Among the many changes affecting the second Food City Dirt Race at the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Track, the move from day to night for the race is perhaps the most significant.
The sentiment toward the move has been universally positive. Drivers are anticipating a more traditional dirt race when they take to the half-mile track on Sunday night (7 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“I think it’s a great thing moving this event to night,” said 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott, who started 26th and finished 10th last year in the premier division’s first dirt race since 1970. “I think it’s going to help a lot with the issues we had, keeping some moisture in the track, hopefully, and then obviously keeping the dust down.
“I think everything we learned last year has been a great tool of how to go about it this season. It seems like we’re doing all the right things, and hopefully it will be a good show. I think it has a lot of potential.”
Elliott is among the pre-race favorites at +1200 by BetMGM, where he is second in the field with 7.7 percent of the total bets and fourth with 9.2 percent of the handle wagered as of Thursday. That makes him the sportsbook’s second-biggest liability.
The transition to a night race isn’t the only major difference. Drivers and crew chiefs will have to adapt to the new Next Gen race car, which was introduced into NASCAR’s top series this year.
“We’re going to try a blend of last year’s car and the Next Gen car,” said Rudy Fugle, crew chief for William Byron, the only two-time winner in the Cup series so far this season. “We have some notes from the NASCAR test they did last week.
“The difference with dirt racing, though, is how fast the track conditions change. They change just about every lap.”
In addition, the track construction itself is different from that used for last year’s inaugural race.
Instead of a consistent incline from the bottom to the top of the track, this year’s version uses graduated banking — 16 degrees at the bottom to 19 degrees at the top — in hopes of creating a viable second racing lane.
Joey Logano, a driver with severely limited experience on dirt, was the surprise winner of last year’s race. Theoretically, a night race will help the track retain moisture and is more likely to favor such drivers as Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson, who grew up racing dirt cars and continue to maintain a strong presence in that discipline.
Larson is the heavy pre-race favorite at +450 at BetMGM, where he leads the field with 9.7 percent of the total bets and 15.7 percent of the handle, making him the sportsbook’s third-biggest liability. Bell has the next-shortest odds at +800, drawing 6.5 and 9.2 percent, respectively.
Logano is being offered at +900 and has drawn 7.0 percent of the bets and handle.
Larson and Bell were racing near the front of the field last year when they collided on Lap 53 of 253, leading to finishes of 29th and 34th, respectively.
The starting order for the Food City Dirt Race will be set during a series of four 15-lap qualifying races on Saturday. The Cup event, scheduled for 250 laps, will be the first held on Easter Sunday since Rusty Wallace won at Richmond in 1989 in a race postponed from February because of snow.
BetMGM’s biggest liability as of Thursday is Martin Truex Jr. At +1400, he has been backed by 6.3 percent of the total bets and 12.0 percent of the handle.
NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: Food City Dirt Race
The Place: Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt
The Date: Sunday, April 17
The Time: 7 p.m. ET
The Purse: $7,374,089
TV: FOX, 6 p.m. ET
Radio: PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 125 miles (250 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 75),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 150), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 250)
–Field Level Media (Information from the NASCAR Wire contributed to this story)