What a Mess: NASCAR worried about first Bristol dirt race

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Copyright 2021

A crew member shovels up mud that was removed from the front of a truck during a heat race for a NASCAR Truck Series race on Saturday, March 27, 2021, in Bristol, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

BRISTOL, Tenn. – NASCAR feverishly tried to save its ballyhooed first Cup Series dirt race since 1970 from turning into a total disaster, the likes not seen since the 2008 tire debacle at Indianapolis made for one of the worst events in the sport's history.

The Cup Series is slated to race Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway, where 2,300 truckloads of red Tennessee clay have filled the famed bullring for an experimental — some might say gimmicky — stab at grassroots racing.

But the dirt, the 28-degree Bristol banking reduced to 19 degrees after the dirt was applied, and the leaden 3,400-pound cars appear to be a terrible fit.

Yes, drivers had a blast playing in the dirt, some for the first time since they were kids. But four Friday practice sessions ultimately showed the tires can't sustain the heavy wear. The three layers of dirt acted as a cheese-grater and the tires in turn dug deep divots into the surface.

NACAR made several procedural changes Saturday in a desperate bid to save the show.

“We didn't want to end up in a situation where we had 20 blown right rears and we're talking about the Bristol dirt show 20 years later like we're talking about the thing that happened at Indy,” said Scott Miller, NASCARs vice president of competition.

That “thing” at Indy in 2008 ruined the fan appetite for NASCAR at historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Goodyear tires used on NASCAR's new model car that year couldn't handle the loads and began exploding during the race. To mitigate damage, NASCAR threw competition cautions every 10 or so laps to force teams to pit for new tires.

The race averaged just nine laps of green-flag racing a stretch and Indianapolis fans have still not forgotten.