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The greatest experiment on dirt continues this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway

By Rod Mullins
Augusta Free Press

bristol motor speedway
Photo courtesy Bristol Motor Speedway.

At first glance, the compacted dirt looks like the surface of Mars. Reddish orange East Tennessee dirt and clay, packed to where it looks like shiny, polished glass.

It’s certainly not a NASA simulation but dirt racing endurance as the NASCAR Cup Series makes its return to Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend for the Food City Dirt Race for Cup and the PINTY’S Truck Race on dirt for the Camping World Truck Series.

Now, cue Holst’s “Mars, God of War ” on your media player, have it ready to play at the drop of the green flag on Sunday evening with the unknown factor; the Next Generation car, tested but unproven on Bristol’s temporary dirt track, and you have the makings of racing’s version of “Apocalypse Now” on dirt.

Race weekend at Bristol this year is simply the great experiment part two. All the unknown factors point to chaos in a bullring.

Several of the drivers are looking forward to the return to dirt at Bristol. Series Cup Champion Kyle Larson races on dirt when the opportunity presents itself and he got some practice in at Volunteer Speedway, just down I-81 from BMS on Thursday night along with fellow Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron.

Chase Elliott and last year’s winner, Joey Logano are looking forward to the challenge that comes with the dirt and “The World’s Fastest Half Mile”. Joe Gibbs Racing driver and former Cup Champion Kyle Busch wants the Greatest Experiment on Dirt, cut as in over, finished, kaput, never to go in that direction of a dusty, dirty road again.

Busch has stated his dissatisfaction with the dirt and even quoted seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty that the endeavor on dirt takes the sport backwards instead of forward and it’s time to cut the cord.

I disagree. I don’t think some people are looking at the big picture and importance of dirt racing.

I think it was time for NASCAR to give dirt a shot and leave it to Marcus Smith, Jerry Caldwell and the folks at Speedway Motorsports, who just happen to be the big time promotion specialists, to develop a plan to bring dirt to Bristol and make it “The Greatest Show on Dirt”.

NASCAR used to race on dirt back in the day, and the fans loved it. But in the 21st Century, there are those that believe that racing on dirt is ancient, almost primeval or prehistoric.

Truth is, now is as good a time as any to get back to your roots. NASCAR purists thought of this experiment as a way to lure many fans who had left the sport, back to partake of the excitement and unpredictability of dirt and yes, make a little money along the way..

But now add another unknown variable to the equation, the Next Generation car to the track and we should have another unpredictable race, quite different from last year.  It certainly won’t be like Martinsville last week (lackluster and uninspiring) but we have all the variables in place for a dirt race that may certainly top last year’s inaugural race.

It has been an unpredictable season so far in the 2022 season of Cup. Now, I may be totally wrong and this race could become a bummer early on but I really don’t think so. Sunday night’s race along with Saturday’s night’s Truck Series race will be a learning experience.  The racing will be intense, fighting for position, trying to hold position and not to register a DNF on the final results.

Give the folks at Speedway Motorsports and Bristol Motor Speedway credit for having the confidence to put the already fast half-mile oval to the dirt test again. Credit NASCAR for bringing back dirt and the vision to show us that maybe we need to look to the past for racing’s future.

Change is inevitable and must happen to either learn from or grow from.

You’ve got to start with dirt.

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