Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: It’s Dirt, Baby

Go cars go?

NASCAR is going racing in the Windy City… virtually.

Earlier this week, NASCAR announced that the Pro Invitational Series will be racing on the Chicago Street Course.

By all accounts, this racetrack is going to at least look absolutely beautiful. NASCAR really picked the best layout possible when it comes to getting at least some view of most of the big Chicago landmarks.

The background for the iRacing version isn’t complete yet, but it should be great come June.

It’s clear to me, just looking at this situation from the outside, that NASCAR is probably at least exploring the idea of doing an actual race on this course. Roger Penske basically said as much a couple of days ago, as has NASCAR.

This isn’t something iRacing did just for NASCAR; the service already has its hands full with getting tracks like Nashville Superspeedway in the game.

NASCAR could go back to Chicagoland Speedway, but the reality is that it would probably be cheaper to hold a street race than it would be to repave a racetrack that’s going to produce bad racing for years before it gets better.

A street course would also make a much larger impact on the Chicago media market than a race an hour away from the city. It would almost certainly lead to a dual weekend with the NTT IndyCar Series, because it would be plain stupid for IndyCar not to come along for the ride.

NASCAR really is starting to get to an interesting place with its schedule. It really could walk into any track in the country and have NASCAR Cup Series racing on it within two years, and it has a partner in SMI that is willing to go as far as drop thousands of pounds of dirt on a racetrack just to see if it’s going to work.

And if NASCAR’s marketing is something to go off of, the new car launching next year will be adaptable enough where it could do something like an oval/ROVAL doubleheader weekend using the same cars. I’m interested to see what comes next.

See also
Chicago Street Circuit Coming to iRacing and eNASCAR Pro Invitational

What else is there to really say at this point?

NASCAR announced the Pro Invitational Series’ first race of the 10-event 2021 season. Thirty-six entries were given to the 36 charter teams, with Ryan Preece being granted an entry with Kevin Harvick choosing not to race.

FOX was given four invites to make up the final four entries. It gave one to Dale Earnahrdt Jr., gave another one to Clint Bowyer, and called it a day.

Fans revolted, rallying around Timmy Hill, who told Frontstretch that his team may not be able to make some Cup starts due to securing sponsorship sold around being in the iRacing events. Hill eventually ran the race for Team Penske, but the No. 66 MBM car was still parked for the event.

This was all very stupid. It’s clear with every single one of these events that FOX simply does not understand how to broadcast iRacing. Almost every single time, for an event it pushes as casual and fun, there’s some dumb, needless controversy over who gets in and who doesn’t.

These events are going to be significantly better with NBC on the docket. Whenever I watch on NBC, it feels like an actual race. FOX crosses the line constantly from being fun to being a circus.

It’s Dirt, Baby?

So, here we are. They finally did it. They dumped a bunch of dirt on a racetrack and are going to run Cup cars on it.

FOX has been promoting this race all over its broadcasts for the past month. This is probably the most promoted race it’s ever had outside of the Daytona 500.

Chances are the weekend will be a wash. The simple reality is that dirt just does not dry as well as pavement, and there’s going to be a lot of rain on both Saturday and Sunday. So we’re just not going to get an idea of the dirt concept is going to really draw in a lot of viewers.

See also
Frontstretch 5: Top Dirt Aces Likely to Win at Bristol

This race is going to be a big unknown, in part because of the surface. Dirt is just weird. Sometimes it can be all muddy, sometimes it dries up and turns into dust. It’s not like pavement where concrete is concrete and asphalt is asphalt.

Really, the only three drivers I’d think about picking for this race is Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell and Stewart Friesen. Larson and Bell are probably the two best pound-for-pound dirt track racers in the country, while Friesen is probably the most experienced driver on track when it comes to this style of racing.

So what does all of this mean for the stat book?

Having a Cup race on dirt is basically going to put a hammer to most historical accounts and statistics of the series.

While this is the first dirt race in over 50 years, it’s the 491st dirt race in series history to this point. The final series regular who won races on dirt was Richard Petty, who retired before a good portion of the Cup field was born.

This race’s scheduled distance of 133.5 miles is the shortest Cup race scheduled since a 276-lapper at Hickory Speedway in 1971, which was a little over 100 miles in length.

There are four track types in Cup history, per conventional historians (thanks, Richard Sowers). Superspeedways are paved ovals that are a mile or more in length and the triangle Pocono Raceway. Short tracks are paved ovals that are less than a mile in length. Dirt tracks are ovals that are not paved. And road courses are non-ovals that have at least part of the layout on non-public road, with the old Daytona Beach and Daytona International Speedway road course being defined as a road course.

With this being the first dirt race in 50 years, there are a number of records related to the four disciplines suddenly on the line this weekend.

There are 11 drivers in history who have won on all four types of track: Bobby Allison, Buck Baker, Darel Dieringer, Paul Goldsmith, Marvin Panch, David Pearson, both Lee and Richard Petty, Fireball Roberts, Jack Smith and Cale Yarborough. Entering Sunday, seven drivers are entering having all but a dirt win under the belt: both Kurt and Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr.

There are also 12 drivers in history who have secured poles on every kind of track: Allison, Baker, Tim Flock, Goldsmith, Dick Hutcherson, Junior Johnson, Panch, Pearson, the Pettys and Smith. Hamlin, the Busch brothers, Logano, Elliott and Larson need to just get a pole this weekend to earn that distinction.

There are eight drivers who have won both races and poles on dirt. Five active Cup drivers — the five pole drivers besides Larson — could join that exclusive club if they win from the pole this weekend.

Only two drivers in the history of stock car racing have ever been able to win on all four track types from the pole. No active driver will be able to accomplish that this weekend. Who has accomplished this? Both sides of one of the great on-track rivalries in history, Pearson and Richard Petty.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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going to be a muddy weekend. all the hype, and still mother nature controls the weekend.

Kurt Smith - Ex-Frontstretch Staff

I agree Mike, the NASCAR schedule in 2021 is the most interesting it has been for a long, long time and I am very much looking forward to the future. I love the idea of a street race in a city.

The cookie cutter tracks were to NASCAR what artificial turf was to baseball, and they need to get away from them as much as possible.

JD in NC

Great analogy Kurt. I would also add that the cookie cutter track were similar to the outdated multipurpose stadiums like Atlanta Fulton County, and Pittsburgh’s three rivers. But instead of trying to accommodate the NFL and MLB, many were geared towards hosting both nascar and indycar.

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