CONCORD, N.C. -- With the NASCAR Cup Series heading to Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend to take on the Last Great Colosseum covered in dirt, the crew chiefs have a tall order to get ready for the unknowns that lay ahead.
The Hendrick Motorsports teams will use their prior knowledge of racing on dirt to prepare as much as possible for Sunday’s race. However, they will look to a new platform to fill in the gaps. iRacing has released the Bristol dirt track on its program and the teams have been testing the virtual track to get race ready.
“iRacing is a huge tool for us as engineers and crew chiefs for us to understand what we may be challenged with,” Greg Ives, crew chief of the No. 48 team, explained. “We try to set up changes here and there; it doesn’t technically correlate 100% but it does give you a general idea of what changes may do.”
While a lot of the changes will happen on the fly during the race, there are certain patterns the teams look for on the simulated track.
“We’re trying to understand the line and the track conditions as you change the track surface from zero to 100% and how it may change over the course of a whole race,” Ives said.
Some of those conditions include how fast the track can change. With weather condition and heavy Cup cars racing on the dirt, a dirt track can change in just a few short laps. Cliff Daniels, the crew chief of the No. 5 team, believes the experience and knowledge the drivers can gain from running on the iRacing simulator can help prepare for those scenarios.
“I’ve cut laps around it and had a little bit of my own experience with that,” Daniels said. “Kyle (Larson) has cut a few laps around it and given me his thoughts and feedback on what that experience was like for him. We try to lightly lean on some of that but, again, time will tell once we unload and can cut five laps on the track.”
This week, the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series makes its return after a successful 2020 season and debuts at the virtual Bristol dirt track Wednesday, giving drivers and fans a chance to get a sneak peak of what to expect at the event this Sunday.
“A lot of people are over there running it and they have been playing with the grip of the track and the tires,” Alan Gustafson, crew chief of the No. 9 team, said. “iRacing does an amazing job. It’s probably the best information we have right now, to be honest.”
The green flag for inaugural dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway will wave Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX.