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Unlike last year’s inaugural Bristol Dirt Race, having a background in dirt racing has paid dividends thus far this season. The four qualifying races on Saturday were all won by drivers with dirt experience, and a couple were done in dominating fashion. The favorite for the weekend, Kyle Larson, passed three drivers to finish third in the final qualifying heat.
Dustin Albino’s race-day lineup:
Starter 1: Kyle Larson
Starter 2: Christopher Bell
Starter 3: Chase Briscoe
Starter 4: Tyler Reddick
Starter 5: justin haley
Garagepick: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NEXT ONLINE: Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch, Alex Bowman, Ty Dillon.
RISING: When it comes to current Cup drivers with dirt racing experience, Justin Haley’s name might not stand compared to some others. But the No. 31 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet won the third qualifying heat and was sporty in practice. Over the last couple of weeks, Haley has taken to the Bristol dirt track, running a modified. He makes my lineup.
It might have been nearly nine years ago, but Austin Dillon won NASCAR’s return to dirt racing in 2013 at Eldora Speedway. This weekend, the No. 3 Chevrolet started eighth in the third heat, making his way up to fifth in a solid battle with Bubba Wallace. He will come from 12th and is on a streak of three straight top-10 results. Don’t overlook the elder Dillon brother.
Speaking of Dillons, Ty Dillon wasn’t too shabby in the fourth qualifying heat on Saturday, putting his bright No. 42 Chevrolet out front. Like his brother Austin, Ty grew up racing dirt late models. This weekend could be the swing in momentum for his Petty GMS Motorsports team.
FAILING: Earlier in the week, Denny Hamlin was on my list of drivers to avoid. Through Friday and Saturday, nothing has changed my mind, despite his sitting atop the scoring pylon in final practice. The No. 11 team followed that quick lap by finishing last in the third qualifying race. Hamlin will start in 34th.
Last year, surprisingly, Martin Truex Jr. led a race-high 126 laps on the dirt. This year, though, the No. 19 car has been off, and will take the green flag from 30th. It’s hard to see a repeat performance at the Bristol dirt track this time around.
Kyle Larson vs. Christopher Bell: What a matchup! Arguably, two of the best dirt racers in the country are up against one another. And while this is a tossup, Bell has seemingly had the better car thus far this weekend. It is, however, fun to see Larson sling his car around the top, and it shouldn’t be surprising to see the race come down to these two drivers, you know, like many recent Chili Bowls.
William Byron vs. Alex Bowman: Based off Bowman’s dirt experience, the No. 48 car is the pick here. Bowman will start eighth to Byron’s 19th-place starting position. And while this is based around where a driver finishes, Bowman has been more impressive thus far this weekend.
Joey Logano vs. Martin Truex Jr.: This is a layout. As noted above, Truex’s prowess on dirt doesn’t look as good this year. Meanwhile, Logano finished second in his qualifying heat and ran the Truck Series race on Saturday evening. No. 22 all the way.
Daniel Suarez vs. Chase Briscoe: No doubt, Suarez was the surprise last year in the Bristol Dirt Race. Briscoe, though, is a superb dirt racer. Don’t overthink this one, the No. 14 Ford could potentially win the race.