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Davidson: Bristol Cup – Logano goes from the announce booth to victory circle.

Bristol, TN, Mar 29/21 (by John Davidson): Before Monday’s NASCAR Cup race on the Bristol dirt surface, Joey Logano helped call the truck race on the television broadcast and possibly used the view to aid his driving as he became the seventh winner in seven Cup Series races for 2021. Ricky Stenhouse placed a strong second place, reporting that his car was the best it had been late in the race and Denny Hamlin took third place. Martin Truex suffered a cut tire on the final restart and fell from a almost-sure podium finish to nineteenth and last car on the lead lap.

Bad weather had cancelled the qualifying heat races and led to the starting lineup being set by points and earlier season results for the Food City Dirt race, the NASCAR Cup Series' first race on dirt since Sept. 30, 1970 at the old Raleigh, NC State Fairgrounds half-mile. Just as an historical note, this writer was sitting in the bleachers at the 42nd race that season, watching Richard Petty win by a two-lap margin over Neil Castles. This was Petty's 117th race victory, out of the 200 in his career.

Kyle Larson was set to start first but an engine change after practice (due to overheating after his car’s grille was blocked by dirt) sent him to the back of the field. With 42 wins last year on dirt races, Larson was still thought to be a strong contender for the win.

[NOTE: After Friday’s experience with the dirt track, NASCAR revised the Stages to 100/100/50 laps and inserted a ‘competition caution’ at lap 50 of each of the first two Stages, effectively turning the race into five 50-lap Stages. Even with this change, which allowed every team the chance to put on fresh tires afer each 50-lap segment, many drivers saw tires worn completely bald during a 50-lap run. Ed.]

Denny Hamlin led the pack around the track on the first lap, chased by Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney, then Blaney and winner of the truck race moved up to challenge for second, with Alex Bowman in fifth as Kyle Busch led from the second lap to the eighth, but pulled into the pits with overheating and lost a lap.

Kyle Busch pitted after giving up the lead with overheating. Truck winner Truex grabbed the lead with Blaney chasing and William Byron moving up to challenge Blaney for second.

Aric Almirola spun and got the front of his car removed by Corey LaJoie in a crash that involved several other cars. Truex was in the middle of all the action but managed to come almost to a stop before driving around the carnage. "The 77 slipped off the bottom," explained Almirola. "I was hunting the bottom and he slipped off the bottom, and I was trying to get in between him and the silly humps there and he turned back down across my nose and hit me in the right-front and kind of ran me up over the dirt hump and I spun.

"You can't stop. You can't see. That's honestly the biggest problem. In dirt racing you don't have a windshield in front of you, so you can pull a tearoff. We can't reach out there and pull a tear-off off our windshield, so you can't see anything. Everybody just comes piling in because you can't see."

Truex headed the field at the restart, then contact between Byron and Ryan Newman brought out a caution for Newman's spin (and several more) that became the first competition caution. Kyle Busch got the free pass back onto the lead lap and Kyle Larson got scored in fifth place after fifty laps, from his 39th starting position. Christopher Bell ran second, followed by Denny Hamlin, Alex Bowman and Larson as they entered the pits. The incident between Byron and Newman forced Kevin Harvick to take evasive action on the back straight but Chase Briscoe was to his right and bounced hard off the wall, reporting before the halt in action that he thought he had a broken shock absorber.

Christopher Bell spun off the fourth turn in front of Kyle Larson, collecting a pre-race favorite and involving four more cars. "I was just trying to run the water in under yellow," said Bell. "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."

Truex went on to take the first Stage, ahead of William Byron, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez in his first dirt race and Ryan Blaney.

Suarez raced around Byron at the restart but Truex raced away from the rest of the pack after taking his first Stage win of the season.

Suarez took the lead from Truex and in just a couple of laps, Byron moved into second place heading to the second competition caution at the midpoint of Stage two. Suarez, Byron, Truex, Logano and Newman were the top five at the caution which allowed teams to mount new tires without losing positions. The final Stage is only fifty laps, making the tire runs of that length the same after Friday's practice sessions showed the need for shorter runs than anticipated. "I didn't even know what I'm doing" laughed Suarez during the break.

Suarez elected the outside line for the restart and moved right into the lead but a multi-car wreck started with contact that caused Chase Elliott to slow, but Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon and several more all were involved, with Kyle Busch rather emphatically stating on his radio that he could not see anything with the dust, dirt on the windshield and glare from a low sun angle. Another spin immediately caused a caution on the restart, then NASCAR made the decision that all restarts from this point on would be single-file and that the track would get 'groomed' during the Stage break, coming up in 31 laps from the restart.

Logano, Truex and Hamlin all moved ahead in the standings, dropping Byron to fifth soon after the restart. Cody Ware spun on contact with JJ Yeley, bringing out the ninth caution of the race and the race went green again with six laps left in the Stage. Logano got around Suarez for the lead, with Hamlin, Truex and Newman filling the top five approaching the Stage break. Logano went on to his second Stage win of the season, followed by Suarez, Hamlin, Truex and Newman.

Off the restart, Logano and Hamlin jumped into the lead over Suarez. A light brush from Stenhouse cut Bubba Wallace's left rear tire, causing Wallace to spin but without causing a caution. He drove to the pits for a new tire but fell a lap down and out of his top-ten position.

In the closing laps of the race, Ricky Stenhouse seemed to be posting the fastest laps, running in fourth place, but was too far back to challenge, then with eight laps, Hamlin got into the wall, and at four laps left, Mike Marlar had a cut rear tire and spun, bringing out a yellow for a shootout finish. Logano, Hamlin, Truex, Stenhouse and Suarez held the first five positions in the single-file restart, with Logano leading, Hamlin sliding wide with a cut tire and Stenhouse jumping around Truex to take second place.

After taking the checkered flag from officials, Logano found a young fan wearing a Logano t-shirt and handed her the flag through the fence. "How about Bristol on dirt?" Logano said, smiling. "This is incredible, unbelievable racetrack -- great job by everyone that prepped the track.

"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.

"Man, it's incredible.. Obviously, a lot of work over here the last few days. We did a lot of work in the dirt department here the last few weeks. My buddy Ryan Flores and my car chief Jerry Kelley doing a good job with the modified and just making laps and learning where I was going.

"Denny and I had a heck of a race because he found grip up top and I was like, 'Well, I don't know how to do that,' so I had to go up there and try to figure that out to defend the lead position and then eventually just worked the lapped cars. That was very hard as well as it should be. Everybody is racing to stay on the lead lap, so I was able to get through them as needed and, of course, the late-race caution but what an amazing team."

Hamlin commented that he " thought I had a shot there. I cut the 22 (Joey Logano) too many breaks there when he was cutting us off, but at the end of the day it looked like he had a little bit better car in the long run."

Runner-up Ricky Stenhouse commented that his: "Kroger Camaro was really good on the long run; we needed a little bit more NOS Energy Drink for the restarts. I just couldn't get going; couldn't get the turn in the race car that we needed. But we made a ton of adjustments and we kind of went back and forth overnight of what we were going to do. (Kyle) Larson and I came out and hung with the track crew. Steve Swift and the boys did a great job of getting this thing raceable today with all the rain and all the challenges that they had."

• Click HERE for the Cumulative Report
• Click HERE for the Race Results


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