Anytime something unique appears on the NASCAR schedule, it always tends to bring out some fresh faces to the track. There are superspeedway aces and road course specialists, but this weekend, there is a new breed of NASCAR drivers: the dirt ringers.
The NASCAR Cup Series’ return to dirt has certainly turned plenty of heads. This Sunday’s (March 28) Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway’s dirt track marks the first time since 1970 that a Cup race will not be run on an asphalt or concrete surface.
There are certainly plenty of dirt-driving extraordinaires who have come out of the woodworks to take on this new challenge while competing against the big boys of NASCAR. They might be newcomers in the big-league stock car world, but they all have unique and impressive race resumes of their own.
Here are the four Bristol dirt ringers making their first Cup start.
Last year, Chris Windom added his name to the dirt open-wheel history books by winning the 2020 USAC National Midget Championship. By doing so, the Illinois driver became just the seventh driver to complete the USAC triple crown after having already picked up titles in the USAC Silver Crown Championship and the USAC National Sprint Car Championship.
While his forte may be driving sprint and midget cars, Windom does has some stock car and truck experience. The 30-year-old made seven ARCA Menards Series starts between 2011 and 2015 and also competed five times in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series in 2017 and 2018, including twice at Eldora Speedway, the series’ dirt stop between 2013 and 2019.
Windom’s Cup debut will come driving the No. 15 Chevrolet for Rick Ware Racing.
Racing in his home state this weekend, Mike Marlar has been a stalwart on the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series circuit, even winning its championship in 2018.
Marlar has made two starts in NASCAR’s lower series, including a stellar fourth-place run at Eldora in the Truck Series in 2019 driving for the underfunded Reaume Brothers Racing organization.
This weekend, the dirt late model ace will compete twice. Not only will the 43-year-old make his first Cup appearance in the No. 66 MBM Motorsports entry, he will also get another chance in a truck, driving the No. 56 Hill Motorsports Chevrolet in the Pinty’s Truck Race on Dirt — should he, of course, make it out of the heat races.
Stewart Friesen has campaigned full time on the Truck circuit for the better part of five years. However, the Canadian’s racing resume goes well beyond that.
The 37-year-old is still a very active competitor in the northeastern big-block modified ranks and has won hundreds of times at dirt tracks across New England and Canada.
Spire Motorsports has tapped him to drive its No. 77 entry this weekend.
Like Windom, Shane Golobic‘s racing roots are firmly entrenched in open-wheel dirt racing. He currently competes in both the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series and the USAC National Midget Series.
Golobic’s father and grandfather were both racers in the California dirt scene as well.
Elk Grove Ford, a California car dealership, will adorn the hood of Golobic’s No. 78 LiveFast Motorsports entry this weekend.
Some Nuggets Before You Go:
- NASCAR veteran JJ Yeley returns to the Cup Series for the first time this season. Yeley’s appearance means that there will be two USAC triple crown champions in the field. Coincidentally, they will be teammates, as Yeley joins Windom at RWR, driving the No. 53. Yeley completed the triple crown in 2003.
- Friesen’s wife Jessica will try to make a debut as well this weekend — in her case in the Truck Series, driving the No. 62 Toyota, which will flank her husband’s flagship No. 52 entry for Halmar Friesen Racing.
About the author
Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young marketing professional from North Carolina who writes and talks about racing on the side. Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in a variety of roles. Currently, he pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece covering the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. In his free time, you can find Zach in the great outdoors, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with useless statistics about Delma Cowart.
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