This entire season feels like it’s been building to this weekend when NASCAR goes back to its roots with dirt racing. This is going to be a monumental moment in the history of the sport, and there have really only been two names talked about for the entire show.
Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell are two of the most acclaimed dirt racers in the world and they also happen to be in top equipment at the Cup series level. So, naturally, with Cup holding a dirt event, they are the two biggest names brought up as favorites.
They are not the only two drivers with dirt experience, however. Dirt is the gateway to racing, or at least that’s what I always thought. In doing research for this article, it turns out a lot of guys started out on asphalt straight into their careers. There are only a handful of Cup series regulars that have true experience racing on dirt, and I’d like to highlight the ones who have a shot at acclimating to Bristol just as well as Larson or Bell.
I wanted to bring attention to these guys that aren’t going to get as much love this weekend, but they have the experience to challenge both get golden boys of dirt. J.J. Yeley will not be on this list, but I made an article highlighting his abilities as a dirt racer yesterday. The only reason he’s not on this list is that I don’t believe he will be a realistic option to win tomorrow with his car at Rick Ware Racing, but he could compete for a top 15.
So, if you’re someone who makes odd numbers, to make this an even top 10, you can just say Yeley would be at 10 with Larson and Bell being 1st and 2nd respectively.
7. Austin Dillon
Austin is actually the first driver to win on dirt since NASCAR’s return to it in the first truck race at Eldora in 2013. His skill on dirt is actually pretty well developed for a guy who obviously had the Cup series on his mind from the beginning. He began his racing career with dirt, late models.
Dillon has been running really well this year as RCR seems to have turned the corner with their teams. The possibility of Dillon being in contention for this race is very high because he has been actively preparing for this weekend.
6. Kurt Busch
The most acclaimed NASCAR driver of the guys who have dirt experience. Kurt started out racing dwarf cars and was very successful back in Las Vegas. He was actually the only Busch brother to get experience on dirt as Kyle skipped it altogether.
Kurt has shown a lot of speed this year and was looking at possibly contending for a win last week had he not got taken out. There will be a lot of competitive drive in the #1-car this week; especially with all those NOS Energy cars on the track to pass.
5. Ryan Newman
Newman is a champion on dirt and a member of the Quarter Midget Hall of Fame. He’s a guy that made his start on dirt and I think that’s a big reason why Tony Stewart brought him in to start Stewart-Haas Racing back in the day. He has made a couple of starts at Eldora with his best finish being 3rd, so he has a little more recent experience than most starting on Sunday.
I have been very vocal about Newman being in the twilight of his career, but he has looked solid this year. I think that if he has any chance of winning a race this year outside of a superspeedway it’ll be here.
4. Chase Briscoe
Briscoe got his start in sprint cars and was very successful. He is the youngest winner of a 410 sprint car race of 13-years old, beating Jeff Gordon’s record by one year. He’s a guy that I think Tony Stewart sees a lot of himself in, and that goes beyond just being from Indiana.
He has struggled mightily this season, but I attribute that to jumping into the Cup series with no practice to help him get used to the cars. This will be the first week he’ll be able to get to the track early and test his car out.
3. Tyler Reddick
Reddick has earned a lot of awards that revolve around being the youngest drivers in the firld in dirt tracks. He competed in Outlaw karts at the age of 4. He has won the East Bay Winter Nationals and was the youngest winning driver in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series.
He’s a guy that seems to be able to find speed at tracks that suit his driving style. While he’s not at the point where he can find consistent speed at every track, when he does find it, he is a threat to win each time.
2. Alex Bowman
Bowman is sneakily a really good dirt track racer. Nobody talks about this I guess because he doesn’t compete as substantially as Larson or Bell, but this guy can rip it on dirt. He holds nine national USAC championships and 165 feature wins.
It was actually a shock to me to see his experience on dirt while doing research. With his team coming off their best finish of the season and searching for their first win, this guy could be the surprise dominant car.
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Arguably the most acclaimed dirt racer in the field beside Larson and Bell, and still competing almost weekly. Ricky has been competing in the USAC sprint car competition since 2004 and has continued to race dirt just as consistently as any other driver in the Cup garage.
With this team finding some solid speed this year I was already looking at him as a sneaky win favorite for this race. This team also has the added benefit of the dirt acting as a possible equalizer for them and helping out their cause this week.