The first NASCAR Cup Series race on a dirt track in 51 ended with an overtime finish that was conquered by Joey Logano after the race was postponed until Monday due to rain that flooded Bristol Motor Speedway facilities on Sunday.
Logano won stage 2 and led 61 of the race’s 253 laps after taking the lead on lap 193 from Daniel Suarez.
“Obviously [it was] an exciting race,” Logano said. “I think the biggest thing was just being methodical throughout the race. For us, we had a good Shell/Pennzoil Mustang, one that was probably the best on the long run. The last 15, 20 laps of a run is where we would really shine. I was just trying to make sure I had some tires on it for that moment.”
Logano became the seventh different winner in the seven races in 2021, marking the first time since 2014 that the first seven races of a season have produced seven unique winners. In both 2014 and 2021, Logano won the seventh race.
On the overtime restart, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. passed Denny Hamlin for second and finished second to Logano, his best finish of the season.
Martin Truex, Jr., who won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race earlier on Monday, led 126 laps in the cup race – the most of anyone – but had a tire go flat on the final restart and finished 19th, the last car on the lead lap.
Daniel Suarez in the no. 99 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet posted some of his best results in his Cup Series career after finished fourth and second in the stages and fourth in the race after leading 58 laps.
“When they announced we’re going to be coming here with dirt in one of the races, I wasn’t too sure about it because I never been on dirt in my life,” Suarez said. “In Mexico, we don’t have ovals in dirt, at least as I know. Honestly, I am just very, very proud of my team that they brought a very fast car and I was able to learn as I went.”
The top-10 finishing drivers were Logano, Stenhouse, Hamlin, Suarez, Ryan Newman, William Byron, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones and Chase Elliott.
With his third-place finish, Hamlin extended his points lead from 43 points to 58 over second, which is now Logano.
The race had five lead changes between five drivers and was run under caution 10 times for a total of 39 laps.
In the middle of the race, NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports Incorporated, which owns Bristol Motor Speedway, officially announced that the 2022 spring race weekend at the track will also be on dirt.
The NASCAR Cup Series will take a weekend off before heading to their next race, the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway, on Saturday, April 10 at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Stage 1 – 100 laps
Prior to the start of the race, Kyle Larson, who was supposed to start first, was forced to give up his starting position after the team made an engine change after practices on Friday. Matt DiBenedetto also needed to start at the rear for an unapproved repair.
Denny Hamlin led the field to the first green flag of the day, but Kyle Busch took the lead quickly. Busch didn’t stay in the lead very long, however, because he began to overheat when chunks of mud covered the grille opening. On lap 9, Martin Truex, Jr. took the lead, resuming his dominance from the truck race, which had ended just a few hours prior to the start of this race.
As Truex pulled away, William Byron challenged Ryan Blaney for second. However, it was Alex Bowman who took over second spot as the leaders caught lapped traffic.
On lap 41, Aric Almirola spun coming out of turn 2. He looked to be okay until his car was clobbered by the no. 78 of Shane Golobic and the no. 7 of Corey LaJoie, bringing out the first caution and the first red flag of the race. Anthony Alfredo in the no. 38 was also involved in the accident. Almirola, LaJoie, Alfredo and Golobic were all damaged beyond repair and done for the day.
The race restarted on lap 46 with Truex out front, but it only took a few laps for another incident to occur. Again, out of turn 2, Byron and Ryan Newman made contact, sending Newman’s no. 6 spinning. Newman and Byron didn’t suffer any significant damage, but as drivers tried to avoid the accident, chain-reaction crashes damaged the cars of Kevin Harvick and Chase Briscoe.
The race resumed on lap 51 with Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Truex and Christopher Bell out front, but things took a sudden and unexpected turn for the worse for the two odds-on favorites to win the race. Bell spun in the turn 2 cushion and collected Larson, who worked his way up to fourth. The two cars collided and Ross Chastain piled into the two cars, and while attempting to avoid the crash, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Briscoe also got damaged. Bell’s car was totaled, ending his day early.
The race again restarted with 40 laps to go in the stage. Daniel Suarez was now running second behind Truex despite never having made a start on dirt before. It was after this restart that Bowman in the no. 48 was reporting that he didn’t have fourth gear.
Byron was able to pass Suarez for second in the closing laps of the stage, but he couldn’t catch Truex, who cruised to an easy stage win.
The top-10 finishers in stage 1 were Truex, Byron, Hamlin, Suarez, Blaney, Joey Logano, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, Jr., Newman, Stenhouse and Chris Buescher.
Stage 2 – 100 laps
The race restarted on lap 102 with Truex still out front, but Suarez took second from Byron. Truex ran away from Suarez in the opening laps, but as the run got to be longer, Suarez closed the gap to Truex. On lap 36 of the stage, Suarez took the lead with a bump-and-run on Truex. Two laps later, Byron moved into second.
The second competition caution came out with Suarez out front at the stage’s halfway point. Every driver elected to pit, meaning no one would jump positions.
Suarez led back to the restart with Byron in second on lap 153. Two laps later, a wreck ensued in the mid-pack dust cloud that was forming. A wreck broke out that collected Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, Ryan Preece and Alex Bowman. After another few green flag laps, Chase Briscoe spun and hit the wall on the frontstretch. Because of the frequency of cautions, NASCAR mad a mid-race rule altercation so that restarts for the remainder of the race would be single-file.
Suarez restarted out front with 31 laps left in the stage. He faced a quick challenge from Logano, but was able to keep the lead. Hamlin took third from Truex with 17 laps left in the stage. Two laps later, Cody Ware spun onto the apron and brought a caution out.
Suarez led the restart with 9 laps left in the stage, but Logano went to the bottom of the track and passed Suarez, who was saying he was too tight. Suarez was unable to catch back up to Logano, who captured his second stage win of 2021.
In stage 2, the top-10 finishers were Logano, Suarez, Hamlin, Truex, Newman, Stenhouse, Bubba, Erik Jones, Tyler Reddick and Chase Elliott.
Race to the finish – 50 laps
The race restarted on lap 203 with Logano out front. Hamlin jumped from third to second and quickly found himself on the back bumper of the no. 22. Logano started taking the high lane to try and get the momentum off the corner to keep Hamlin behind him. Logano and Hamlin pulled away from Suarez in third, Truex in fourth and Reddick, who was now running fifth. Bubba spun with a flat tire with about 35 laps to go, but there was no caution since he was able to limp his way to pit road.
With 25 to go, Logano and Hamlin caught a pack of lapped cars who were side-by-side, bringing the two leaders close together yet again.
Logano appeared to have the race wrapped up, but Mike Marlar spun out on the frontstretch with 4 laps to go, bringing out the caution.
When the race restarted, Hamlin in second and Truex in third went to the high side of the racetrack. Truex had a tire go down, and he lost all of his position. Stenhouse passed Hamlin on the bottom, allowing Logano to take home the first NASCAR Cup Series dirt track win in over half-a-century.
Featured photo credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images