It still would have been a NASCAR short track showdown without tons of clay dirt dragged in and dumped on the oval at the bottom of a grandstand bowl. The dirt added dust, hampered visibility, restricted high line racing and above all of that… Well… It made for a good show.

Racing started on dirt and NASCAR brought it back with the Food City Dirt Race. The trucks had opened the door with races at Eldora and someone thought dragging truckloads of dirt into the Bristol stadium would be a fun thing. Pandemic and crowd limitations and whatever the case, NASCAR and the folks at Bristol cooked up a plan for something outside of the box.

Racing on dirt in the great stadium… As gimmicks go, it was a pretty good one. The ruts and the bumps and the loose upper groove and chunks breaking loose and the slipping and the sliding put drivers on a surface like no other. Dirt tracks don’t really have concrete or asphalt just inches below the surface. Dirt tracks are built on more dirt…

The Bristol Dirt Race was a “Frankenstein’s Monster” of surfaces built in reverse. Throw dirt on the manufactured road surface and cut loose a lot of heavy NASCAR race cars and see how things shake up.

Beyond all else, the rain came and came and came again. The wet made a mud that stuck like glue to grills and windshields and completely bogged the schedule to run on Monday, March 29. The combined schedule of Camping World Trucks and NASCAR Cup put a burn on the dirt that was already mucked from rain. Despite the rain and schedule, the races ran and the track held… sort of…

Martin Truex Jr. was the force to reckon with in the truck race and went on for the win. The Cup race ran later that afternoon.

It shook up. Crashes, spins, visibility, tires and overheating hit many drivers through dusty laps filling the air with the track they were racing on. A late race spin put it all on overtime.

Denny Hamlin started in the second spot outside of Joey Logano. Hamlin made the gamble of going high but the loose dirt in the outside put him quickly in the wall leaving a mostly clear path for Logano to run the checkers on the dirt race at Bristol.

Joey Logano has the distinction of winning on the first Cup run back on dirt since the earliest days. The experiment of the Bristol Food City Dirt Race will see more laps as the schedule for 2022 has it on the books to return. They will review the process and make the track better, as far as the planning goes…

For now… It’s Joey Logano for the win at the Bristol Dirt Race.

A wet beginning to Martinsville race day set in motion a rather unconventional start with the first few laps ticking away under caution while the dryers finished up on pit road. The drivers had been introduced while the cars were being put out. The time change put a crush on the start time to make sure the race rolled under the checkers with enough daylight for fans and drivers to finish the day.

It all went off in time, just barely, while the time between the green and the checkers delivered just a little bit more than the typical Martinsville mayhem.

Joey Logano had the pole and a target on his back from seven other drivers in the CHASE and one other with a grudge, real or imagined.

From the start it looked like Logano’s race to lose. There were some lead changes and some CHASE drivers put in the garage. Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski had laps lost with damage but Logano seemed to stay either up front or close enough to it to see his run continue.

Then there was Matt Kenseth. Kenseth was also in the wreck that put the #41 and the #2 in the garage. With the race and the checkers closing in the #20 and Kenseth were back out on the track. As Logano came around the #20 through turn one Kenseth tucked the nose under the #22 and both went straight as an arrow into the wall.

Logano’s day was done going from what looked like a win and a CHASE advance to the bottom of the grid. This also set up a finish that would put the grandstands in a frenzy.

With the #22 down, the race put the #24 of Jeff Gordon in position and the final restart played out with Jamie McMurray on the outside of the #24 and unable to nose out and ultimately tucking in behind Gordon. The fans were stomping the stands as the #24 rolled through the checkered flag for Gordon’s first win of the season and his ninth win at Martinsville. It also sets the #24 in place to race for a final championship at Homestead.

Joey Logano will need to win one of the two remaining Eliminator races to be in position at Homestead. He will be on a mission to do so. Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski, however, will be sharing that need so the push to be up front at Texas and Phoenix will be a CHASE battle with all on the line. Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick are currently on both sides of the bubble with Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr. both 8 points behind Gordon.

It is Jeff Gordon’s last season. This year has been less than great for the #24 but Gordon and his team have managed to keep themselves in play and Martinsville may have given them the surge, late as it may be, to push to the end.

There is no doubt Gordon’s win came as a direct result of the feud between the #22 and the #20. Logano fans made it clear with a colorful chant from the stands during Gordon’s victory celebration while Gordon himself acknowledged them with fist pumps to the rhythm.

That little track in Martinsville has set another notch on the side of the grandfather clock that records the history making it one of the game changers for the sport.

For fans that saw the weather and stayed home… You missed a big one!

Well… That was just a tiny bit disappointing.

Talladega went to an almost traditional, just about can’t have a Sprint Cup race without it, green-white-checkered finish.

Almost.

Before the green had even waved on the start, NASCAR decided that for this race at Talladega there would be only one green-white-checkered, if it came to it.

Which, of course, it did…

Jamie McMurray blew the engine with five laps to go. Yeah! The green-white -checkered finish is on.
Technically, Greg Biffle was on the first slot for the restart but he pitted just before the pace car dropped leaving Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on the front row. The green. Someone didn’t get the memo and the push behind the front two caused a spin by Johnson in the #48. The yellow was thrown before the start-finish line.

So… That G-W-C wasn’t really “the one” because they hadn’t crossed to race. So there will be another, only one, green-white-checkered.

They line up and are off, again. Trevor Bayne goes on the outside of Kevin Harvick’s ailing #4 a few rows back. Harvick goes up as the #6 passes to get out of the way, maybe…

The #4 clips the #6. The Talladega “big one” sets cars bouncing off each other in true NASCAR pin ball action as the #22 and the #88 go over the start-finish line. When the yellow drops it is determined that Logano and the #22 was indeed out front for a caution flag finish.

This gives Logano a sweep of the Contender Round with all three wins and puts Dale, Jr. out of the CHASE as he was in a “must win” scenario for Talladega. It was, in many ways, a Dale Jr. day up to these last laps and restarts. The #88 was up front, fell back, took a drive through penalty and was even one position from a lap down. Dale drove back to the front and was there to race Logano, ultimately, for the yellow flag.

For the fans the final laps and the finish gave many a convenient method for disposing of late race trash as the fences weren’t nearly strong enough to keep the cans and other debris from flying out on the track as Logano was doing the burn out.

Drivers caught in the “big one” let emotions and frustrations out and accusations, subtle or direct, were quickly let loose. Everything from the CHASE format itself to finger pointing to a possibility that the crash was deliberate to hold position in the field was thrown out in post race interviews.

Whatever…  Drivers still in The CHASE for the Eliminator Round are: Joey Logano | Carl Edwards | Jeff Gordon | Kurt Busch | Brad Keselowski | Martin Truex Jr | Kevin Harvick | Kyle Busch.

Gordon, by the way, started on pole and raced well through the day. His final season continues in the CHASE. Logano may have a 3 consecutive win momentum going forward but Gordon has, after a season that has been somewhat lackluster, a huge hunger to make an exit with a Cup.

The CHASE continues to Martinsville for the start of a new round of three races. By the time drivers get on the track for the only short track in the CHASE Talladega will be in the mirror but the drama from it has a big chance to carry over. As a side note, Dale Jr. won at Martinsville last Fall after being eliminated from the CHASE the week before. That points back to the rest of the field beyond the CHASE. All of the drivers are going for the front. Some for the championship but all have a thirst for the win as their fans, sponsors and the next season look on.

We’ll see at the races!

The weather was out there and on the radar days before the weekend at Richmond International Raceway. The hope, of course, was that some supreme intervention would take place and push the rain off by just one day. It was the race that was pushed as the rain came all day and into the scheduled race time Saturday night. The Toyota Owners 400 was run on Sunday.

It was a week before that the scheduled daylight race at Bristol was pushed under the lights by wet weather. It was the flipside at Richmond as the Saturday night race went off the stripe in the early afternoon of Sunday.

The Friday events went off under comfortable blue skies and a nice, but cool, evening. Practices and qualifying were played out as teams gathered their data and set up for racing. The Xfinity Series ToyotaCare 250 was, apparently, the star shine for Toyota as Denny Hamlin took off from the pole in the FedEx #11 Toyota and, except for two laps, was out in front to the finish.

The rain delayed Toyota Owners 400 was a runaway for Kurt Busch and the HAAS Automation #41 Chevrolet. Joey Logano gave up the lead from the pole at lap 95 and Busch kept himself out front. Team mate Kevin Harvick gave him a go as did Jamie McMurray but Busch held it. Justin Allgaier even chased from the 2nd spot for a few laps. Jimmie Johnson was up close as was Kahne, Kenseth and Gordon but were mostly trying to hang on to single digit finishes.

At the checkers it was Busch, Harvick, Johnson, McMurray and Logano rolling through as winner through five.

There was also a brief and fiery reminder of just how much this sport rides the line. It was what seems to be a freak accident Friday night involving the gas can and nozzle as fuel went onto pit toad at the tail of Brendan Gaughan’s #62. Something sparked and the pit was a fireball as the Gaughan frantically pulled from the pit with flames licking off the back. Crewmembers were treated and or hospitalized but all, at this time, are reported to be OK and recovering.

It was just a day or two shy of a year ago when fire was also an issue at RIR as Goodyear tires were over heating and flaming up. Remember Clint Bowyer’s #15 rolling on flames….?


Footage FOX Sports Broadcast

Photos: Xfinity Series ToyotaCare 250 (Friday 4-24)

Photos: Sprint Cup Toyota Owners 400 (Sunday 4-26)

BONUS PHOTOS: Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown at South Boston Speedway (Thursday 4-23)

Fans and drivers went to Martinsville Speedway a little bewildered by news of a “new” famous Martinsville hot dog. If you could tell any difference by the checkered flag on Sunday you must have some kind of super sense for processed meat products…

By the time the checkers fell on Sunday and the STP 500 it is a good bet nobody was concerned about hot dogs. Virginia native Denny Hamlin drove the #11 Fed-Ex / Joe Gibbs Toyota to the win and huge applause from the stands.

It was a good day for some and others fell back during the first short track race of the season. Many who tend to do well were caught with mechanical issues, wrecks or just out of the rhythm. Jimmie Johnson and team mate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. suffered issues that put them down several laps. Dale, Jr. was involved in a crash that had him back out several laps later with no front end sheet metal.

Jeff Gordon held the front for a bit and went on to finish 9th but was still hit during the race with a pit road penalty that put him back. Kasey Kahne even lead some and finished 11th.  All in all a split day of results for the Hendrick cars.

Stewart-Haas teams were up front and overall did well but couldn’t manage the end with Hamlin. Kevin Harvick lead a good chunk but couldn’t extend his run of top-2 finishes (8th). Kurt Busch also held the front but fell back to 14th at the end. Tony Stewart ran mid pack early on but by the later laps was up front to challenge but was edged outside and the train went by as he finished 20th. It was Danica Patrick that seemed to get in the groove at Martinsville, avoided some traffic and crashes and finished 7th.

It was the Joe Gibbs and Penske teams that filled the top 5 at the finish having a good race day in general. JGR cars finished 1st (Denny Hamlin), 4th (Matt Kenseth) and 5th (David Ragan in for Kyle Busch). Penske teams of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano finished  2nd and 3rd with Logano starting on the pole.

Others in the top 10 were Martin Truex, Jr (6th) and Jamie McMurray (10th).

For fans it was a big day of racing with 31 lead changes involving 13 drivers and a familiar winner. 16 cautions gave fans a chance to examine their hot dogs for any signs of change.

It could be a momentum changing race for Joe Gibbs Racing and Denny Hamlin in particular.

The Easter break is on and the circus rolls on afterward to Texas then back to closer racing at Bristol (4-19) and Richmond (4-25).

PHOTOS: Friday Practice | Saturday Practice | Kroger 250 | STP 500

 

There was a bit of James Taylor in the mix over race weekend at Richmond. Yes, I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain.

Not in that order, but it was there.

The rain was Friday. The sun was out for practices and qualifying for the Nationwide ToyotaCare 250 and the K&N Series Blue Ox 100.

However, just before the clock ticked over for Sprint Cup qualifying for the Toyota Owners 400 the skies went dark and opened up. There was wind and lightning and rain. The scheduled start of the ToyotaCare 250 was on hold. Then it stopped and the track dryers were racing to get it done. Covers were coming off cars. Fans were getting back in the seats. Drivers were suiting up. (more…)

The season seems to be cranking up for the Ford badge. The Penske Racing Ford badge, specifically.

Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano have traded off starting positions in the front row, finished in the top 5 and have put one of their Fords into Victory Lane.

The previous week at Phoenix, Keselowski was on the pole with Logano on his wheel. This week at Vegas Logano was on the pole with Keselowski on the wheel. Both finished in the top for both of these races with BK taking the win in the most recent Kobalt Tools 400.

It should also be noted Keselowski finished 3rd at the Daytona opener while Logano was just outside of the top 10 at 11th. The season has opened well for the Penske Fords with Keselowski off to a quick points chase showing, perhaps, that his 2012 championship has the possibility of a repeat. (more…)