Why dirt racing background is common denominator to early Next Gen success in the Cup Series

Most said that the parity with this new Next Gen race would stick around for a while. Since most of the west coast cars were already planned for, there wasn’t much you could do to learn, adapt and put that into your equipment.

Well, after four races though, one has to wonder if Chase Briscoe, Tyler Reddick and Ross Chastain are in fact for real. Are they legitimate championship contenders already?

Briscoe finished third in the Daytona 500, led 20 laps in the second race at Fontana and now led 101 in his Phoenix victory. That’s a hell of a start for him.

What about Reddick? He was 24th in Fontana but that’s only due to a late race cut tire. He swept both stages and led a race-high 90 of 200 laps. In Vegas, he spun early but rebounded to finish 7th. On Sunday, he was there again with a third place run in his No. 8 Chevrolet.

Then you have Chastain. He was third last week and second this one.

As we head back east, these three have to be among the top ones to beat right now. Plus, last year’s spring race was a very big indicator for the Fall race. 8 of the 10 cars in the top 10 last March was there again at the checkered flag last November.

That’s great odds that at least 1 or 2 of these three will do so again this November. The thing is, will any be competing for a title in the process?

Briscoe, the winner of Sunday’s race at Phoenix though, says that their dirt background is to why these three are starting off so strong.

AVONDALE, ARIZONA – MARCH 13: Chase Briscoe, driver of the #14 Mahindra Tractors Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the the Ruoff Mortgage 500 at Phoenix Raceway on March 13, 2022 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“I mean, I think you see the dirt guys, I mean, Ross isn’t a dirt guy, but a lot of the dirt guys, when we go to a racetrack, you get three laps, three hot laps and you better figure it out quickly,” he said.

“I think this car, being new, not a lot of practice, the dirt guys have always had to figure that out quickly. The guys that grew up late model or pavement racing, they don’t necessarily have that. They go and test and run hours of practice. The dirt guys, you got to figure it out quickly, adapt.

“I think that’s why you’ve seen dirt guys run earlier in this Next Gen car. It’s an equalizer to a certain extent. More comers and goers throughout the race. The old car, you saw one guy be fast. He was just fast the whole time. Couldn’t really catch him.

“This car you have really fast short-run guys, really good long-run guys. It’s interesting to see how that plays out throughout the race. I can’t speak to the setup side of it, but from a driver standpoint, I feel like we’ve done a lot better finding that limit and being able to ride on that limit. At first, you couldn’t find the limit, and then it was gone.

“I don’t think we’re better race car drivers or better teams, but I do think it’s an equalizer to a certain extent because it’s a new opportunity and guys to have figure out and adapt.”

He’s not wrong. Kyle Larson is a dirt guy and won Fontana and runner-up last week. Christopher Bell is another and he won the pole last week. Alex Bowman is also a dirt guy and he won last week.

Fontana, Vegas and Phoenix were all won by dirt guys. Larson and Bell won 2 of the 3 poles too.

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