Sean Gardner | fake images
The NASCAR Cup Series is scheduled for the second edition of the Bristol Dirt Race on Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway (7 pm ET on FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Drivers raised in the grassroots scene of dirt racing, including Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell and Chase Briscoe, are automatic favorites. What about drivers who have no dirt racing experience, like last year’s race winner Joey Logano?
RELATED: Full Bristol Schedule
TAKE OFF: Hardly anything went as many expected in last year’s inaugural gravel race at the “Last Great Coliseum”, including the drivers who ran well.
Most anticipated that either Christopher Bell of Joe Gibbs Racing or Kyle Larson of Hendrick Motorsports, two of the dirt racing scene’s top competitors, would steal the show…which they didn’t, as they actually ended up having their races derailed in the same accident and both finished 29th or worse. Joey Logano, a NASCAR champion but essentially a complete rookie on off-road surfaces, led 61 laps en route to victory. Daniel Suarez, who joked during a mid-race interview that he didn’t know what he was doing there, scored Trackhouse Racing’s first top-five after leading 58 laps of his own.
Now, with a Next Gen car showing a trend towards parity early on, the field is wide open again for this race. Of course, the dirty boys will likely still play a big factor, and Bell/Larson are the top two favorites according to oddsmakers, but it’s not a sure play that’s their run to take. Logano and Suarez are good picks once again, but I’m actually going with the winner of last year’s Truck Series dirt race… Martin Truex Jr.
Lest we forget, MTJ went to Bristol, got on a truck for the first time since 2006 …and proceeded to lead 105 of 150 laps en route to victory. On a surface he is unfamiliar with.
It also looked like he was headed for his second Cup race win of the weekend, leading another race-high 126 laps in that one before dropping to 19th.
This season has yet to see Truex land at Victory Lane, but he has been JGR’s best overall and most consistent driver to date. The team as a whole had a big swing and a miss at Martinsville Speedway, and the quartet of All-Stars will be eager to make their mark on a 2022 campaign that has thus far not seen them as one of the elite teams.
A win at Truex would give JGR two in the last three weeks (Denny Hamlin won at Martinsville earlier this month), and of the four drivers, speed in his No. 19 Toyota might give him the best shot.
Truex just needs to get past his teammate first.
William: Martin Truex Jr. will have to worry about William Byron before his teammates if he wants a win at Bristol.
Despite his lack of gravel practice, Byron qualified eighth and finished sixth in the opening race of last year’s Bristol Dirt Race, a remarkable finish for a driver raised in tarmac racing. Before Sunday’s race, Byron prepared to compete in his first dirt late-model event on Thursday: the Tezos-powered FloRacing Late Model Challenge at Volunteer Speedway in Bulls Gap, Tennessee. It’s the perfect time for Byron to gain valuable dirt racing experience.
Also, Byron is a hot shoe right now. He put the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports car back on Victory Lane last Sunday at Martinsville, becoming the first multiple-win driver of the season. Byron also leads the field in stage points, 82 with two stage wins, five points ahead of Ryan Blaney.
The Las Vegas gambling scene also likes Byron’s chances. He is a 12-1 favorite to win at BetMGM, while Truex is at 14-1 odds.
You can’t buy boost, and it’s hard to get at the highest level. Right now, Byron has a lot. That’s dangerous for the rest of the field and could probably turn into a surprise win on Sunday night.