Notes of Interest
● It’s not a commercial break. It’s a coffee break. Busch Light, or rather Busch Latte, is bringing the notion of a coffee break to NASCAR during the Food City Dirt Race Sunday night on FOX. During every commercial break, Busch Light will encourage fans to tweet using the hashtags #BuschLatteBreak #Sweepstakes. One winner will be selected from all the entries after each stage, and that person will be able to order a prize off the Busch Latte Menu. Each stage will have increasingly bigger prizes: The Stage 1 “tall” prize menu = Busch Latte merchandise (T-shirt, coozie, mug); Stage 2 “grande” prize menu = Choice of a Busch Latte cooler, a Busch Light neon sign, or two tickets to an upcoming NASCAR Cup Series race; Stage 3 “trenta” prize menu = $1,000. So take that coffee break, we mean, that #BuschLatteBreak.
● Kevin Harvick has made 41 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, but all of those have come on the concrete surface of the .533-mile, high-banked oval. Despite three wins, 14 top-fives, 21 top-10s and 1,209 laps led at the track since 2001, none of it matters this weekend in the series’ return to Bristol. For the second straight spring race, Bristol’s concrete has been covered with dirt, and Harvick’s past accolades have been buried. The Food City Dirt Race is back.
● Do you remember the Prelude to the Dream? Of course you do, because like Ron Burgundy in Anchorman, it was “kind of a big deal.” The charity dirt late model race that Tony Stewart hosted at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, from 2005 to 2012 was where many NASCAR Cup Series drivers got their first taste of dirt racing. Harvick was one of those drivers. He competed in four Preludes – 2005, 2007, 2008 and 2009 – and earned a best finish of seventh in 2008. But that wasn’t Harvick’s only experience on dirt. During this same timeframe, Harvick also raced an IMCA dirt modified on a handful of occasions, making one-off appearances at such tracks as Sharon Speedway in Hartford, Ohio, Macon (Ill.) Speedway and even in his hometown when he raced at Bakersfield (Calif.) Speedway.
● The last Prelude was in 2012, and taking its place at Eldora was the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series when in 2013 the Truck Series began a seven-year run at the half-mile, dirt oval. That inaugural race on July 24 was the first time in more than four decades a top NASCAR series had competed on dirt – the last being Sept. 30, 1970 at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh where Richard Petty took the 117th of his record 200 career NASCAR Cup Series wins. Like Eldora, it was on a Wednesday night and contested on a half-mile oval. There was never a repeat winner in the Truck Series race at Eldora, and five of its seven winners are entered in the Food City Dirt Race – Austin Dillon (2013), Bubba Wallace (2014), Christopher Bell (2015), Kyle Larson (2016), Chase Briscoe (2018). The two winners not entered at Bristol are Matt Crafton (2017) and Stewart Friesen (2019).
● In last year’s inaugural NASCAR dirt weekend at Bristol, Harvick pulled double duty competing in both the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race and the NASCAR Cup Series race. In a Ford F-150 for David Gilliland Racing, Harvick started 30th and finished 15th in his first Truck race since Aug. 1, 2015 when he finished second at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. On Sunday for the Cup race, Harvick started sixth and recorded another 15th-place finish.
Kevin Harvick, Driver of the No. 4 Busch Latte Ford Mustang
We’re back to the dirt at Bristol. With a year of reflection, how did that first dirt race at Bristol go for you?
“You know, Bristol Dirt was much easier than I anticipated it being because it wasn’t like a normal dirt race. I was expecting a normal dirt race, but when you look at Bristol Dirt and the way the cars drove, it was a lot of the same tendencies that you had with a normal Cup car. Being able to have all my stuff and all of the same tendencies just made it a lot better for me, even with all differences of racing on dirt.”
Will the racing be aided by having a 7 p.m. EDT start?
“It’s definitely going to help with the racetrack. I think the track conditions will be less dusty and, hopefully, the track will keep more moisture in it a lot longer than it did last year.”
Prior to last year’s dirt race at Bristol, your last time on dirt was back in 2009 at the Prelude to the Dream dirt late model race at Eldora Speedway. Was there some muscle memory that kicked in when you first got on the dirt there at Bristol, or was it a whole new experience all over again?
“I’d say there was more crossover from the IMCA modified than there was from the dirt late model just because of the way the car drove. The part that I struggled with in the dirt late model was just how violent and fast everything happened, and that was just something that I’d never done before. With the IMCA car, it was slower and more methodical, with slower throttle control. It wasn’t ‘romp and stomp,’ it was pretty methodical about the way you drove. Our cars were kind of that same way. For a dirt race, it was about as enjoyable as any dirt race I’d ever done.”
How helpful was running the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on dirt the day before the Cup race?
“I think it definitely helped, and I think just getting over that anxiety of worrying about what it was going to be like, how it was going to drive, what you were going to do – it just allowed me to get through all that and then the rest of the weekend was fine. I don’t have those same, big worries that I had last year because you kind of know what to expect. Obviously, the car is different, but I still think it’s going to have a lot of the same tendencies that we have on a week-to-week basis.”
How do you think this NextGen car will handle the dirt?
“I think it’s going to be different, but it’s still going to have a lot of the same nuances that you currently have at the racetrack. I don’t know what we’re going to do with the back window with the car filling up with dirt, but we’ve worked through all these new issues before and none of that stuff has been as big of a deal as we had anticipated it being.”
Do the guys who have a dirt background have an advantage at Bristol, or is the style of racing so different compared to a sprint car or midget or dirt late model that it really doesn’t matter?
“It’s just not as much like what those guys do. Obviously, they can look at the racetrack and tell easier when it’s ready to move up a lane, and they have a little more confidence to pass. But in the end, a regular won (Joey Logano), so I think that tells you how much more it’s like what we normally do than what a lot of people thought it might be.”
What was your dirt-racing experience prior to last year’s dirt race at Bristol?
“I ran Tony Stewart’s Prelude to the Dream at Eldora four times, and the last one was in 2009. I actually ran a lot of races on dirt around that time. The only one I ever won was at Dave Blaney’s track (Sharon Speedway in Hartford, Ohio) and that was in an IMCA car. But I ran the IMCA car several times that year, probably four or five times. I’m fairly certain I ran in my hometown of Bakersfield (California), I ran at Blaney’s track in Ohio, I ran at Macon in Illinois, I ran in Minnesota – all that stuff was around the time when I raced in the Prelude.”
When you ran those IMCA races, who did you drive for?
“I had my own car that I ran at three or four of them, and another owner’s car in Bakersfield, and at that time I was teammates with (Clint) Bowyer. Most everything was done by Mike Dillon with their dirt team. They had everything in place and they built the car for me and everything. So, Team Dillon was doing everything for us on that side of it.”