The Cup Series was certain to follow suit, and with attendance at Bristol beginning to decrease, the decision was taken to turn that event to a dirt race—20 years after the track last covered its surface in clay for the World of Outlaws. The change was made because there had been concerns about how much damage would be done to the track's asphalt surface by the series' trucks and cars.
Bristol Motor Speedway president Mike Tamburri said in a statement that turning to dirt "is the only way we can continue to keep our sport alive and allow it to survive." He added: "We look forward to returning to a race that will include all types of vehicles, not just those based on carbon fiber."
This will be the first time since 2001 that NASCAR will not have a paved race track on which to compete. The last time they raced on dirt was back in 1978 when they ran the Winston 500 at Arizona International Raceway. That race was won by Richard Petty with a truck. The most recent edition of this event took place in 2015. Trevor Bayne drove his car to victory lane at Martinsville Speedway.
So far this year, there are no plans to return to concrete next season. But who knows, maybe in 20 years they'll go back to dirt.
Following Monday's race at the Bristol Motor Speedway—the championship's first dirt event since 1970--soil racing will stay on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule at the track until 2022. During the COVID-19 epidemic, Bristol had sold out of tickets for both races under existing social distancing norms. The decision was made to keep fans safe and allow them to enjoy the race from their cars rather than in their seats.
Bristol is one of a few tracks that has kept its race on television. Before the start of each season, NBC announces which races will be shown live. In 2019, only the Daytona 500 was shown live due to coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic. All other races were recorded before airing.
After the initial shock of the news, fans responded with questions about whether or not the track would return to asphalt. According to CEO Jerry Bailey, "We're a quarter mile track. We can run either way." He added, "If they want us back on asphalt, we can do it. If they don't, we'll still go out there and have a great time with our dirt track partners."
During the off-season, Bristol hires consultants to help determine what type of surface they should use during the upcoming year. In 2018, the speedway decided to use dirt again after 20 years on asphalt. The first race on the new surface was the DRIVE 4CURE Foundation 300 in May.
Bristol Motor Speedway was transformed to a dirt track for the last time in 2000 and 2001. The route will be very different this time. The concrete oval has variable degrees of banking, with a maximum of 30 degrees. The dirt track banking, on the other hand, will be just 18 degrees, a decrease from the 2001 race. The surface is supposed to be dust.
In addition to the change in surface, there are also changes to the layout of the race. The start/finish line will be moved back 50 feet, while the location of the checkerboard pattern that divides the racetrack into four equal lanes will be changed. The goal is to make the racing more intense by bringing it closer to the cars themselves. There will be two rounds of three-minute heats followed by a 10-lap final for the winner-take-all prize.
This will be the first time since 1971 that a dirt track will not be part of the NASCAR schedule. However, some tracks may use the name "dirt track" to describe a temporary course used during testing sessions or other events outside of the main race. For example, Auto Club Speedway in California uses a dirt track for several test days per year.
The 2000 season saw two crashes within a few laps of each other cause major accidents. One driver's car went up in flames after hitting a ground wire, and another crashed into the path of oncoming traffic.
The Bristol Cup Series dirt race will go 250 laps (133.25 miles), which is half the length of a cup race on Bristol's concrete track. The race will be broken into three stages, each consisting of 75, 75, and 100 laps. At no point will drivers be required to stop for fuel.
The first two stages are driver selection races where the starting lineup is determined by who finishes in the top two positions. If more than two drivers finish in the top two positions, then they will take part in a tiebreaker race where the first across the line wins. If still tied, it would be head-to-head sprint racing until only one car is left on the track. The final stage is used to determine pole position for the third and final race of the day.
Each driver is allowed six attempts to win or place high enough to keep their drive through penalties. If they fail after six tries, they will be eliminated from the race.
There is also a four-driver shootout at the end of the race called the "Bristol Buckle". Each driver that places high enough in the previous three phases gets one chance over the last lap of the race to try to beat out his opponents for $100,000.
The winner of the buckled wins $200,000 while the other three drivers split the remaining $75,000.
Instead, NASCAR has converted Bristol Motor Speedway, a historic, high-banked concrete oval in northeastern Tennessee, into a temporary dirt track by bringing in 23,000 cubic yards of local red clay and laying it on top of the concrete surface. The change will take place this weekend during the Pepsi 400.
Bristol Motor Speedway president and general manager Steve Wetherell said Friday that the conversion process should be finished by Sunday night's race. He added that there were no plans at this time to return the speedway to its original configuration.
The switch comes as a surprise to many who thought all tracks would be paved for this season. But NASCAR chairman and CEO Brian France is a long-time fan of dirt racing and wants to see if the surface can hold its own against the pavement tracks have become accustomed to over the past few years.
In addition to France, other officials support the idea of trying out dirt racing at every single one of their tracks this season. However, none of them want to do anything more than just sample the dirt during practice and qualifying sessions. They all fear that if they go beyond that and the weather turns bad or not enough people show up, then they might be forced to continue on the current path forever.
It's been nearly 10 years since the last dirt track race was held at Talladega Superspeedway.
Instead, NASCAR has hauled in 23,000 cubic yards of local red soil to turn Bristol Motor Speedway, a historic, high-banked concrete oval in northeastern Tennessee, into a temporary dirt track. The red clay provides plenty of grip and drops off quickly so drivers don't have time to tuck their cars out of shape.
Bristol Motor Speedway was built in 1960 by the late Bill France Jr., who also created Daytona International Speedway and opened it to racing two years later. The 1.5-mile track sits on land that was once part of Brogden Plantation, which was sold to France after he received several threats from race drivers not wanting him to build a track in their home state.
The first season of NASCAR's top series took place at Bristol Motor Speedway in 1961, with Buck Baker winning the only race held there that year. Today, the speedway hosts the Brickyard 400 automobile race every year in September.
Bristol Motor Speedway isn't the only track used by NASCAR during its seasons. Tracks are usually updated or rebuilt before each new season to keep up with technology and driver safety improvements. For example, many tracks now use energy-absorbing barriers instead of foam blocks as protection for fans behind the grandstands. The walls are painted gray to blend in with the pavement during races.