NASCAR: Can anybody beat Kyle Larson on the Bristol dirt?

Bristol Motor Speedway, NASCAR (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Bristol Motor Speedway, NASCAR (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

Kyle Larson enters the first ever NASCAR Cup Series race at the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt track as the favorite. Can anyone beat him?

In his first season with Hendrick Motorsports, Kyle Larson already has one win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and he has led the most laps and accrued the most playoff points among all drivers. His first NASCAR Cup Series season since he was fired over his use of a racial slur has gone terrifically thus far.

The next Cup Series race is scheduled for this Sunday, March 28 at Bristol Motor Speedway, but on dirt for the first time ever. With his extensive dirt track racing background, Larson enters this race as the favorite. Can anyone beat him?

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The last Cup Series dirt race took place on Wednesday September 30, 1970, at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds. NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty won that race by two laps at that 0.5-mile (0.805-kilometer) dirt track in Raleigh, North Carolina.

However, both the Truck Series and ARCA Menards Series still race on dirt tracks.

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The Truck Series previously raced at Eldora Speedway and is also set to race at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend. Knoxville Raceway is also on this year’s schedule. ARCA races twice on dirt, once at the Illinois State Fairgrounds and once at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.

Of the 39 drivers who are slated to compete in the inaugural Cup Series at the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt track, seven have won on dirt in either the Truck Series or ARCA. Those seven drivers include Larson, Christopher Bell, Chase Briscoe, Chris Buescher, Austin Dillon, Stewart Friesen and Bubba Wallace.

Six of those seven drivers have won the Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway, with Buescher being the lone exception.

Larson is chief atop that list. He has won numerous events at dirt tracks, including back-to-back victories in the Chili Bowl Nationals, one of the most prestigious dirt competitions.

He won the 2016 Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway and made three starts there in total, leading laps in all three of those races. He is set to enter Sunday’s race with experience at the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt track as well, as he plans to compete in the Truck Series race there on Saturday.

He understands that this Bristol Motor Speedway configuration differs from Eldora Speedway, however.

The top challengers to Larson will likely be Dillon, Bell and Wallace. Of those three, Wallace is the only other one who will compete in Saturday’s Truck Series race as well.

Dillon won the first ever Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway, and in his three starts there, he has three top 10 finishes. He won a crate late model feature at the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt track on Wednesday, March 17 as well. He is understandably one of the favorites, even earning praise from Larson.

Bell won at Eldora Speedway in his third ever Truck Series start. He earned his first Cup Series win earlier this season at the Daytona International Speedway road course, so he already has some cushion as the playoff picture becomes murky with no repeat winners yet through six races, the first time that can be said since 2014.

While Bell is pegged as one of the drivers to watch in this Sunday’s race, he is humble about his odds.

“It’s going to be really fun to see the Cup cars on dirt and I’m just excited to go out there and put on a show,” he told FOX News. “I’d like to say we’re going to have an upper hand, that’s for sure, but the Cup Series is full of a ton of talented race car drivers that are going to figure it out pretty quick.”

Finally, in his first season driving for new team 23XI Racing, Bubba Wallace enters this race with two straight season-best finishes of 16th place. A Truck Series winner at Eldora Speedway, Wallace detailed his outlook for this race to Beyond the Flag contributor Marty Czekala.

While those aforementioned drivers have won a Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway, this is a new course with a new format. It’ll be an exciting one to watch, but the best wager is probably on Larson. He’s debuting a new paint scheme on his #5 Chevrolet as well.

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Who is your pick to win the inaugural Cup Series race at the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt track? The Food City Dirt Race scheduled to take place this Sunday, March 28. Fox is set to provide live coverage beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET.