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March 14, 2024

NASCAR Cup Series drivers eager for return to concrete at Bristol

It’s not hard to find something concrete to say about Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

For the past three seasons, NASCAR Cup Series drivers have spent the spring event at Bristol racing on Tennessee red clay, 2,300 truckloads worth.

This year, however, dirt won’t be covering the concrete surface for the first race at the 0.533-mile track. Under the circumstances, you might think Christopher Bell would be chagrined at the loss of an opportunity to defend last year’s win on the dirt surface.

MORE: Full Bristol schedule

Instead, Bell waxed almost euphoric about the prospect of two 2024 Bristol races on the high-banked concrete. In his last two Bristol Night Races, Bell ran fourth in 2022 and third in 2023 after winning the pole.

“I love racing at Bristol,” said Bell, who almost assuredly cemented his place in the 2024 Playoffs with his victory last Sunday at Phoenix Raceway. “It’s literally my favorite race on the schedule. I’m very thankful we get to go twice this year. It’s been a track we have excelled at the last couple of times we have been there — we’ve been close.

“Bristol is another important race for us; you don’t win the Championship there, but you can definitely lose it if you’re not good. Having a versatile car is the key to a good run at Bristol. We know the bottom will be good because they are spraying the resin (traction compound) down, and we know the top is going to come in at some point, so you have to have a car that can really run both places.”

And that’s from a driver who grew up racing on dirt and won three straight Chili Bowl Nationals during NASCAR offseasons.

The last driver to win a spring Bristol race on concrete was Brad Keselowski in 2020, a feat he accomplished from the pole. Keselowski, however, hasn’t won a Cup race since April 25, 2021 at Talladega, his last year with Team Penske.

Now an owner/driver with RFK Racing, the 2012 series champion saw his drought reach 102 races with last week’s fourth-place run at Phoenix.

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With eight victories, Kyle Busch is far and away the leading active winner at Bristol, but like Keselowski, Busch has switched teams — from Joe Gibbs Racing to Richard Childress Racing — since his last victory at the 0.533-mile short track in the spring of 2019.

Denny Hamlin, who won last year’s Bristol Night Race, is tied with Keselowski with three victories at the track, second-most among active drivers.

“As a purist, I love seeing this race back on the concrete,” Hamlin said. “Obviously, as the last guy that won there, it’s going to be good to go back there and kind of test what this car wants compared to what we had in the past.

“We’re going to have to tweak on it, but we feel like we’ve got a good base setup with what we had last year.”

Because of high speeds and extreme loads in the corners-Bristol is billed as the “World’s Fastest Half-Mile”-Cup drivers won’t be using the new short-track package that debuted last Sunday at Phoenix.