Monday’s Food City Dirt Race at Bristol had its wild moments ranging from series of crashes to woeful track conditions. In the end, an unlikely driver left “Thunder Valley” with the victory – Joey Logano.
The man who was half a lap away from winning the Daytona 500 became the seventh different winner this season. With that, it’s the first time since 2014 the NASCAR Cup Series saw this many winners after seven races.
Logano described his 27th career win as an incredible one after the amount of work his No. 22 Penske crew did.
“We did a lot of work in the dirt department here the last few weeks,” said an enthusiastic Logano.
“My buddy Ryan Flores and car chief Jerry Kelley did a good job with the modified and just making laps and learning where I was going. A lot of that helped. Kevin Buskirk helped a lot, too,” Logano added.
“He has a lot of knowledge and obviously Paul Wolfe, this team, great car obviously to be able to execute the race that we did and get a win.”
With Logano leading the final 61 laps, Wolfe attributed his post-race comments being an influence on their winning effort.
“We tried to learn as much as we could to get our car close. All race long, it was still a learning curve,” said Wolfe. “Trying to understand the tires and adjustments with the track changing, how big of adjustments we needed to make.
“I thought overall obviously we did a good job executing, learned a lot. I think everyone will go back now and digest everything and probably come back even smarter next time around.”
World of Outlaws team owner Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. waited until the absolute bitter end to earn his first top-three finish of 2021. Long runs were instrumental, but a little bit more NOS Energy Drink would’ve helped his cause.
“I just couldn’t get the turn in the race car that we needed,” said Stenhouse. “We made a ton of adjustments and we kind of went back and forth overnight of what we were going to do.”
“Man, we had a blast. At the start of the race, I was terrible with the green racetrack and a little bit of moisture in it. But as it blew off, we got back to where we were in practice and felt really good with it. A good way to go into the off week.”
Stenhouse’s plan during the Easter off-week is do some more sprint car racing with his father.
It was another solid points day for Denny Hamlin, but he just couldn’t get the victory yet again. After the race, he felt that he gave Logano way too many breaks in the final stage.
Consequently, the regular season points leader settled for third once more.
“I couldn’t see a whole lot. I was kind of guessing and thought I could run the top-end hard,” said Hamlin. “They didn’t prep it in-between cautions like they did before, so it was just marbles up there.”
“I’m proud of this whole FedEx Camry team. Man, I thought I had a shot there,” Hamlin added. “I cut Joey too many breaks there when he was cutting us off. At the end of the day, it looked like he had a little bit better car in the long run. I’m proud of this whole team. We are third-best again.”
Stage 1 – First Half
With cautions guaranteed coming out every 50 laps, the game was straightforward – survive the madness.
Earlier on, Kyle Busch took the lead from Hamlin until his car began overheating and pitted. Truck Series winner Martin Truex, Jr. took the lead, showcasing that his early win wasn’t a fluke.
The man on the move was Kyle Larson, who once again had to start at the rear of the field. By Lap 30, he was running in 12th after passing Daniel Suarez in Turn 3. Also on the move was Christopher Bell, who was up to fourth on Lap 39.
On Lap 41, the only red flag came out after a wild multi-car crash in Turn 2. Aric Almirola tried getting by Stewart Friesen but would hit a heavy chunk of dirt clay.
From there, Almirola was a pin ball with Shane Golobic, Corey LaJoie and Anthony Alfredo crashing into him.
Almirola said lack of visibility and “silly” humps factored into his early exit as the stoppage lasted 6:30.
“You can’t stop. You can’t see. That’s honestly the biggest problem,” Almirola said as Friesen was getting loose before hitting those humps.
“In dirt racing, you don’t have a windshield in front of you, so you can pull a tearoff. We can’t reach out there and pull a tearoff off our windshield, so you can’t see anything. Everybody just comes piling in because you can’t see.”
Stage 1 – Conclusion
Truex survived the previously mentioned red flag and led his 10,000th career lap on Lap 47. A lap later, Ryan Newman got turned by William Byron which brought out the caution.
Kevin Harvick would then run into his teammate Chase Briscoe whose car lifted. This would be the competition caution as drivers went to pit road and services were made.
Larson’s progress was ruined on Lap 53 after Bell spun in front of him in at the exit of Turn 1. Harvick and Ross Chastain were also involved, but the damage was done. Bell and Chastain would call it a day while Larson’s car required an extensive look on pit road.
With the heavy hitters falling bit by bit, other names began appearing towards the front. Suarez, who dodged multiple wrecks, was now the man behind leader Truex.
Suarez held onto second until nine to go when Byron passed him in Turn 3. Nonetheless, Trackhouse Racing once again showing promising runs as their driver ended up fourth.
That in mind, Truex was on dream street and scored the opening stage victory by 2.642 seconds over Byron.
Stage 1 Results: Truex Jr., Byron, Hamlin, Suarez, Blaney, Logano, Wallace, Newman, Stenhouse Jr. and Buescher
It was the same song and dance at the beginning of this stage with Truex continuing his tremendous lead. That was until Suarez stepped into the racing dugout and caught Truex, giving us quality competition between them.
By the 135th lap, Suarez moved Truex out of the way and took the lead. No green flag pit stops required. Truex said over the radio that he had lost right side grip as he would also lose second to Byron. From there, tire wear and track conditions raised some eyebrows.
No sweat for Suarez, who held onto the lead when the second competition caution came out 15 laps later. Aside from right front air pressure adjustments, all was good for the No. 99 Camping World Chevrolet Camaro.
Chaos happened on Lap 153 after a half dozen cars wrecked in Turn 4. Kyle Busch ran into Ryan Blaney and everyone behind him took abrasive action.
When the chaos ended, Larson, Michael McDowell, Alex Bowman, Cody Ware, and Austin Dillon were collected. Unlike some drives earlier, those involved soldiered on.
Busch was heated over the radio, saying that visibility was egregious. NASCAR officials declared that going forward, restarts will be single file to solve this problem.
Action resumed but Suarez briefly had a mirror full of Logano. Not once, but twice Suarez had to fend him off. The latter would be the time Logano took the lead with eight to go went on to win the stage by 0.907 seconds.
Stage 2 Results: Logano, Suarez, Hamlin, Truex Jr., Newman, Stenhouse Jr., Wallace, Jones, Reddick and Elliott
Track workers began prepping the surface during the stage break to assure the final 50 laps will go seamless.
Hamlin would reappear in the leading battle after passing Suarez for second, even tapped him as a fair warning. The duo who’ve clashed over the years and least likely to battle for the win were duking it out.
Stenhouse ran into the left rear of Bubba Wallace, resulting in a cut tire after racing hard. The flat resulted in a spin for Wallace in Turn 1, but the caution didn’t come out. He pitted and his shot at a top-10 result was over, finishing 27th.
For the duration of the stage, lapped traffic was the name of the game. Logano had to deal with the grind that racing provides, giving Hamlin an opportunity to pounce. With six to go, it was game over for Hamlin after going wide in Turn 1.
That meant Logano’s victory should be in the bag, right?
Mike Marlar entered the chat after getting hit from behind in Turn 4. Therefore, the caution came out with four laps remaining in regulation and overtime racing ensued.
Hamlin was all over Logano’s rear bumper, but it didn’t pan out. Logano nailed his restart over while Truex slid up towards the outside wall. That made all the difference as Logano went on to score the rather surprising victory.
Nervous times were over Logano, not because of the closing laps, but the way 2021 was shaping out.
After getting wiped out on the last lap of the Daytona 500, victories were hard to come by. Now with Monday’s triumph, some of the weight on Logano’s back was lifted.
“I was getting nervous. There were so many first-time winners and different winners than there has typically been I said, ‘We’ve got to get a win to make sure we get in the playoffs,’” Logano explained.
“It’s amazing to get this Shell/Pennzoil Mustang into Victory Lane at Bristol. There’s nothing like winning at Bristol but putting dirt on it and being the first to do it is really special.”
Suarez ended up fourth after leading 58 laps. Despite coming up short of winning, he couldn’t be prouder of his race team after having another solid race.
“To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing. But we’re having fun. Everyone at Trackhouse Racing did an amazing job,” said Suarez. “This is the second week in a row that we’ve had very fast race cars capable of running in the Top-5, Top-10.
“It’s been a little bit difficult the last year, and it feels so good to be able to race with these guys and to have some fun up front. Hopefully, our time will come soon,” Suarez concluded.
Final Top 10 Results: Logano, Stenhouse Jr., Hamlin, Suarez, Newman, Byron, Reddick, Blaney, Jones and Elliott