CONCORD, N.C. – Kyle Larson will be one of the most-watched drivers when the NASCAR Cup Series rolls off the grid at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend.
The Tennessee venue has been transformed into a dirt track, which is foreign territory for many Cup Series drivers. However, Larson grew up racing on dirt tracks and won 46 dirt events in 2020 alone. He’s hoping his experiences will translate to racing his No. 5 Freightliner Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE on Sunday.
“I think being able to read the track and seeing how the surfaces change will be good for me,” Larson said. “I think it’s been perceived very well, and I think all the fans are excited to watch, too. All the teams are nervous about it because you don’t really know how to prepare for that race.”
The effort the Cup Series teams have put into preparing for the Bristol dirt race has been in the works for months. While the teams in the shop have fine tuned the Cup cars to run efficiently on dirt, the drivers and crew chiefs have leaned on all resources to understand how the track conditions will change with weather, cars flattening the dirt and how quickly the moisture evaporates from the track.
“I think probably the one area where us dirt guys will have an advantage over somebody who hasn’t raced dirt is just being able to read the track surface and when the color of the dirt is changing and how that’s going to help or hurt your grip,” Larson explained. “As far as the overall driving of the car, it’s so different than what I’m used to that I don’t think it’ll really make a difference. I think we’ll all be learning as we go.”
The closest Larson has gotten to running a heavier car on dirt is when he ran the Truck Series race at Eldora in 2015. The 28-year-old driver said he expects the momentum on dirt to be slower than in a truck or a sprint car that’s typically run at those venues.
“I do remember that Eldora is a lot less grip than what a sprint car feels like, so maybe Bristol will be the same way,” Larson said. “I think with how much banking there is at Bristol and, really, that type of dirt has got more natural grip built into it. You put that with the banking, I think we’ll have a decent amount of grip. I don’t think we’ll be sliding around as much as we did at Eldora in the truck, but I don’t know.”
Despite Larson being a go-to guy for dirt racing, he’s still needs any support and advice from his teammates. He has been working diligently with No. 5 crew chief Cliff Daniels on analyzing the track and approaching the race as methodically as possible.
“I think we all complement each other well and lean on all of us. Not just me and Cliff, but our engineers and mechanics,” Larson said. “I’ll lean on Cliff a lot once we get to have practice, which is great. We’ll get to look at data and study that stuff, study video and try and come up with a plan to get faster and better. Even during the week (I’ll) kind of lean on him about what we expect will happen and then see if those expectations change throughout the weekend.”
The dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway will begin Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET in FOX.