NASCAR had the best of intentions to make this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway one to remember. After transforming the .533-mile track with more than 30,000 tons of dirt, the Food City Dirt Race is set to make history as the sport's first race on this track type since 1970.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature has made the weekend memorable... for all the wrong reasons.
A series of severe storms swept through the track throughout Saturday, ultimately canceling the heat races designed to set the starting lineup for this 250-lap event and then postponing both the Cup Series and Truck Series races from Sunday to Monday
Saturday was going to be the first time Cup cars utilized some form of on-track qualifying since the Daytona 500, following two Friday practice sessions where drivers could get acclimated to the new surface.
Atlanta Motor Speedway winner Ryan Blaney led the last of those practices but won't start on the pole as NASCAR reverted to its off-track qualifying metric instead to set the field. Used throughout most of the pandemic, the formula takes into consideration a potpourri of recent data in order to rank the grid.
50% of the metric is based on the finishing position from the previous race (split between driver and owner).
35% of the metric is the team's current position in the NASCAR Cup Series owner point standings.
15% of the metric is the driver's fastest lap during the previous race.
The driver who has the lowest total starts on the pole, then the next lowest, etc. until all available spots are filled. The metrics put Kyle Larson on the pole but he won't be able to start there after an engine change during Friday's practice sessions. Instead, he'll go to the rear as second-place driver Denny Hamlin will control the opening restart. NASCAR also made some competition changes Saturday night, changing stage lengths to 100, 100 and 50 laps for the 250-lap event. There will also be competition cautions thrown on laps 50 and 150 as rain and an uneven track surface has Goodyear increasingly concerned about tire wear.
Thirty-nine cars showed up to run the dirt competing for 40 positions on the grid, leaving Cup one short of a full field. The 36 teams who have guaranteed spots are entered along with three "open" cars: the No. 37 of JTG Daugherty Racing (Ryan Preece), the No. 66 of MBM Motorsports (Mike Marlar), and the No. 96 of Gaunt Brothers Racing (Ty Dillon).
1. Kyle Larson
2. Denny Hamlin
3. Ryan Blaney
4. Kyle Busch
5. Martin Truex Jr.
6. Kevin Harvick
7. Alex Bowman
8. William Byron
9. Austin Dillon
10. Joey Logano
11. Chris Buescher
12. Matt DiBenedetto
13. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
14. Ryan Newman
15. Christopher Bell
16. Michael McDowell
17. Ross Chastain
18. Daniel Suarez
19. Bubba Wallace
20. Brad Keselowski
21. Cole Custer
22. Ryan Preece
23. Aric Almirola
24. Erik Jones
25. Chase Briscoe (R)
26. Chase Elliott
27. Tyler Reddick
28. Kurt Busch
29. Anthony Alfredo (R)
30. Corey LaJoie
31. Cody Ware (i)
32. Stewart Friesen (i)
33. Quin Houff
34. JJ Yeley (i)
35. Shane Golobic
36. Chris Windom
37. Josh Bilicki
38. Mike Marlar
39. Ty Dillon (i)
(R) – Rookie
(i) – Ineligible to collect Cup Series points
- Kyle Larson (pole) has some of the best dirt experience of any Cup Series driver entered in the race. He's the reigning winner of the Chili Bowl Nationals and spent much of 2020 racing dirt after losing his full-time Cup ride; however, he'll start from the rear due to an engine change.
- Denny Hamlin (2nd) has started sixth or better in six straight races. The points leader is also the highest-qualifying Toyota driver.
- Ryan Blaney (3rd) is the highest-qualifying Ford driver and was last week's winner at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
- Chase Briscoe (25th) has the best starting spot among rookies.
- Strewart Friesen (32nd) is making his Cup Series debut with Spire Motorsports, replacing Justin Haley. Friesen, a Canadian, won the Camping World Truck Series dirt track race at Eldora Speedway in 2019 and has over 300 wins in dirt modified racing.
- Shane Golobic (35th) will make his Cup Series debut for Live Fast Motorsports' No. 78 Ford, replacing BJ McLeod. Golobic runs the USAC Midget Series for Matt Wood Racing.
- Chris Windom (36th) will make his Cup Series debut in Rick Ware Racing's No. 15 car, replacing James Davison. Windom is the reigning USAC Midget Series champion.
- Mike Marlar (38th) is making his Cup Series debut in Carl Long's No. 66 car for MBM Motorsports, replacing Timmy Hill. Marlar is a 2018 late model champion from the World of Outlaws series.
- Ty Dillon (39th) is making just his second Cup start of the season as part of a limited schedule for Gaunt Brothers Racing.
NASCAR RACE BREAKDOWN
Race: Food City Dirt Race
Track: Bristol Motor Speedway (Bristol, Tenn.)
Date: Sunday, March 28
TV: FOX, 3:30 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SIRIUS XM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 250 laps (133.25 miles)
Stage 1: 100 Laps
Stage 2: 100 Laps
Final Stage: 50 Laps
Husband-and-wife combo Stewart and Jessica Friesen stop by to chat about their now-aborted plan to compete against each other in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Bristol Motor Speedway before Frontstretch podcast host Davey Segal turns his attention to the Cup Series.