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NASCAR at Bristol preview and betting odds: What you need to know about the Cup Series on dirt

Nick Bromberg
·5-min read

It's time for the first Cup Series dirt race in over 50 years.

NASCAR makes its traditional spring stop at Bristol on Sunday but the race isn't going to be on concrete. It'll be on dirt. NASCAR and Bristol have trucked in tons and tons of dirt to cover the concrete racing surface for the first Cup Series race not on pavement since 1970.

A lot of things are going to be different on Sunday. Cars are going to have significant visual modifications to help them more easily navigate the dirt. Dirt tires will be used on the cars instead of the traditional slick tires. And there will be heat races on Saturday to set the starting lineup for Sunday's race.

Here's what you need to know for the race. And below are some betting suggestions if you're brave enough to place a bet on a race that has a bunch of unknowns.

Food City Dirt Race

3:30 p.m. ET (Fox)

The race is scheduled for 250 laps — half of the traditional Bristol race distance. The first two stages are 75 laps each and the final stage is scheduled for 100 laps.

Teams can only pit the cars during stage breaks unless that car has been in a wreck or has a problem. Pit stops during stages will also not be "live." Drivers will exit pit road in the order they entered.

The race will also feature two practices on Friday for drivers to get used to the dirt track surface. Sunday's race is the first race since the Daytona 500 to have practice or qualifying. NASCAR hasn't been holding practice or qualifying before most races this season to help teams save money during the coronavirus pandemic.

How heat races are going to work

There will be a random draw before the weekend to set the lineup for the four heat races on Saturday. If a driver draws No. 1, he'll start first in the first heat. If he draws No. 4, he'll draw first in the fourth heat.

Each heat race will feature a quarter of the field and be 15 laps long. Only green flag laps will count. The starting lineup for Sunday's race will be based on the finishing order of each of the four heat races, along with the number of passes a driver makes.

Each pass a driver makes is equal to one point, while a heat win is worth 10 points, second place is worth nine, third is worth eight and so on through 10th. The driver with the most points from a heat earns the top Sunday starting position from that heat.

BRISTOL, TENNESSEE - SEPTEMBER 19: Aric Almirola, driver of the #10 Smithfield Ford, Matt DiBenedetto, driver of the #21 Menards/Dutch Boy Ford, and Clint Bowyer, driver of the #14 Rush Truck Centers/Cummins Ford, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on September 19, 2020 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Drivers won't be racing on concrete on Sunday. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

A muddy track?

Given NASCAR's luck with rain over the last couple seasons it's only appropriate that rain is in the forecast on Sunday. Like with an asphalt or concrete oval, NASCAR won't run on the Bristol dirt if it's raining or too wet. Given that rain is expected at various points over the weekend, it reasons that the racing surface won't be very dry whether the race is held at its scheduled time or if it's run after a weather delay.

Will the race meet the hype?

Die-hard NASCAR watchers this season will have noticed the hype for Sunday's race. It's impossible to have watched a significant amount of Fox's NASCAR coverage and not seen a promo for Sunday's race.

Will the race be good? We have no idea. These Cup Series cars have never raced on dirt. We have no idea how they're going to handle and what drivers will have to do to make fast laps around the track. Will passing be plentiful? Will wrecks be abundant? Will drivers have to drive them like a dirt sprint car or can they keep the cars pointed straight in the corners?

We won't have the answers to those questions until Saturday at the earliest.

Kyle Larson the overwhelming favorite

Larson is at +250 at BetMGM to win Sunday’s race. He won over 40 dirt races in his NASCAR hiatus in 2020 after he was fired from Chip Ganassi Racing for saying a racial slur. Couple that with his current ride at Hendrick Motorsports and his status as a winner already in 2021, and you have the recipe for low odds.

Christopher Bell is the No. 2 favorite at +550. Chase Briscoe is third at +1000 along with Austin Dillon. Chase Elliott is at +1100.

Lots of dirt racers in the field

If you’re looking to bet Sunday’s race there are a lot of good dirt track drivers with strong odds.

Truck Series driver Stewart Friesen is at +1200. He’s driving for Spire Motorsports on Sunday. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is at +1400.

Mike Marlar is at +2500. He’s driving the No. 66 for MBM. Chris Windom also has the same odds; he’s in the No. 15 for Rick Ware Racing. Shane Golobic is +3500; he’s in the No. 78 for Live Fast Racing.

With the exception of Stenhouse, none of the drivers listed above is in decent equipment. Will their dirt excellence and the track surface be an equalizer to help these non-competitive teams have a shot at the win? We’re a tad skeptical. Stenhouse seems the best bet by far from this group.

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