By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service – Cover Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images/NASCAR Media
BRISTOL, Tenn.: Joey Logano made history on Monday afternoon.
Leading the final 61 laps in the face of a determined charge by Denny Hamlin, Logano won the rain-delayed Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the first dirt-track race for the NASCAR Cup Series since 1970.
But there won’t be that long a gap in the future, given that BMS executive and general manager Jerry Caldwell announced during the race that NASCAR will return to the Bristol dirt in 2022.
Logano grabbed the lead from Daniel Suarez on Lap 193 of a scheduled 250 and held it the rest of the way through a caution for the second stage break and a late yellow that sent the race three laps beyond the prescribed distance.
On the final restart on Lap 252, Logano pulled away, as Hamlin tried and failed to find grip in the outside lane and fell to third behind runner-up Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Logano’s winning margin over Stenhouse was .554 seconds.
Logano is the seventh consecutive different winner in seven races this season.
“Man, it’s incredible,” said Logano, who won the second straight race for Team Penske and the 27th of his career, extending his streak of at least one victory per year to 10 years. “How about Bristol on dirt? This is an incredible, unbelievable race track—great job by everyone that prepped the track. Obviously, a lot of work over here the last few days (because of rain that forced postponement from Sunday). We did a lot of work in the dirt department here the last few weeks…
“Great car, obviously, to be able to execute the race that we did and get a win. I was getting nervous. There were so many first-time winners and different winners than there has typically been. I said, ‘We’ve got to get a win to make sure we get in the Playoffs,’ so it’s amazing to get this Shell/Pennzoil Mustang into Victory Lane at Bristol. There’s nothing like winning at Bristol, but putting dirt on it and being the first to do it is really special.”
Despite late brushes with the outside wall as he chased Logano, Hamlin now has three third-place finishes and six top-fives this season.
“I really couldn’t see a whole lot,” referring to the dusty conditions late in the race. “I was kind of guessing. I thought I could, on that last restart, run the top in hard, but they didn’t prep it in-between cautions the way they did before. It was just marbles up there.
“Man, I thought I had a shot there. I cut the 22 (Logano) too many breaks there when he was cutting us off. They had a little better car, it looked like, there in the long run. Proud of this whole team—we’re third-best again.”
Suarez held fourth place, followed by Ryan Newman. William Byron, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones and reigning series champion Chase Elliott completed the top 10.
Two of the experienced dirt drivers expected to battle for the victory were eliminated from contention in one dramatic wreck two laps after the restart that followed the first competition caution.
Running second on Lap 53, Christopher Bell spun in the top lane in Turn 2. Kyle Larson, running the top lane behind Bell, plowed into his chief dirt-track rival in a wreck that also involved Kevin Harvick and Ross Chastain.
“Way to go, Bell—way to go,” Larson said sarcastically on his team radio after the wreck. Larson, at least, was able to continue but lost two laps during repairs. Bell and Chastain fell out of the race in 34th and 35th place, respectively. Larson finished 29th, five laps down.
“I was just trying to run the water in under yellow,” Bell said after a visit to the infield care center. “I knew it was a little bit slick, but I felt like I could go up there and make some time, and I kind of entered shallow underneath of it and tried to pick it up on exit, and it was just really greasy up there.
“That was a lot of fun, being able to be out there for that first run was really cool, and hate it that I can’t be out there longer.”
An earlier wreck had given Martin Truex Jr. a fright during his quest to win both a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race and NASCAR Cup event on the same day (Truex had won the Truck race that started at noon). Aric Almirola spun on Lap 41 as part of a five-car incident that unfolded in front of Truex, who was leading at the time. Truex barely managed to dodge the crash.
“Holy crap—that was close!” a relieved Truex said on his team radio. But Truex’s luck didn’t hold. After winning the first stage leading a race-high 126 laps, he cut a tire while running third on the final lap of overtime and finished 19th.