NASCAR Should Be Applauded for Bristol Dirt, Schedule Innovations

It’s worth pondering how feedback to the Bristol Dirt Race would have changed if Denny Hamlin had actually sent it into Turn 1 on the final restart and moved Joey Logano out of the way to win the race.

Isn’t this what people say they missed most about Bristol Motor Speedway?

As it stands, the reaction has been largely lukewarm but not overwhelmingly positive to the first NASCAR Cup Series race on dirt in 51 years.

Much of the indifference was surely a byproduct of the weather, something that NASCAR couldn’t control this weekend, or racing on a temporary surface at Bristol as opposed to a purpose-built dirt track like Eldora or Knoxville — something else that wasn’t as easy to make happen as you think.

All told, the Bristol Dirt Race was fun, and a love letter to traditional fans who yearned for grip limited race cars sliding around a clay surface where passes often needed to be completed with the bumper.

Isn’t this something we wanted?

Well yeah, maybe, but not at the expense of a pavement short track race.

Fair.

Listen, for 20 years, NASCAR has taken it on the chin from fans who have decried the proliferation of similarly constructed intermediate tracks to the schedule — a generation of races that started mediocre and collectively rate somewhere near objectively terrible.

Two of them, Chicagoland and Kentucky, have been launched into the Sun in exchange for road courses at Road America and Circuit of the Americas.

Races at Dover, which can be hit-or-miss, saw one of its two dates moved to Nashville Superspeedway — a 1.33-miler that will see NASCAR bring back the low downforce rules package to what amounts to an intermediate track.

Auto Club Speedway will soon undergo a transformation into one of those true half-mile bullrings that you didn’t want to lose to a dirt track or road course. Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville is the Cup Series fever dream that we all collectively can’t shake.

We’re talking about a possible street course race!

Maybe one of those concepts don’t work for you, but at least one of them surely does, and no one is really clamoring for a return to Joliet or Sparta.

Sure, this is NASCAR throwing a lot of things against the wall to see what sticks, but that followed two decades of telling you to learn to like the status quo of Charlotte Motor Speedway, Yeehaw Charlotte Motor Speedway and Desert Charlotte Motor Speedway with Neon Lights.

Brian France took Labor Day weekend away from Darlington and essentially told you ‘we’re going to start a new tradition.’

The NASCAR industry wouldn’t be at this identity crisis crossroads where it was spending so much time trying to fix the Charlottes of the world if they hadn’t built so many of them in the first place.

So, it’s fitting and appreciated that the owners of Charlotte Motor Speedway are leading this charge with running a dirt race at Bristol or leasing Circuit of the Americas while moving Heaven and Earth to make something happen at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville.

Ditto NASCAR’s endorsement.

“The fans had asked us for years to look at innovation around the schedule,” Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell said on Monday night. “In fact, we’ve been taken to task for not making some moves. We were bold and aggressive this year, and I’m proud of the team for doing that. I’m proud of the industry for taking a chance here.”

The Bristol Dirt race will return next spring, hopefully under the lights and with a slightly modified version of the current-generation Cup car with no windshield and considerably less lead weight. Speedway Motorsports Inc. and track groundskeeper Mike Van Genderen learned a lot about how to prepare this surface to make it better in 2022.

The racers can only get better from here, too.

Hamlin wants a do-over from Monday, and why wouldn’t he, having chosen to rip the top on a track that begged for him to channel his inner Earnhardt, Gordon and Labonte to move Logano out of the way and win the race.

It was the sort of moment Bristol Motor Speedway was built upon and could be rebuilt upon, at least for this spring race experiment.

Short tracks like new Fontana, or old ones like Fairgrounds Nashville, and even a dirt track like Spring Bristol is exactly what NASCAR was established on. Seven road courses are probably too many but replacing one with a street course isn’t a bad idea.

The NASCAR Pinty’s Series in Canada races on the Streets of Toronto and Trois Rivières and it’s best described as Martinsville with right turns. Stock Cars on cities streets embody the spirit of the Cup Series you remember with the glamour of the one you know now.

Dirt was a callback to yesteryear, and despite all the logistical challenges, was one bump-and-run away from being remembered as a classic Bristol finish.

After spending 20 years watching 15 Charlotte Motor Speedway races a year, the still evolving NASCAR Next-Gen schedule has much to appreciate.


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