Joey Logano had just four starts on dirt prior to racing at Bristol Motor Speedway.
But he found a way to win in the Food City Dirt Race on Monday—the first dirt race for NASCAR’s premier series since 1970.
Logano led the final 61 laps to score his 27th Cup victory and his third win in Thunder Valley.
“Man, it’s incredible,” Logano said. “How about Bristol on dirt? This is an incredible, unbelievable racetrack—great job by everyone that prepped the track. 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. A lot of that helped. Kevin Buskirk helped a lot, too. He has a lot of knowledge and obviously Paul Wolfe, this team, great car obviously to be able to execute the race that we did and get a win.
“I was getting nervous. 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.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took advantage of Denny Hamlin jumping the cushion and Martin Truex Jr. cutting a tire in overtime to finish second. Hamlin, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Newman, William Byron, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones and Chase Elliott rounded out the top 10.
“Yeah, our Kroger Camaro was really good on the long run; we needed a little bit more NOS Energy Drink for the restarts,” Stenhouse said. “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.
“Man, we had a blast. At the start of the race, I was terrible with the green race track and a little bit of moisture in it. But as it blew off, we got back to where we were in practice and felt really good with it. A good way to go into the off week.”
Aric Almirola ignited the first caution on Lap 41 when he lost control of his car off of Turn 4 and collected Corey LaJoie, Anthony Alfredo and Shane Golobic. Stewart Friesen was involved but continued on.
Martin Truex Jr., who took the lead on Lap 9, continued at the point when the race returned to green on Lap 45 with Bowman alongside. Bowman developed transmission issues and dropped through the field. Four laps later, Byron punted Newman. Kevin Harvick went high to avoid to the wreck and slid into his teammate Chase Briscoe.
NASCAR elected to call the first competition caution during that yellow as they cleared and tended to the track.
Perhaps the most pivotal moment in the race came on Lap 54 when Bell went sideways in Turn 2. Kyle Larson, who came from the rear of the field up to fourth, had no where to go and ran into the No. 20 Toyota.
“F-ing wonderful,” Larson smirked. “Way to go, Bell. Way to go.”
Bell finished 34th and was apologetic following the incident.
“I was just trying to run the water in under yellow,” Bell said. “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.”
Larson gutted out the remainder of the race. He finished 29th, five laps down.
After winning the truck race earlier in the day, Truex led a race-high 126 laps and won the first stage. But Suarez was too strong for the No. 19 in Stage 2 and passed Truex on Lap 135. NASCAR called the second competition caution 15 laps later.
Suarez executed a solid restart but the field made just one lap before a 10-car wreck erupted on the front stretch due to blinding conditions from sun and dust. NASCAR attempted to go green again, but a second wreck occurred involving Brad Keselowski and Chase Briscoe. The sanctioning body decided to repair the track and elected to invoke single-file restarts starting on Lap 170.
"If you look at dirt racing in general, I know some of our fans and the NASCAR industry isn't used to seeing what happened during the race with the dust buildup," said NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O'Donnell. "It's a very common practice, if you experience that situation, to try and go single file to alleviate some of the dust and some of the visibility issues. That's why we made that move.
"We felt that once we made that move, we were going to stay with it for the duration of the race."
Logano had advanced to second and momentarily led before Suarez came back around. The Rick Ware Racing cars of Cody Ware and JJ Yeley made contact on Lap 187 in Turn 3, nearly collecting Suarez in the process. When the race returned to green on Lap 192, Logano quickly took the lead and held on to win Stage 2—his second stage win of the season.
Logano led the field to the final stage. Hamlin went high. passed Suarez for second and set his sights on Logano. While battling for seventh on Lap 216, Stenhouse made contact with Bubba Wallace and sent him around. Wallace dropped to 28th but the race continued under green.
A slugfest ensued over the final 35 laps between Logano and Hamlin. With seven laps remaining, Hamlin slid up too high on the track and hit the fence allowing Logano to extend his lead.
“It was definitely a challenge,” Logano said. “When they watered the track the last stage that kind of changed everything. 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.”
Mike Marlar spun on the front stretch with four laps remaining to send the race into overtime. Hamlin’s crew chief Chris Gabehart instructed the driver, “You have the most aggressive guy in the business in this situation leading this race. Find a way!”
But it was to no avail. Logano got a solid jump on Hamlin and checked out. Stenhouse also passed Hamlin and cut Logano’s lead .554-seconds at the finish.
“I couldn’t see a whole lot,” Hamlin said. “I was kind of guessing, but I thought I could—on that last restart—run the top-end hard, but they didn’t prep it in-between cautions like they did before, so it was just marbles up there. I’m proud of this whole FedEx Camry team. Man, I thought I had a shot there. I cut the 22 (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. I’m proud of this whole team. We are third-best again.”
Hamlin retained a 50-point lead over Logano in the Cup standings. Logano’s first Bristol victory in the spring extended his Cup winning streak to 10 years.
“When you start the weekend here you don’t know what’s coming your way,” Logano said. “You have no idea and to be able to figure it out some way and then be able to figure out where the speed is throughout practice. (Crew chief) Paul Wolfe and all the guys did a tremendous job figuring that out for me.
“I finally won a spring race. I guess we needed dirt.”