After years of fans asking, NASCAR truly returned to their roots last March with the inaugural Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The much-anticipated race was met with overwhelming approval and ended with a very unique top-five, but it remains to be seen how future editions will play out. The reason for all the uncertainty was a Lap 54 incident triggered by one of the best dirt track racers in the field when Christopher Bell spun near the head of the pack. He collected Kyle Larson and four others – doing significant damage to the No. 5, and making the two overwhelming favorites underdogs for the rest of the race.
Remarkably, another driver with a ton of dirt experience survived that same incident and finished well as Ricky Stenhouse Jr. crossed under the checkers a half-second behind Joey Logano. Denny Hamlin, a driver who cut his teeth on paved short tracks, finished third with Daniel Suarez and his road course background from the NASCAR Mexico series fourth.
Rounding out the top five was Ryan Newman, who got his start in racing in the USAC Series, so former dirt racers were well represented.
Entering the race, two drivers were head and shoulders above the field with Larson posting odds of +280 and Bell listed at +775. They were the only drivers under 10/1, but the field was closely grouped and several dirt ringers opened with relatively low odds. After practice and heat races, Stewart Friesen, Mike Marlar, JJ Yeley, Chris Windom, and others found a more reasonable slot, but it underscored the uncertainty traders had entering the event.
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Doubt will carry over into 2022 because the rhythm of the race was interrupted. Given the way the remainder of his season played out, Larson would almost certainly have dominated and the battle at the front should have been between him and Bell. Their early difficulty opened the door for some surprising drivers to develop bragging rights, however.
The winning driver Logano faced +2000 odds with second-place Stenhouse at +2200. The biggest surprise was Daniel Suarez, who led 58 circuits from Lap 135 through 192 after taking the lead during green flag conditions. He eventually slipped to fourth.
Nearly as surprising was the fact that Martin Truex Jr. paced the field for 136 laps before experiencing trouble that dropped him to 19th as the final driver on the lead lap.
The tricky thing about standalone races is there is such a small book of notes from which to work. Favor must be given to racers who spend a significant amount of time racing dirt and those who have skills deeply ingrained in their makeup. Larson's incredible record of winning in every style of dirt car will make him the favorite again this year – and deservedly so. Bell will also be highly regarded, but many of the other drivers will continue to hone their talent.
Chase Elliott raced midgets on several occasions in 2021 and climbed into a sprint car during the off-season. Logano raced a dirt modified to gain some experience while Austin Dillon and Ty Dillon have deep roots in that same style of racing. Track position is critical here as everywhere, but bettors and fantasy players will have the opportunity to see who is going to carry the standard after watching 2022's heat races.
Unfortunately, the PointsBet Sportsbook traders will be watching closely, so don't be surprised if there are more than two drivers under 10/1 this time around.
1: Joey Logano
No streaks: Inaugural race in 2021
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