BRISTOL, T.N. (Posted: April 5, 2023 | Updated: April 7, 2023) – Bristol Motor Speedway is getting a spring cleaning this April, and the term “cleaning” is used loosely. The NASCAR Cup Series is bringing dirt to The Last Great Colosseum for the third year in a row.
Since 2021, Speedway Motorsports Inc. has covered Thunder Valley’s concrete track with dirt to give race fans and drivers an experience like old times, the 1970s to be exact. What will start off as wet and muddy will soon turn to tacky as drivers complete 250 laps. That’s half the distance of an asphalt Bristol race.
Keith Rodden, crew chief of the No. 3 BREZTRI AEROSPHERE® (budesonide, glycopyrrolate, and formoterol fumarate) Chevrolet Camaro, told us lap times are usually much slower on dirt. “It’s probably about 6 seconds slower,” said Rodden.
Rodden describes how the track loses some, if not most of its 30-degree banking once the dirt is laid over top of the concrete.
“They can’t have it super wet because that just cakes the grill and overheats the engine. The track starts wet and then slicks off and dries out. The changing track conditions are sometimes tough to deal with,” said Keith Rodden.
Austin Dillon explained that the weather will be the biggest factor impacting track conditions this weekend.
“When a dirt track gets wet, it changes how it drives by a lot,” said Dillon. “Depending on how the team of track workers prep the track during the week, it can change. Right now, it’s sunny where I am at. If it’s hot and sunny at Bristol Motor Speedway, that track can harden up. Then, when it rains, it softens that dirt up. The moisture gets down in the dirt and it changes the way the car drives. We’ll just be working hard to chase that and hopefully when the weather comes it is an advantage for this No. 3 team because we will be prepared.”
Dirt is different, which calls for different procedures. Race fans can expect a less busy pit this weekend since pit road will operate differently than a standard race weekend. Instead of averaging 12-second pit stops, teams will be allotted six minutes to perform any work on the car that needs to be done.
Outside of stage breaks or damage, teams are not allowed to fuel their cars or change tires during green flag conditions. Teams will be given the option to pit during stage breaks, but no driver can gain or lose positions on pit road during the race. Cars will exit in the same order they entered. Therefore, cars that decide against pitting will start ahead of those that choose to pit.
Spectators will notice the difference in tires on the cars this weekend. They are treated and designed to give traction.
“The left side tires are smaller to give yourself stagger with the radial tire meant to help the car turn around the corner,” said Rodden. “Although it’s a very minimal change, the slightest adjustments make the biggest differences.”
NextGen cars and dirt racing are still a gray area for drivers, but with this being a points race, teams are going to give it all they have. While this is Rodden’s first race as a crew chief with a NextGen car on dirt, he is confident in his driver, Austin Dillon’s, dirt track record.
“Obviously Austin grew up racing on dirt, so he’s got a lot of experience,” said Rodden.
NASCAR’s Cup Series practice for Friday has been cancelled, due to weather.
Qualifying will consist of four 15-lap heat races on Saturday to determine Sunday’s lineup. The first heat race will begin at 6 p.m. EST on FS2. The heat assignments are determined by a random draw that’s conducted in order of team owner points.
During the heat races, drivers accumulate points for finishing position and passing. Much like how stage points are awarded in a typical race, the winner of each heat earns ten points, second place gets nine, third gets eight, so on and so forth down to two points awarded for ninth place. The driver who earned the most points will win the Busch Light Pole Award. All ties are broken by team owner points. In addition to points for finishing position, drivers gain one point for each position they gain. There are no point deductions and only green-flag laps count.
Free-pass and wave-around procedures remain in play, as does the choose rule, which was not implemented during this event last season.
Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race will air on FOX at 7 p.m. EST.