NASCAR Cup Series

Alex Bowman, Ryan Blaney top Cup Bristol dirt practices

5 Mins read
Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

For the first time since 1970, the NASCAR Cup Series officially turned laps on a dirt course. With the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway two days away, the series conducted two practices on Friday that were led by Alex Bowman and Ryan Blaney.

With the switch from asphalt to dirt, the Cup cars featured various changes from usual, many of which have already been used by the Camping World Truck Series since it began running dirt races in 2013.. For example, the splitter is removed while a different spoiler, ducts, and screens are used. Goodyear also provided a treaded, bias-ply version of its Eagle tyres; it will be first time that the Cup Series used bias ply tyres in a race since 1989.

In Saturday’s four heats to set the field for the Food City Dirt Race, Bowman will start on the pole for Heat #3 while Blaney begins Heat #4 in seventh.

“I don’t know how difficult it is gonna be to pass tomorrow when it comes time for our heat races,” Blaney said in a post-practice media session. “If it’s gonna be just like this today, it wasn’t impossible to pass. If someone missed the bottom and hit a rut wrong or something, you can kind of have forward bite and drive under them. It was tough, but it is what is. You can’t be happy or mad about it. You just try to make the most of it.”

First practice

Bowman was quickly the fastest driver on track ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, followed by his Hendrick Motorsports team-mates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott. The first caution of the session came out for debris.

The first driver-related yellow flag came for Martin Truex Jr.‘s spin; he also spun out in the Truck practice an hour prior. Larson, another driver running both series’ races, also went around. Cody Ware produced another caution for his own spin. J.J. Yeley, running his first Cup race of 2021, also fell victim with less than five minutes remaining, leading to a minute of green-flag practice time.

The top five remained mostly unchanged throughout the the hour-long practice until Christopher Bell, a noted dirt ace, shot up to second ahead of his JGR peers with a lap time of 20.225 seconds and speed at 88.999 mph. Nevertheless, Bowman led the way with a 20.155-second fastest lap and 89.309-mph speed. William Byron and Truex, the only Hendrick and JGR drivers to to be with their team-mates, respectively finished ninth and thirteenth. Elliott recorded a session-high sixty-eight laps as he finished sixth.

Joey Logano and Stewart-Haas Racing‘s Cole Custer and Chase Briscoe, the latter of whom is also entered in the Truck race, are the lone drivers in the top ten who do not drove for Hendrick or Gibbs.

Among the four Cup Series newcomers, Truck regular Stewart Friesen was the fastest in twenty-ninth. Chris Windom followed in thirty-fourth followed by Shane Golobic (thirty-seventh) and Mike Marlar (thirty-eighth).

“That was FUN, arguably the most fun I’ve had driving a cup car,” Ware tweeted afterwards.

PositionNumberDriverTeamManufacturerBest TimeBest Speed (mph)Laps
148Alex BowmanHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet20.15589.30842
220Christopher BellJoe Gibbs RacingToyota20.22588.99946
318Kyle BuschJoe Gibbs RacingToyota20.24888.89857
411Denny HamlinJoe Gibbs RacingToyota20.26688.81942
55Kyle LarsonHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet20.31488.60946
69Chase ElliottHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet20.33488.52268
722Joey LoganoTeam PenskeFord20.43488.08958
841Cole CusterStewart-Haas RacingFord20.52387.70739
924William ByronHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet20.53587.65536
1014Chase BriscoeStewart-Haas RacingFord20.54887.60039
116Ryan NewmanRoush Fenway RacingFord20.55087.59147
1217Chris BuescherRoush Fenway RacingFord20.55787.56149
1319Martin Truex Jr.Joe Gibbs RacingToyota20.56887.51544
144Kevin HarvickStewart-Haas RacingFord20.57487.48947
158Tyler ReddickRichard Childress RacingChevrolet20.59587.40038
167Corey LaJoieSpire MotorsportsChevrolet20.62687.26946
1737Ryan PreeceJTG Daugherty RacingChevrolet20.65087.16758
1842Ross ChastainChip Ganassi RacingChevrolet20.70786.92749
1921Matt DiBenedettoWood Brothers RacingFord20.71186.91034
2010Aric AlmirolaStewart-Haas RacingFord20.71786.88545
2138Anthony AlfredoFront Row MotorsportsFord20.72886.83943
221Kurt BuschChip Ganassi RacingChevrolet20.75186.74350
2343Erik JonesRichard Petty MotorsportsChevrolet20.76086.70526
2499Daniel SuárezTrackhouse Racing TeamChevrolet20.77186.65966
2553J.J. Yeley*Rick Ware RacingChevrolet20.77686.63833
262Brad KeselowskiTeam PenskeFord20.78186.61846
2723Bubba Wallace23XI RacingToyota20.79486.56339
2896Ty Dillon*Gaunt Brothers RacingToyota20.79686.55541
2977Stewart Friesen*Spire MotorsportsChevrolet20.81086.49731
3034Michael McDowellFront Row MotorsportsFord20.81886.46455
3112Ryan BlaneyTeam PenskeFord20.83886.38144
323Austin DillonRichard Childress RacingChevrolet20.84086.37250
3300Quin HouffStarCom RacingChevrolet20.85286.32340
3415Chris WindomRick Ware RacingChevrolet20.86686.26535
3547Ricky Stenhouse Jr.JTG Daugherty RacingChevrolet20.89886.13353
3652Josh BilickiRick Ware RacingFord20.99885.72219
3778Shane GolobicLive Fast MotorsportsFord21.01285.66535
3866Mike MarlarMBM MotorsportsToyota21.10985.27245
3951Cody Ware*Rick Ware RacingChevrolet21.11285.26050
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for Cup points
Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Final practice

With the Cup and Trucks running multiple practices, the dirt was inevitably going to kick up dust that obscured some driver visibility. Blaney noted “it rained really hard here yesterday. There was a big storm, so maybe they couldn’t work on it as much as they wanted to, but it was like a really thin layer of flaky dirt on top of the black, hard-packed, rubbered down dirt when I walked on it this morning.

“Then that went off pretty quickly. The trucks run that off fast, so I’m not sure what they could do, unless you water it and till the whole thing and just kind of churn all the dirt over that you can to try to make it last a little bit longer, but you’re kind of handcuffed because we’ve got windshields in these things. You can’t make it super tacky to where mud is flying everywhere, so I’m not sure. I just wish it was a little bit smoother because there are so many ruts and things like that, but maybe they’ll be able to put their heads together and work on it.”

Although it was a greater concern during the first practice, he added that things got “better when the sun went down. Right before that it was pretty dusty and the sun was hitting it and it was hard to see, but not bad.”

The lone caution of the day came for Custer spinning. Meanwhile, Blaney was the fastest at 20.172 seconds and 89.233 mph on his first lap, ahead of Bowman and Hamlin. Hamlin turned eighty laps, more than any driver in either series.

Larson, who was fifteenth fastest, exited the practice due to engine damage and spiking temperatures that have forced the #5 Hendrick team to replace the injured component. As a result, he will start both Saturday’s heat and Sunday’s race from the back; he was initially set to roll off second in Heat #1.

Josh Bilicki elected to skip the practice to preserve his #52 for the Saturday heat and Sunday’s race.

“Man, this was the most fun I’ve had driving a racecar in a long time! First time on dirt and we fired off right on pace,” Bilicki tweeted. “We opted to skip second practice to save the car for the rest of the weekend. Crazy how much the track changes. All a big learning curve, but I love it!”

PositionNumberDriverTeamManufacturerBest TimeBest Speed (mph)Laps
112Ryan BlaneyTeam PenskeFord20.17289.23367
248Alex BowmanHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet20.19489.13543
311Denny HamlinJoe Gibbs RacingToyota20.22888.98680
422Joey LoganoTeam PenskeFord20.26288.83669
514Chase BriscoeStewart-Haas RacingFord20.31388.61351
619Martin Truex Jr.Joe Gibbs RacingToyota20.31988.58766
79Chase ElliottHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet20.32088.58354
834Michael McDowellFront Row MotorsportsFord20.32188.57867
924William ByronHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet20.41088.19257
1018Kyle BuschJoe Gibbs RacingToyota20.41588.17164
1199Daniel SuárezTrackhouse Racing TeamChevrolet20.42888.11440
1220Christopher BellJoe Gibbs RacingToyota20.45188.01553
1321Matt DiBenedettoWood Brothers RacingFord20.46087.97754
142Brad KeselowskiTeam PenskeToyota20.46187.97269
155Kyle LarsonHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet20.46687.95135
1642Ross ChastainChip Ganassi RacingChevrolet20.46787.94759
1737Ryan PreeceJTG Daugherty RacingChevrolet20.48587.86975
1838Anthony AlfredoFront Row MotorsportsFord20.51687.73660
1947Ricky Stenhouse Jr.JTG Daugherty RacingChevrolet20.52087.71956
2041Cole CusterStewart-Haas RacingFord20.54587.61365
2117Chris BuescherRoush Fenway RacingFord20.56587.52771
226Ryan NewmanRoush Fenway RacingFord20.56687.52356
2310Aric AlmirolaStewart-Haas RacingFord20.56887.51562
241Kurt BuschChip Ganassi RacingChevrolet20.58187.45958
258Tyler ReddickRichard Childress RacingChevrolet20.59487.40461
263Austin DillonRichard Childress RacingChevrolet20.64287.20149
2723Bubba Wallace23XI RacingToyota20.68087.04178
2815Chris WindomRick Ware RacingChevrolet20.68687.01541
2951Cody Ware*Rick Ware RacingChevrolet20.68787.01117
3077Stewart Friesen*Spire MotorsportsChevrolet20.69086.99928
3196Ty Dillon*Gaunt Brothers RacingToyota20.72386.86049
3243Erik JonesRichard Petty MotorsportsChevrolet20.73286.82243
3353J.J. Yeley*Rick Ware RacingChevrolet20.75286.73927
3400Quin HouffStarCom RacingChevrolet20.79986.54316
3566Mike MarlarMBM MotorsportsToyota20.84586.35249
367Corey LaJoieSpire MotorsportsChevrolet20.84586.35260
374Kevin HarvickStewart-Haas RacingFord20.87586.22867
3878Shane GolobicLive Fast MotorsportsFord20.89686.14148
3952Josh BilickiRick Ware RacingFordNo TimeNo TimeN/A
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