Dirt is the story of the week, both nationally and locally. Locally, Fernley 95A Speedway is under renovation with 10,000 tons of new material being added to the 3/8-mile clay oval. With this and other renovations, the racing schedule for this season has not yet been released.
Across the country there’s an even more ambitious project at Bristol Motor Speedway, where the asphalt oval has been covered with 23,000 tons of dirt for this weekend’s NASCAR race.
The process of converting the track is more sophisticated than in 2000 and 2001 when it was done for the World of Outlaws. Using a GPS system on the earthmoving equipment and signals from 26 to 30 satellites simultaneously, the dirt and be positioned to within 5/100 of an inch. The week of March 15-20 over 1,400 late models and modifieds raced to test the surface, with some of the top NASCAR stars using those races to tune up for this weekend.
NASCAR Cup now has six winners, as Ryan Blaney chased down and passed a fading Kyle Larson in the closing laps of the Folds of Honor 500 at Atlanta last Sunday. Larson dominated the race, leading 269 of the race’s 325 laps, but he “used up his stuff” trying to hold off Blaney. Blaney’s teammate Joey Logano getting in Larson’s way didn’t help the No. 5 driver either.
Interestingly, Blaney is the first Penske driver to score a win this season. He had just one win in 2020 while teammates Logano and Brad Keselowski scored seven between them.
So will we see another new winner this weekend on the dirt at Bristol? Or will two previous winners, Larson and Christopher Bell, battle for the win like they do at the Chili Bowl Midget race every year? The oddsmakers at BetMGM seem to think so, putting them at the top of the odds chart with Larson at 5-2 and Bell at 11-2. But Larson’s teammate Alex Bowman was fastest in Friday’s first practice.
There are also a few ringers in the field - World of Outlaws Late Model Champion, USAC Triple Crown champion Chris Windom, and sprint car ace Shane Golobic are all entered as well as two-time Eldora Camping World Truck winner Stuart Friesen.
This is the first Cup race on dirt since Richard Petty won the last one in 1970, so nobody has a notebook on this one. But both the Camping World Truck and Cup teams will have a chance to tune their machines for the unfamiliar dirt surface, with two practice sessions Friday and four 15-lap qualifying races for each series Saturday.
FS1 will air the qualifying races beginning at 1:30 p.m. for the Trucks with their final qualifier starting at 2:15. The first Cup qualifying race is at 3 p.m. with the fourth starting at 3:45 p.m. The 150-lap Truck race will air at 5 p.m. Saturday on FS1 with the Cup 250-lap contest airing on FOX at 12:30 p.m. Sunday.
This weekend is also the Formula 1 season opener at Bahrain. After a disappointing preseason test two weeks ago, when team principal Toto Wolff called the car “toxic," the Mercedes team showed in Friday’s practice that some progress has been made.
Lewis Hamilton said there had been some improvement as he ended third-fastest behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and McLaren driver Lando Norris. But teammate Valtteri Bottas declared his car “undriveable” at the end of the second practice, so there’s work to be done.
Qualifying took place Saturday morning at 7:55 a.m. so unless you recorded it, you missed it. The race will air on ESPN2 at the same time Sunday.