Joey Logano never considered himself a dirt guy. In fact, he showed up to Daytona a little early last month to try and get some extra dirt laps in late models during Speedweeks. That move paid off. Seven weeks later, Logano is a winner in the first NASCAR Cup Series race on a dirt track since 1970.
Logano, held off a hard charging Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in overtime to earn his 27th career victory and first since his playoff win at Kansas last year – nine starts ago. He’s the seventh different winner in as many races in 2021 as this was the first time that feat has occurred since 2014.
The Team Penske driver finally had long run pace and it paid off. His No. 22 Ford passed Daniel Suarez for the lead on Lap 192 and would never look back in leading the final 61 circuits around the .533-mile Bristol (Tenn) Motor Speedway short track.
It was that late caution though for Mike Malar with four laps remaining that made it more interesting than it was going to be. Logano, had to restart in front of Denny Hamlin as NASCAR decided during the second stage that they’d use single file restarts from then on due to the amount of dust that was flying around.
“I kind of feel like the leader is a sitting duck,” Logano said of single file restarts. “You’re trying to time runs and things like that. You’re in the mirror watching the car behind you. … It would probably be easier to be double-file restart if you’re the leader.
“You probably had a bigger advantage if you were choosing the outside and had a row behind you to protect you from someone making a move.”
Hamlin said that if he was beside Logano, then he would have been in a better spot than if he was behind him on a green-white-checkered.
“I had an opportunity to choose whether I was going to make a move on the high side or the low side,” he said of the final restart. “I chose high, and the track was just too slick up there at the time.”
Hamlin, restarted the final stage in third but made a brilliant move to go to the outside of Daniel Suarez on the initial start to get to second. He’d challenge Logano for several laps for the top spot, but Logano was just too strong to hold him off.
Then the caution came out. This time though, Hamlin said that he wasn’t going to be as nice on the restart. The previous restart and chain of events after was still fresh on his mind.
“He’s doing what he has to do to protect the lead,” Hamlin said. “I’m trying to get it from him. I just wasn’t aggressive enough.
“I should have shoved him out. When I had position on the bottom, I should have just moved up and got him in the dust and got rid of him. I just wanted to pass him clean. I didn’t, so I didn’t win.”
Hamlin, tried to go to the outside again, but it didn’t work. That allowed Stenhouse Jr. to go from fourth to second and follow Logano across the finish line for his third runner-up finish (Spring 2014, Fall 2016, Spring 2021) in 17 career Bristol starts.
Logano, said he thought Hamlin would had moved him at some point.
“I figured that was going to come at some point. You’ve got a green-white-checkered at Bristol — I don’t care if it’s dirt, concrete, you name it. There probably is going to be contact,” Logano said.
Hamlin fell to third in his No. 11 Toyota for his sixth top five in seven races run this season while the story of the day in Daniel Suarez finished fourth in his No. 99 Chevrolet. Ryan Newman rounded out the top five in his No. 6 Ford.
Here are my main takeaways from Monday’s rain delayed race.
Rough Start For Dirt Guys, Did They Have An Advantage After All?
We didn’t know what to expect for Monday’s race. Would the dirt guys be able to use their past experience to their advantage? Well, we still don’t know that answer since most of them found incidents early.
Shane Golobic, driving for Live Fast Motorsports was collected in the first crash of the day on Lap 40. Chris Windom got damage in the second crash and by the end of the first stage, he was behind the wall. Golobic would finish 37th and Windom in 33rd.
Then, on Lap 52, the top two favorites in Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson were both collected in a crash to which Bell made a mistake and ruined their chances.
Bell, would finish 34th and say that he was just trying to run the water in the yellow flag conditions and knew it was slick, but thought he could make time up there. It was too greasy and caught him out. He would get into Larson and spark the third caution of the race.
Larson, started last (39th) and was up inside the top 10 by the first caution. He was fifth at the competition caution, then the crash occurred putting him two laps down as a result. He’d end up five laps down in 29th.
Austin Dillon never had a good car and came home a disappointing 21st, one lap down. Chase Briscoe was collected in a couple of incidents and was 20th place, also one lap down.
That allowed some guys not typically used to dirt racing to vie for the win. Joey Logano had barely any dirt experience prior to this season and he led 61 of 253 laps in the win. Daniel Suarez had literally no past dirt experience and here he was leading 58 laps and finishing fourth. Same for Martin Truex Jr. He led a race-high 126 laps and faded to 19th in the end. Truex, dominated the Truck Series race earlier in sweeping both stages in the win.
Combined, Truex, Logano and Suarez led 245 of 253 laps on Monday. Larson, Bell, Dillon, Briscoe, Windom and Golobic led no combined laps with a best finish of 20th among them.
“Coming into the Bristol dirt event, I felt like I was going to be comfortable on the race track,” second place finisher Ricky Stenhouse said. “But I felt like these are the best drivers out there.
“They were going to adapt, their teams were going to adapt, bring good race cars as well. I didn’t want to put too much emphasis on, ‘Hey, we have to go win.’ We methodically worked our way throughout this race of getting our race car better.”
2nd Straight Race Someone Dominated But Didn’t Win
Last Sunday in Atlanta, Kyle Larson swept both stages and led 269 of the 325 laps. Unfortunately, his misjudged the final stint which forced his tires to wear off too quick. Ryan Blaney’s car came along in the end and passed Larson for the top spot with eight to go. Blaney would win. Larson finished second.
On Monday, Martin Truex Jr. won the first stage and led 126 of the first 134 laps. He’d fade in the end and not win either.
Was The Dirt Race A Success?
Bristol announced prior to Monday’s race even being over that the spring race in 2022 will be back on dirt. But, after what we saw this year, is that a wise choice?
The dirt weekend was met with high anticipation and excitement. While NASCAR can’t control the weather, they can somewhat with the racing surface.
See, the track started off great then became treacherous mid race. As the race went on, the track started taking in more rubber which in turn makes the surface more slicker. That leads to some tough conditions. Then, factor in that leading to a dusty and dry race track and you saw what was becoming a mess.
Drivers couldn’t see anything which led to four cautions in a 35 lap span. NASCAR adapted and moved from a double file restart to single file in what should help with visibility.
It worked in the sense we only saw two cautions the rest of the way.
Steve O’Donnell gave the race two thumbs up and said that it will be back for 2022 and beyond.
“Yeah, certainly a wild few days here at Bristol,” said O’Donnell. “I think the industry had everything thrown at it. When you think of the challenge of coming into this weekend just to race on dirt, how much went into that. But then you add on the fact that we experienced flooding, hail, a day race with unbelievable sunshine, more laps with a truck and a Cup race than you’d ever put on a racetrack normally if you were conducting a dirt event.
“All in all really proud of the industry for setting this up, getting the racing in for the race fans, knowing it was a challenge for our fans to stick around on Monday. An incredible crowd turned out here today. We’re really proud of that.
“The fans had asked us for years to look at innovation around the schedule. In fact, we’ve been taken to task for not making some moves. We were bold and aggressive this year. I’m proud of the team for doing that, proud of the industry for taking a chance here. Marcus Smith, his team. What Steve Swift did for putting this track together was incredible, the amount of hours he put together. Really happy for the work he did as well.
“All in all I’d give it a thumbs up with some things to learn.”
O’Donnell said that it’s still too early about what next year would look like but they didn’t go into this risk in hoping that it would be a one-off.
“Our hope was this would be a success, something we could repeat, become really a staple of the schedule going forward,” he continued.
“Certainly a number of things we learned throughout the weekend that will apply to 2022’s event weekend. Some of those things, how much you race in a single day, are there other racing series that can be part of this in terms of late models as well. We fully intend to be back in ’22 and beyond and continue to apply those learnings and put on some great races.”
O’Donnell also said that NASCAR certainly learned a number of things in the race and throughout the week that they can apply as they go forward in 2022.
Could one of those adjustments be to make this race a night race?
Most dirt races around the country run at night and are done so for good reason. It’s because night conditions bring better track conditions. The day time brings the moisture out of the track. It’s natural right. Mud turns to dirt with sun light. The longer dirt sits baking in the sun, the drier it gets. Then, throw in 39 cars weighing 3,400 pounds each and you can see why the track became as dusty as it did.
“The dust hindered the ability — the single-file racing as much as anything,” said Denny Hamlin. “You could not get out of the groove or else you were just running on dust.
“I don’t know if there’s different dirt that doesn’t produce as much dust as this one. I know they really did a lot of research on the dirt itself. A couple of them said if you didn’t run during the daylight, dust wouldn’t be as bad.”
NASCAR and track officials adapted and as the track became overcome with shadows and water able to get put back down during the break between the second and final stage, the racing was better again.
“Steve and the boys did a great job,” said Ricky Stenhouse Jr. “Obviously I watched every race last week. They did a great job with all the race cars on the racetrack, knowing they had to prep the track a little bit different for our race cars. Obviously you can’t have it wet with the cars overheating and our grill screens, windshields, and things like that. They prepped the track to the best of their ability.
“Obviously all the rain didn’t help. They reacted, did stuff as best they could. Came out here last night just to check out the track. Kind of talked to them about what they were going to do between the stages and the competition cautions. I think they did a great job.
“May have got a little bit behind there. When we started running single file, all the dust just sat in that second lane. I was one advocating for single-file restarts. I felt like NASCAR did a great job adapting to that because, like 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.
“But I think it made the racing better, a lot better there at the end. Hats off to everybody at NASCAR and everybody on the track crew.”
Stenhouse says that all the teams learned a lot throughout the weekend too on what not to do and what they can do better. There could be a debate that they just bring this car back in 2022, despite a brand new car coming out for next season anyways because they can be back at square one again this time next year.
“Drivers, as well. When you’re bringing back a totally different race car, it’s going to be all new,” he said.
“Hopefully Goodyear is able to work on a tire that we can have a little bit longer run. Our Kroger Camaro was really good on the long run today. I didn’t have the short run speeds so I needed those long runs. So hopefully with the package that we have when we come back, we can get those 75-lap, 100-lap runs, depending.
“It’s going to be tough. I think the track crew learned a lot with these heavy race cars, what they need to do to be better. They adapted well, like I said, with the rain. Those are things that are always changing with dirt racetracks. They did a good job. Next year is going to be just as much of a toss-up with a different race car.”
Denny Hamlin says that one thing that he hopes does stay next year are the controlled pit stops.
“I mean, pit stops have been part of NASCAR racing for a long time,” said the third place finisher. “I think on the dirt, absolutely leave it as is. We don’t need to have competitive pit stops when it comes to dirt.
“You can’t keep cutting the grass. Cut this, cut that, cut this, cut that. Eventually you’re down to dirt and you got nothing left. You can’t keep cutting the grass. The grass is our racing, NASCAR racing.
“Hopefully we can keep things somewhat a little bit authentic for the way it’s been for a long time. But absolutely, I love the nimbleness of our schedule. They were able to take us to a Bristol dirt race, we’re going to Circuit of the Americas. A lot of different venues. That part is very, very positive.
“But definitely don’t want to see them cut out any more competition when it comes to little stuff like pit road.”
In terms of what else he thinks could change for next year?
“I thought the racing was good,” said Hamlin. “It really was. It was almost like the old Bristol. If you got out of the lane, you got shuffled. That part of it was really encouraging. For fans’ sake, for visibility of the drivers’ sake, I think a lot of the wrecks happened because of the dust and we couldn’t see anything. Just that part.
“When we get the new car, those things have paint on the bottom of them. I don’t know, these holes, somebody better get a tape measure, some of them are at least like a foot deep. They are super deep. I don’t know if that new car can stand that.”
Rough Start To Season For Almirola
Aric Almirola has to wonder if he can get a mulligan to start the season. It’s been a terrible start for him. It started with a crash on Lap 13 of the season opening Daytona 500 when he was crashed by Christopher Bell while battling for second. It ends as of now with an early race crash in Monday’s rain delayed race.
Almirola, was pushed low from Stewart Friesen, spun on track and was hit by Anthony Alfredo while sitting there. It was the second straight week that he and Alfredo had a run in as the rookie driver nearly took out Almirola’s pit crew late in the race last weekend in Atlanta when he spun on pit road during the final round of stops.
Almirola, has yet to get a top 10 finish in seven races run in 2021 with four of the seven seeing him finish 30th or worse including three of those four coming in the last five weeks. He was scored in 36th on Sunday.
How Long Will New Winner Streak Continue?
Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin combined to win 13 races a year ago. They’re shutout of victory lane through seven races of the 2021 season. Kyle Busch is the only multi time champion in the sport today. He’s also not won this year. Brad Keselowski made the Championship 4 a year ago and a series champion (2012). He’s 0-for-7.
Instead, we’ve had seven races run and seven different winners. So, with both said, how much longer does this odd streak continue?
We go to Martinsville next where Keselowski has five straight top five finishes and nine in his last 10 tries there. Hamlin, also has three top five results in his last five Martinsville tries while his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate of Kyle Busch has eight in his last 11 starts there. Chase Elliott has three top fives including two top two’s in his last four Martinsville starts.
Does a winner come from them?
Logano has three top fives in his last five tries including being fourth and third respectively a year ago. Truex, won last year’s race in June and the playoff race the year prior. If we get a multi time winner on the season, it would be in two weeks among these two.
Both of them have been strong at Richmond too. Logano, was third a year ago and has two top threes in his last four tries including five top four’s in his last six there. Truex, swept both races at Richmond in 2019.
What about the rest?
Keselowski won there last year and has eight straight top 10’s at. Hamlin, has seven top sixes in his last nine Richmond starts with Kyle Busch scoring a top two result in half of his last 10 starts there including three top two’s in his last five overall. Elliott was fifth last Fall while Kevin Harvick has eight top sevens in his last nine Richmond tries himself.
Next you get Talladega where Hamlin has a top five in five straight superspeedway starts. I mean, it’s Talladega after all, so anything is possible.
With that said, I can see this streak going to nine and maybe even 10 races with a different winner in each to start 2021. That would get us through the month of April.
There’s also this streak too – the 1.5-mile different winner streak. Last week in Atlanta, Blaney became the 12th straight different winner on them as this streak dates back to the second Charlotte race after the ‘600 last May. Elliott won that day. Kevin Harvick (Atlanta), Denny Hamlin (Homestead), Cole Custer (Kentucky), Austin Dillon (Texas), Brad Keselowski (Kansas), Kurt Busch (Las Vegas), Joey Logano (Kansas), Kyle Busch (Texas), William Byron (Homestead), Kyle Larson (Las Vegas) and now Blaney (Atlanta).
Kansas is the first race of May which is on a 1.5-mile track. Could that streak could extend to 13. Hamlin and Logano won at Kansas last year. Combined, Hamlin (twice), Keselowski, Logano, Elliott and Harvick have won the last six races at Kansas, so there’s a great chance one of them wins there in May. Then you go to Darlington and Dover to where Harvick and Hamlin combined to win both races at each track a year ago, then to COTA and the Coke 600 to follow.
Can we get a new winner at each?
As you can see, there’s a chance that we could have 10-12 by time we leave Memorial Day weekend and head into June.
The Modern Era record of different winners to start a NASCAR Cup Series season is 10 set back in 2000. Dale Earnhardt Jr. snapped the streak winning his second race of the 2000 season at Richmond (Race No. 11).
|2000||1||Dale Jarrett||Daytona||Sunday, February 20, 2000|
|2000||2||Bobby Labonte||Rockingham||Sunday, February 27, 2000|
|2000||3||Jeff Burton||Las Vegas||Sunday, March 5, 2000|
|2000||4||Dale Earnhardt||Atlanta||Sunday, March 12, 2000|
|2000||5||Ward Burton||Darlington||Sunday, March 19, 2000|
|2000||6||Rusty Wallace||Bristol||Sunday, March 26, 2000|
|2000||7||Dale Earnhardt Jr||Texas||Sunday, April 2, 2000|
|2000||8||Mark Martin||Martinsville||Sunday, April 9, 2000|
|2000||9||Jeff Gordon||Talladega||Sunday, April 16, 2000|
|2000||10||Jeremy Mayfield||Auto Club||Sunday, April 30, 2000|
In the Modern Era (1972-2021), the record for the most different NASCAR Cup Series winners in a single season in its entirety is 19 set back in 2001. The series has also seen a total of 18 different winners (second-most) in a single season twice – in 2002 and 2011. Last season the series produced 13 different winners.