Joey Logano is the first driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series dirt race in five decades. Monday’s Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the series’ first event on such a surface since 1970, saw various incidents followed by a clean final stage that ended in overtime. In a two-lap dash, Logano held off Denny Hamlin and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for his first win of the season.
Saturday’s heat races were rained out, while the original start date on Sunday was also called off due to flooding. As the heats were cancelled, Kyle Larson started on the pole ahead of Hamlin, though the former was sent to the rear after making an engine change during final practice on Friday and Ryan Blaney moved into his slot. A pair of Fords joined him at the back with Michael McDowell making repairs to the throttle body while preparing the car, while Matt DiBenedetto‘s unlucky 2021 continued when his car’s fender was clipped by a hinge on the hauler’s lift gate as his Wood Brothers Racing team was pulling the #21 from the truck.
“[T]here’s barely enough room to turn around,” the WBR Twitter posted. “We were backing off the lift gate to get in line and the fender clipped this hinge. It creased the fender and as such, was an unapproved adjustment.
“But on the flip side, who’s to say we didn’t run into it on purpose and figure out a way to add front downforce. So rules is rules. Sucks because I wager that most fenders won’t be around too long after we get going.”
The first stage was the Joe Gibbs Racing show as Hamlin and Kyle Busch led the first eight laps before the latter’s engine began overheating, forcing him to pit road as Martin Truex Jr., who swept the stages and led 105 of 150 laps en route to victory in the Truck race, inherited the top spot. By lap 20, Larson was knocking on the top fifteen’s door after starting last.
The race was relatively clean before chaos broke loose on lap 42 when Aric Almirola spun on the backstretch and was hit by Cup newcomer Shane Golobic, followed by a second, harder impact by Anthony Alfredo that sent him down into Corey LaJoie. Truex narrowly escaped the carnage without damage as the red flag was waved.
After a 6:30-minute wait, the race resumed on lap 46, only for another wreck to take place four laps later for Ryan Newman‘s spin exiting turn two after contact with William Byron. Kevin Harvick also squeezed Stewart-Haas Racing team-mate Chase Briscoe into the outside wall. The caution served as the first of two scheduled competition yellows, added on Saturday after Friday practices; NASCAR also increased the lengths of the first two stages from 75 to 100 laps each, which reduced the third from 100 to 50.
A third wreck occurred on lap 54, this time involving presumed favourites Larson and Christopher Bell as the latter spun in front of the former in turn two. Harvick was clipped by the sideways Bell while Ross Chastain was also collected. The crash ended Bell’s day while the others continued, though Larson fell two laps down.
“I was just trying to run the water in under yellow,” Bell said. “I knew it was a little bit slick, but I felt like I could go up there and make some time and I kind of entered shallow underneath of it and tried to pick it up on exit and it was just really greasy up there.”
Truex and Alex Bowman led the field to the lap 60 restart, but the latter lost his fourth gear and fell out of the top ten. Chris Windom, also a dirt expert making his Cup début, retired from the race due to an engine failure.
Daniel Suárez moved up to second before being passed by Byron on lap 93. Truex would drive off to his first stage win of the year ahead of Byron and Suárez, followed by Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Logano, Bubba Wallace, Newman, Stenhouse, and Chris Buescher.
After a red flag to allow for service in lieu of traditional live pit stops between stages (though such stops were optional), Truex and Byron paced the grid to the green flag on lap 103.
Suárez quickly took second from Byron and began giving chase. He caught the leader on lap 135 and successfully executed the bump-and-run to pass him for the spot. Byron also overtook Truex for second.
The second competition caution waved on lap 150. At the time of the break, Suárez led Byron, Truex, Logano, and Newman. Every driver pitted, which kept the running order the same as the race resumed on lap 153.
Although Byron had the early run entering the first turn, Suárez carried enough momentum on the outside line to clear him on the backstretch. After just one lap, carnage unfolded when Blaney was turned by Kyle Busch on the frontstretch, leading to a parking lot that collected Bowman, Larson, McDowell, Cody Ware, J.J. Yeley, Austin Dillon, and Quin Houff. The wreck was the result of dirt and glare from the sunlight obscuring much of the drivers’ vision.
Following another caution on lap 159 for Briscoe spinning, the situation prompted NASCAR to switch to single-file restarts for the rest of the race. Such restarts are common in dirt racing to knock down any dust, but has not been used by NASCAR since the early 2009 season.
In his post-race press conference, Logano noted the single-file restart brought him “back to Legends car days,” and he felt “the leader is a sitting duck when they did that because you kind of are trying to time runs and things like that. As the leader, you’re in the mirror watching the car behind you trying to time it to where he doesn’t have a run on you and can make the pass into turn one. The restarts were very different than what we’re used to.”
Various drivers including Logano expressed surprise at the decision. Only a handful of the drivers in the field who were still running when the restart was changed had experience with such a format, let alone at the Cup level, such as Hamlin, Harvick, Keselowski, Newman, Truex, Yeley, and Kyle and Kurt Busch; Logano was only a nineteen-year-old Cup rookie when single-file restarts were last used.
“It definitely took me back in time trying to figure out, ‘How do I restart with single file restarts?’ It’s literally been since Legends car days for me back in ’99 or so since I’ve done something like that,” Logano added. “I was trying to think of all the little short track tricks that I’ve learned when I was a kid, trying to put it to work in the Cup level, which is kind of funny, right? The things you learn growing up as a race car driver, a young kid, those techniques and little tricks stick with you forever and you never know when you need them.”
Stenhouse was more positive about the change, explaining he was “one advocating for single-file restarts. I felt like NASCAR did a great job adapting to that because, like (NASCAR Executive Vice President) Steve O’Donnell said, that’s things that you see in dirt racing when track conditions just change and kind of are out of your control at that point.”
The restart came on lap 170 as Suárez continued to lead. Fifteen laps later, Ware spun while trying to pass Rick Ware Racing team-mate Yeley. The final green flag of the stage waved with ten laps to go as Suárez battled Logano for the lead before the latter cleared him.
Logano would score his second stage victory in 2021 (after Stage #2 at Phoenix two weeks prior). Suárez, Hamlin, Truex, Newman, Stenhouse, Wallace, Erik Jones, Tyler Reddick, and Chase Elliott rounded out the top ten.
“No matter what today brings, I’m so proud of every single member of this @TeamTrackhouse 99,” Suárez’s Trackhouse Racing Team owner Justin Marks tweeted. “We got one HELL of a driver.”
Between stages, the speedway announced the dirt layout will return for 2022. On track, packer cars (vehicles that work to pack the dirt together) and water trucks were deployed to clean up the surface. Lap 202 saw the start of the final stage as Logano continued to lead, whil Hamlin took second from Suárez. On lap 216, Wallace and Stenhouse made contact, causing the former’s left-rear tyre to go down and spin but with no caution.
Truex passed Suárez for third on lap 225, but faced an uphill battle to catch Logano. By the ten-to-go mark, Logano had a one-second advantage over Hamlin and over 2.3 seconds on Truex. A lap later, Stenhouse claimed fourth from Suárez.
On lap 244, Hamlin went wide and hit the outside wall, enabling Truex to overtake him. Although Logano was provided the opportunity to pull away, it was quickly taken away when Mike Marlar spun in turn four due to a downed tyre and hit the frontstretch inside wall with four to go.
The caution set up overtime, with Logano leading the single file restart to green. Hamlin jumped to the outside but went too far, which allowed Stenhouse to run side-by-side before passing him as Logano took the white flag. Although Stenhouse slimmed the margin, he was too far back as Logano took the win.
It is Logano’s twenty-sixth career Cup victory and his tenth straight season with a win. He is also the seventh different Cup winner in as many races, which was last accomplished in 2014.
“When they watered the track the last stage that kind of changed everything,” Logano said after the race. “Denny and I had a heck of a race because he found grip up top and I was like, ‘Well, I don’t know how to do that,’ so I had to go up there and try to figure that out to defend the lead position and then eventually just worked the lapped cars. That was very hard as well as it should be. Everybody is racing to stay on the lead lap, so I was able to get through them as needed and, of course, the late-race caution but what an amazing team. Everyone at Team Penske really put together some really good cars to come here and wing it. That’s what this is about. Nobody really knew what to put in the car and we were able to adjust the right way throughout practice and get into Victory Lane. It’s great.”
“When you start the weekend here, you don’t know what’s coming your way. You have no idea and to be able to figure it out some way and then be able to figure out where the speed is throughout practice. (Crew chief) Paul Wolfe and all the guys did a tremendous job figuring that out for me.
“This is obviously my first dirt win. It’s only my fourth dirt race ever, so I had a lot of fun trying to figure it out. I was having a blast racing, trying to find the right lanes, moving around, watching Denny figure out the top after they watered the track. I was like, ‘Oh no, now what do we do?’ So, just a crazy moment.”
The win is Logano’s third at Bristol (last in 2015) but first in the spring, prompting him to quip, “I finally won a spring race. I guess we needed dirt.”
Stenhouse finished second for his second runner-up as a JTG Daugherty Racing driver, with the first coming in the spring Talladega race in 2020. Suárez led a career-high 58 laps as he finished fourth, the first top five in the young Trackhouse’s history.
“I love racing at Bristol,” Suárez commented. “It’s one of my favorite race tracks. When they announced we’re going to be coming here with dirt in one of the races, I wasn’t too sure about it because I never been on dirt in my life. In Mexico, we don’t have ovals in dirt, at least as I know.
“Honestly, I am just very, very proud of my team that they brought a very fast car and I was able to learn as I went. It was a challenge. Last probably five days ago was my first time ever on a dirt car. It was a lot of fun. I really enjoy a lot. I enjoy a lot, as well, the entire weekend.”
Newman finished fifth for his first top five since 2019, while Truex blew a tyre when overtime began and finished nineteenth. Ty Dillon and Gaunt Brothers Racing recorded a twenty-sixth-place run in their return to the Cup Series after last racing on the Daytona road course in February, and Yeley finished two spots behind in his first premier start of the year.
Of the four drivers who ran their maiden Cup races, Truck regular Stewart Friesen was the highest finisher in twenty-third. Marlar finished thirty-first ahead of Windom (thirty-third) and Golobic (thirty-seventh).
|1||10||22||Joey Logano||Team Penske||Ford||253||Running|
|2||13||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||253||Running|
|3||2||11||Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||253||Running|
|4||18||99||Daniel Suárez||Trackhouse Racing Team||Chevrolet||253||Running|
|5||14||6||Ryan Newman||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||253||Running|
|6||8||24||William Byron||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||253||Running|
|7||27||8||Tyler Reddick||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||253||Running|
|8||3||12||Ryan Blaney||Team Penske||Ford||253||Running|
|9||24||43||Erik Jones||Richard Petty Motorsports||Chevrolet||253||Running|
|10||26||9||Chase Elliott||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||253||Running|
|11||20||2||Brad Keselowski||Team Penske||Ford||253||Running|
|12||16||34||Michael McDowell||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||253||Running|
|13||12||21||Matt DiBenedetto||Wood Brothers Racing||Ford||253||Running|
|14||11||17||Chris Buescher||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||253||Running|
|15||6||4||Kevin Harvick||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||253||Running|
|16||28||1||Kurt Busch||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet||253||Running|
|17||4||18||Kyle Busch||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||253||Running|
|18||22||37||Ryan Preece||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||253||Running|
|19||5||19||Martin Truex Jr.||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||253||Running|
|20||25||14||Chase Briscoe||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||252||Running|
|21||9||3||Austin Dillon||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||252||Running|
|22||7||48||Alex Bowman||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||252||Running|
|23||32||77||Stewart Friesen*||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||252||Running|
|24||21||41||Cole Custer||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||252||Running|
|25||33||00||Quin Houff||StarCom Racing||Chevrolet||252||Running|
|26||39||96||Ty Dillon*||Gaunt Brothers Racing||Toyota||252||Running|
|27||19||23||Bubba Wallace||23XI Racing||Toyota||251||Running|
|28||34||53||J.J. Yeley*||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||249||Running|
|29||1||5||Kyle Larson||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||248||Running|
|30||37||52||Josh Bilicki||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||247||Running|
|31||38||66||Mike Marlar||MBM Motorsports||Toyota||244||Accident|
|32||31||51||Cody Ware*||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||242||Running|
|33||36||15||Chris Windom||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||62||Engine|
|34||15||20||Christopher Bell||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||54||Accident|
|35||17||42||Ross Chastain||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet||52||Accident|
|36||23||10||Aric Almirola||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||39||Accident|
|37||35||78||Shane Golobic||Live Fast Motorsports||Ford||39||Accident|
|38||30||7||Corey LaJoie||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||39||Accident|
|39||29||38||Anthony Alfredo||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||39||Accident|
* – Ineligible for Cup points