NASCAR’s most experienced dirt driver is not who you think

Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images) /

Kyle Larson enters this Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series dirt race as the overwhelming favorite due to his dirt track experience, but the sport’s most experienced dirt driver may not be who you think it is.

This Sunday’s Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway is set to be the first NASCAR Cup Series race on dirt since 1970.

The paved four-turn, 0.533-mile (0.858-kilometer) high-banked oval in Bristol, Tennessee, which is slated to host race for the Truck Series, Xfinity Series and Cup Series in mid-September, has been covered in dirt for the first time ahead of this weekend’s Truck Series and Cup Series events.

There is one driver who fans can’t stop talking about leading to the 250-lap Cup Series event due to his dirt track racing prowess and his hot start to the 2021 season, his first season behind the wheel of the #5 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, and that is Kyle Larson, in case you hadn’t already figured that out.

Most fans have Larson penciled in as the race winner already, which would make him the first Cup Series driver to win twice this year.

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Many of those who don’t have Larson penciled in have listed Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell as the favorite given his dirt experience, even though there will certainly be plenty of differences between the dirt racing that Larson and Bell are used to and driving a 3,200-pound stock car on a surface it isn’t exactly meant for.

But there is one driver who is technically a more experienced driver on dirt than either one of those two favorites entering this weekend.

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That would actually be the driver who became Larson’s full-time replacement behind the wheel of the #42 Chevrolet ahead of the 2021 season after Matt Kenseth stepped in for the remainder of the 2020 season following his suspension and subsequent firing: Ross Chastain.

“I think I’m the most experienced driver on dirt going into Sunday,” said Chastain. “But most of it has been on a tractor!”

Chastain, of course, is referencing his role in the family’s history of watermelon farming. The 28-year-old Alva, Florida is known to smash watermelons when he finds victory lane in NASCAR, which he has done five times in the Xfinity Series and Truck Series. He has even earned himself the nickname “The Watermelon Man”.

As for actual dirt track racing, Larson definitely has him beat, and they won’t be driving tractors on Sunday afternoon.

Entering this Sunday’s race, Chastain sits in 21st place in the point standings through six races as the driver of the #42 Chevrolet with a top finish of seventh place in the season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. He is coming off of a 14th place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway this past Sunday.

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Tune in to Fox at 3:30 p.m. ET tomorrow afternoon for the live broadcast of the Food City Dirt Race from Bristol Motor Speedway.