Podium Preview: Food City Dirt Race at Bristol

Alex Bowman does whatever it takes to grocery shop in the Food City Dirt Race. (Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Alex Bowman does whatever it takes to grocery shop in the Food City Dirt Race. (Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

All things considered, the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol will be a trip to the past for NASCAR in the modern era. By all means, Round 7 of the NASCAR Cup Series season serves as the first dirt race since 1970.

Of course, dirt racing aces like Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell seem like odds on favorite at Bristol. However, given the unpredictability with this historic race, the Food City Dirt Race could prove as exciting and unusual as an episode of Longmire.

Each race weekend, The Podium Finish’s panelists preview each NASCAR Cup Series points-paying race. This weekend, Adam LucasAshley HobbsCody ShoppeKobe LambethLuis TorresMatt SisolerMichelle RaynorTaylor KitchenTerra Jones, and yours truly discuss the possibility of a street race and names worth considering at Bristol beyond Larson and Bell.

Podium Preview: Food City Dirt Race at Bristol
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Question 1
No, this isn't GTA. (Photo: iRacing)

No, this isn’t GTA. (Photo: iRacing)

With NASCAR possibly considering a street race in Chicago, how do you envision the future of NASCAR’s schedule especially with the Next Gen car looming next year?

Lambeth : If NASCAR decides to add a real life street race, I think they will have one of the most diverse schedules in motorsports. For now, they race at superspeedways, intermediate tracks, short tracks, road courses, the Bristol Dirt track and the addition of a street course would be the cherry on top.

The Next Gen will open the door for opportunities to explore and further diversify the schedule. Like covering Bristol with dirt, going street racing in NASCAR would be a huge risk. However, I think it is a good risk to take because targeting large U.S. markets like Chicago could help the sport grow and attract new fans.

Torres :  Diversity is key, but some just don’t work with me. It’s a neat marketing idea to get Chicago on the calendar again. But street courses are meant for anything but stock cars. 

I’ll wait and see how the Next Gen works out before considering going that route. If it has a Supercar vibe on the road courses, I’m in for the streets. That in mind, I must see the product in person before changing my mind.

This Bristol Dirt Race must succeed because if it flops, the sport will be hesitant on going outside the norm. Same thing applies with iRacing having a Chicago layout. It must succeed big time.

Sisoler : I agree with Luis. Diversity is a great idea for NASCAR going forward. But a street circuit at Chicago is a bit of a push for me. However, I’m open to it if it produces some good racing.

Hopefully, the Next Gen car makes the circuit a fun one to watch races at, but only time will tell. 

Shoppe :  I just hope to see a future schedule for NASCAR that has an even spread of a variety of disciplines. There’s no need for one type of track to dominate a schedule like the mile and a half courses had in the past.

I hope to see a street race or two if it works when they try it much like the dirt race today! There’s no harm in trying something different. If it works out, great. If not, then we’ll do something else. 

Raynor :  I feel like there are going to be too many unknowns with the new car next year to change up the schedule too much. I would love to see a street race. But, I caution NASCAR not to forget about their core fans and make sure it keeps those fans as well as bringing in new places. It’s great to see NASCAR want to explore new options. 

Lucas : Anything is possible with the new car. Plus, with the changing demographics of NASCAR’s core fan base, we have to evolve from our past. I love tradition, and tradition shouldn’t be changed without good reason. With that being said, there is plenty of reason to change the makeup of the schedule to bring the brand to new audiences and to get a sort of rebirth for the sport.

In my blunt opinion, the majority of the Cup series schedule from June through August is very bland and forgettable. A good portion of this block has been altered in the past season to enhance viewership and overall popularity growth.

The Chicago iRacing circuit has a decent layout and gorgeous cityscape surrounding. Also, it has a somewhat urban surrounding with lots of social engagement opportunities and partner exposure (obviously post-pandemic/post social distancing phase).

This is something that the oval out in Joliet unfortunately does not have the luxury of and will never be able to compete with. I am sad that Chicagoland will probably never return to the Cup schedule for the foreseeable future.

I will always enjoy racing it for all eternity on iRacing! But I think we need to look at the bigger picture. And that is iRacing in itself. Is NASCAR truly using this company as a testing guinea pig for future races?

Most drivers either have a sim rig at home. Some have one at the race shop. And some may just a basic steering wheel and pedals setup at home. Everyone had been using them to stay in “racing shape” during the offseason. Since the pandemic caused NASCAR to alter traditional race weekends, teams and drivers have been extremely reliant on simulator testing.

Basically, it’s the rise of the nerds to make NASCAR flourish again. I am excited to see what the future holds for the sport. And I’m anxious to see which current tracks continue and which ones meet their demotion from the schedule.   

Question 2
Tip your DoorDash driver well. (Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Tip your DoorDash driver well. (Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Beyond the usual favorites like Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell, which driver has the best potential to win the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol?

Jones : After tuning in to practice, if Larson or Bell can’t pull it off (I think one of them will), I expect to see Chase Briscoe, Tyler Reddick, or maybe even Alex Bowman to make some noise and possibly shake things up for the aforementioned two drivers. 

Hobbs :  I am pulling my stats for this one; aka a bonus, if you will, go to the following drivers for this one-off special on the dirt. Those drivers, besides Larson and Bell who get the nod are Austin Dillon, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., Chase Briscoe, and Tyler Reddick. However, I find it hard to imagine any of them holding a candle to the likes of Larson and Bell.

Tiongson : Outside of Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell, I can see someone like Austin Dillon or Tyler Reddick having a good run this Sunday. If Chase Briscoe can find the balance prior to the race with the practice and qualifying heats ahead of Sunday, he’s someone worth watching.

Beyond this trio, Bubba Wallace might have something to say for 23XI Racing based on his Eldora victory in 2014. Lastly, Ryan Blaney, who fared decently in his only NASCAR starts on dirt when he placed third and 15th in the Truck races at Eldora in ‘13 and ‘14.

Kitchen : Larson and Bell will make noise during this race, but they are not the only drivers in the field with successful dirt backgrounds. 

I have five guys I am going to keep my eye on that have prominent dirt experience: Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Alex Bowman, and Tyler Reddick.

These five drivers, to me, are sleepers at this event and I think one of them could be your race winner. 

Each driver mentioned spent the earlier parts of their careers racking up race wins and championships on the dirt before moving to stock cars.

Their experience on the track will help them tremendously and will be key in this event. But to single out a single driver to win this race is super difficult. 

This is foreign territory for all the drivers and will take luck and experience to get through to the end. 

So picking drivers to watch… that’s easy.

Picking a driver to win… that’s the challenge.

All in all, our team held it together around the slick and slippery Bristol dirt surface! Next, let’s rewind to Round 6 at Atlanta with our race and points reports!
Mamba mentality.

Mamba mentality.

Mamba power.

Mamba power.

Now, Ashley Hobbs considers some numbers for the Food City Dirt Race. With this in mind, these numbers consider the trends with the Bristol spring race which had previously been on the usual concrete track surface.
First, let's see how your favorite teams fare at Bristol.

First, let’s see how your favorite teams fare at Bristol.

Since 2004, the Food City Dirt Race (as the Food City 500) race winner has an average starting spot of 8.8, led an average of 119.6 laps, started within the top five 41.18% of the time, and started within the top 10 52.94% of the time.

Since 2004, the Food City Dirt Race (as the Food City 500) race winner has an average starting spot of 8.8, led an average of 119.6 laps, started within the top five 41.18% of the time, and started within the top 10 52.94% of the time.

Quite competitive, these champs.

Quite competitive, these champs.

Here's the trends for Bristol's past 10 spring races.

Here’s the trends for Bristol’s past 10 spring races.

Next, here's the trends for the past 5 Bristol spring races.

Next, here’s the trends for the past 5 Bristol spring races.

Not total grand Kyle Larson-y.

Not total grand Kyle Larson-y.

Last but not least, let’s reveal our picks for the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol!
Here's the Fab Four with the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol.

Here’s the Fab Four with the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol.

Tiongson : I would be foolish to not go with the man who’s a dirt racing expert. I’m going with Kyle Larson to win Sunday’s Food City Dirt Race because why not? Of the first seven races for 2021, this was the one I imagined him winning in convincing fashion.

TPF Stats : He barely lost out next week. But, put the dirt shoes on Kyle Larson and the rest of the field might as well hang it up before they get started.

Hobbs : I cannot really rely on past Bristol Motor Speedway stats to help me here. The only thing I have to help me is knowing how beastly awesome Kyle Larson is on dirt.

Lucas : This guy eats dirt for breakfast. Let’s hope he get’s a bowl full Sunday morning. Kyle Larson will park it in victory lane.

Sisoler : Kyle Larson has been the master on dirt this past year. And I think he’ll show the rest of the Cup field exactly why he is come Sunday.

Jones : I think Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell will be battling it out at the end. Bell will become the first two-time winner in 2021. The kid knows how to wheel it on dirt, as does Larson, but we’ll see Bell victorious.

Raynor : Honesty it’s a guess. It’s anyone’s race but I’ll go with Bell.

Shoppe : As hard as it is to really have any idea what happens in this race, the safest bet you could make is on a “dirt guy.” I’m going with C-Bell to pull off his second career win today on the dirt!

Torres : This is such a wild card of a race where everyone will say it’s Kyle Larson or Christopher Bell. There’s some who I feel will do extraordinary well like Ricky Stenhouse Jr or even Chris Windom and Justin Haley.

One man will stand out and with a boast of confidence, that driver is Austin Dillon. He won the first Eldora race in the Truck Series in 2013 by beating Larson. I think history will repeat itself this Sunday. It does help that AD3 has dirt experience and can win some like he did in the dirt late model last week. It was an easy choice if you ask me.

Kitchen : Alex Bowman has the right ratio of dirt experience and other experience. He showed strength in practice and consistency. He was my pick before practice. But after seeing him top the charts in practice one and being second fastest in practice two, it only confirmed my pick more.

I think Alex Bowman can win this race.

Race fans, thanks for joining us for our preview of the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol.

We’re ready for some racing. How about you? What do you think are the biggest storylines heading into today’s race? Who are your favorites to win?  Tweet us now @ThePodiumFinish and tell us now!

Thanks as always to the TPF team for their amazing efforts this week!  Stay safe, wear a mask, and wash your hands often. If you’re eligible in your state or country, help yourself, your family, and friends by getting the COVID-19 vaccine! Also, thanks for reading our content throughout this season.

The opinions and thoughts expressed in Podium Preview are solely of the authors. They do not reflect any organizations affiliated with the participants and author outside of TPF. This weekly feature is strictly for entertainment purposes. Ultimately, they are not indicative of TPF, the organization, and its staff.

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Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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