NASCAR: Do dirt races belong on the Cup Series schedule?

Bristol, NASCAR (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)
Bristol, NASCAR (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images) /

Despite positive reviews from fans, drivers have been critical of the Bristol dirt race and whether it belongs on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule.

In the three years that NASCAR has run dirt races at Bristol Motor Speedway, fans have come to expect intense racing from start to finish, with Sunday’s event being no exception.

However, many drivers in the Cup Series garage have criticized the event and have sparked the debate about whether the Food City Dirt Race truly belongs on the schedule of NASCAR’s top series.

Among the drivers who have been critical of the event is 2021 Cup Series champion Kyle Larson. Despite having a well-documented background in dirt racing, including success in the World of Outlaws, Larson bluntly stated that “We don’t need to be racing on dirt.”

Other drivers share Larson’s stance on dirt racing at Bristol, but they weren’t ready to shut the door on dirt racing in the NASCAR Cup Series altogether.

Chris Buescher was another driver who questioned the viability of a dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway. However, he was primarily against the dirt race coming at the expense of a second race on Bristol’s concrete surface.

Buescher said that “if we can get our second Bristol date back and take this pretty literally anywhere else on dirt, I would be a fan of that.”

The “regular” Bristol Motor Speedway has been a massive fan-favorite due to the consistent high-quality racing that the track has produced. The Bristol Night Race has become one of the most anticipated races on the schedule, among both drivers and fans.

Subsequently, when the dirt race was first announced, many were already against the event due to it coming at the cost of a Bristol concrete race.

Marcus Smith, the CEO Speedway Motorsports, which owns Bristol Motor Speedway, stated that any decisions regarding the future of Bristol’s dirt race have yet to be made.

But outside of Bristol, the question remains as to whether dirt races still belong in the NASCAR Cup Series. If they do, where could they be held?

In this case, NASCAR could go a few different ways. When it comes to tracks currently on the Cup Series schedule, Martinsville Speedway is by far the best candidate to host a dirt race. It is very similar in length to Bristol, which would make it much easier to cover in dirt for a weekend.

However, much like Bristol, Martinsville is also a favorite among fans and drivers alike, and a having one of the two Martinsville rates become a dirt race would almost certainly be unpopular with the NASCAR fanbase.

The only true dirt tracks that would likely be able to host a Cup Series race are Knoxville Speedway and Eldora Speedway. Like Bristol and Martinsville, both tracks are a half-mile in length, but they are exclusively meant for dirt racing and have hosted Truck Series races in the past.

Even with these venues, there are many concerns that NASCAR would have to address with the logistics of these facilities. Would a field of 36 to 40 Cup cars be able to efficiently fit into these tracks? Would the product of the racing be good? Is the low seating capacity going to be an issue?

At the end of the day, these potential issues would make it rather difficult for NASCAR to justify hosting a Cup Series event at either one of these tracks.

However, NASCAR continues to host two major non-points exhibition events for the Cup Series, with those events being the season-opening Busch Light Clash, which has run at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the past two years, along with the All-Star Race, with this year’s edition marking a highly anticipated return to the historic North Wilkesboro Speedway.

With this in mind, there is absolutely potential for NASCAR to take a look at moving one of these events to a dirt track such as Eldora or Knoxville, where a smaller field of 20 or 25 cars would better fit.

Should the All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro be a success, NASCAR will undoubtedly look to give the venue a points race, which could make it a candidate to replace the Bristol dirt race on the 36-race Cup Series schedule.

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While the dirt races at Bristol have been enjoyable from an entertainment standpoint, it’s evident that there are much better uses for that date, and with many tracks looking to be added to the Cup Series schedule, NASCAR’s best bet likely lies outside the dirt at Bristol.