Cup Series

Three takeaways: Logano-Hamlin battle, single-file racing highlight Monday

March 29

By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer

NASCAR got through its first dirt race in more than 50 years, having to make some adjustments during the Cup Series race, and left feeling good about what it delivered Monday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

NASCAR had to revert from double-file to single-file restarts during the event and had a 10-minute break to work on the track to help drivers with visibility. The culprit was dust, of course, a byproduct of the 23,000 cubic yards of dirt that BMS officials imported to transform the track from a 0.533-mile concrete oval into a 0.5-mile dirt track.

Joey Logano — who had no dirt experience until this year, when he competed in a few events to learn how to handle unpredictable dirt surfaces — outlasted Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Denny Hamlin for the win.

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"How about Bristol on dirt?" Logano said. "This is an incredible, unbelievable race track. ... It’s only my fourth dirt race ever, so I had a lot of fun trying to figure it out.

"I was having a blast racing, trying to find the right lanes, moving around."

Here are my three takeaways from Monday:

1. NASCAR coming back

NASCAR announced during the race that it would hold another Bristol dirt race next year. The 2021 version didn’t go totally smoothly, thanks in part to heavy rains that pushed both Saturday's truck race and Sunday's Cup race to Monday.

"All in all, I’d give it a thumbs-up with things to learn," NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell said. "Fans had asked us for years to look at innovation around the schedule."

Visibility was the biggest issue Monday, leading not necessarily to initial wrecks but to drivers plowing into the wrecks that were already there.

"You can’t stop," said Aric Almirola, whose day ended early after a wreck. "You can’t see. That’s honestly the biggest problem. ... Everybody just comes piling in because you can’t see."

NASCAR also didn’t get as much two-wide racing as maybe it had hoped. Often the places with moisture are the places for grip on a dirt track, but the upper lane didn’t have it. Christopher Bell tried it and wrecked.

"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," Bell said.

The announcement of a return in 2022 – one for which Bristol would hope to have a full crowd instead of 35,000-40,000 with social distancing – was a little less surprising than the move to the single-file restarts with about 85 laps remaining, something NASCAR apparently had in its back pocket as an option.

"If you look at dirt racing in general ... what happened during the race with the dust buildup, 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," O’Donnell said.

"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 said he was surprised they went to a single-file restart – something he had not done, he thinks, since 1999. That worried him on the final overtime restart, especially whether he could hold off those behind him for two laps.

"I kind of feel like the leader is a sitting duck," Logano said. "You’re trying to time runs and things like that. You’re in the mirror watching the car behind you. ... It would probably be easier to be double-file restart if you’re the leader.

"You probably had a bigger advantage if you were choosing the outside and had a row behind you to protect you from someone making a move."

Hamlin, who was behind Logano on that final restart, thought he would have had a better chance to get by if they had been side-by-side like normal.

"If I'm beside him, I'm in a better spot than if I'm behind him on a green-white-checkered," Hamlin said.

"I had an opportunity to choose whether I was going to make a move on the high side or the low side. I chose high, and the track was just too slick up there at the time."

2. Another Hamlin-Logano battle

While it was a different race with the dirt, it wasn’t too different to see Hamlin and Logano – two fierce rivals who once fought after a race – battling each other for the win.

Hamlin, frustrated that he let Logano cut him off late, thought he wasn’t aggressive enough at the end.

"He's doing what he has to do to protect the lead," Hamlin said. "I'm trying to get it from him. I just wasn't aggressive enough.

"I should have shoved him out. When I had position on the bottom, I should have just moved up and got him in the dust and got rid of him. I just wanted to pass him clean. I didn't, so I didn't win."

Logano said he expected a bumper from Hamlin on the last restart if Hamlin could get to him – but not because it was Hamlin.

"I figured that was going to come at some point. You’ve got a green-white-checkered at Bristol -- I don’t care if it’s dirt, concrete, you name it. There probably is going to be contact," Logano said.

3. Dirt aces wreck early

Bell, Kyle Larson and Chase Briscoe were all looked at as possible winners because of their extensive dirt sprint-car experience. But all had several incidents of contact, including one between Bell and Larson that knocked Bell out of the race.

Of the dirt drivers, Stenhouse was the one who thrived the most, with a second-place finish.

"Coming into the Bristol dirt event, I felt like I was going to be comfortable on the race track," Stenhouse said. "But I felt like these are the best drivers out there.

"They were going to adapt, their teams were going to adapt, bring good race cars as well. I didn't want to put too much emphasis on, 'Hey, we have to go win.' We methodically worked our way throughout this race of getting our race car better."

Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass!


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