the Bristol Dirt Nationals and the Chili Bowl. Another Hendrick Motorsports driver, William Byron, beat the competition he’ll be facing on Sunday by winning Wednesday night’s Pro Invitational Series race on the iRacing virtual Bristol dirt.
Before this weekend’s action, NASCAR.com’s Pat DeCola and Chase Wilhelm debate which driver with a non-extensive background of racing on dirt could park it in Victory Lane on Sunday.
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DECOLA: As tempting as it is to pick Joey Logano here — for the Joe Dirt puns alone — I’m pretty confident Kyle Busch will be battling at the front of the field.
I do think Logano will be strong, and I think Rowdy will be for similar reasons. The inaugural Bristol Dirt Race just has that special, crown-jewel-type feeling to it, and we tend to see the superstars of the sport (i.e. Busch and Logano) rise to the occasion with more eyeballs watching and intensity heightened.
Of course, star power won’t matter much if a driver can’t figure out how to maneuver through the mud, so it comes down to talent. And there’s a reason only one driver in the series has an “F” inserted into the middle of his initials — you’d be hard-pressed to find a driver more talented behind the wheel than KFB, regardless of the surface he’s racing on.
While his background is primarily asphalt and he’s never run the Eldora Dirt Derby, Busch did win a dirt late model race at the Speedway in the final running of the Prelude to the Dream in 2012. He’s also shown in the past to be incredibly flexible on different track layouts, packages, disciplines, you name it. If there’s a race and he’s in it, he’s got a shot.
Busch has also been picking up the pace in recent weeks and appears to be heading into the weekend with a full head of steam. Given his success at Bristol — 22 combined wins across all three series — the Joe Gibbs Racing driver looks to me like one of the best picks from the “non-dirt” circle of drivers on that and flat-out talent alone.
DEBATE: Bristol’s dirt-tested favorite?
WILHELM: Coming off his first victory on a 1.5-mile race track at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the potential is high for Ryan Blaney to become the first repeat winner of the 2021 season. Although Blaney doesn’t have the extensive dirt racing experience that would provide an advantage on Sunday, he has the next best thing — momentum and family genes.
His father, former Cup Series driver Dave Blaney, won the World of Outlaws championship in 1995 and finished second in the standings on four other occasions — 1993, ’94, ’96 and ’97. Dave also raced on Bristol’s dirt in the early 2000s, finishing ninth in the World of Outlaws feature in 2001.
If that’s not enough, Ryan’s uncle, Dale, is another renowned dirt racer in the family. Dale is a six-time All-Star Circuit of Champions title winner, earning 137 victories on the circuit. He also owns 11 wins in the World of Outlaws and finished fifth in the 2000 running of the sprint-car race on the Bristol dirt. Ryan’s grandfather, Lou, was also an established dirt racer in his time.
After the Atlanta win, Blaney’s No. 12 crew chief Todd Gordon said that he’d rely heavily on Ryan’s father for advice leading into this weekend. I’d say that’s a pretty solid game plan that could land another generation of the Blaney family in Victory Lane at a dirt track on Sunday.