NASCAR Barometer: Logano Wins on Bristol Dirt

NASCAR Barometer: Logano Wins on Bristol Dirt

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

The NASCAR Cup Series teams attacked a dirt track in the first race on the surface since 1970. The conditions presented a whole host of new challenges for teams and drivers, and Joey Logano conquered them all, leading the final 61 laps on his way to make it two wins in a row for Penske Racing after Ryan Blaney won the week before. Martin Truex Jr. looked like the early favorite after dominating the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race earlier in the afternoon. He quickly moved into the lead from the fifth starting spot and went on to lead 126 laps, winning the first stage, too. Dirt-track rookie Daniel Suarez took the point from him in the second stage, but Suarez couldn't hold off Logano, who took the lead and led the final 61 laps for an overtime win.

Monday's race was unique in that most of the prerace favorites were not factors in the outcome. Kyle Larson gave up his pole position after an engine change forced him to start from the rear, and an early wreck in traffic left him scrambling to catch up the rest of the distance. Christopher Bell also fell out of the race after an early mistake, and Kyle Busch also suffered early overheating problems that put him out of contention. It was an unpredictable race, and NASCAR announced it will be doing it again next season. This week, the competitors get a break before another short track, Martinsville Speedway, restarts the action

The NASCAR Cup Series teams attacked a dirt track in the first race on the surface since 1970. The conditions presented a whole host of new challenges for teams and drivers, and Joey Logano conquered them all, leading the final 61 laps on his way to make it two wins in a row for Penske Racing after Ryan Blaney won the week before. Martin Truex Jr. looked like the early favorite after dominating the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race earlier in the afternoon. He quickly moved into the lead from the fifth starting spot and went on to lead 126 laps, winning the first stage, too. Dirt-track rookie Daniel Suarez took the point from him in the second stage, but Suarez couldn't hold off Logano, who took the lead and led the final 61 laps for an overtime win.

Monday's race was unique in that most of the prerace favorites were not factors in the outcome. Kyle Larson gave up his pole position after an engine change forced him to start from the rear, and an early wreck in traffic left him scrambling to catch up the rest of the distance. Christopher Bell also fell out of the race after an early mistake, and Kyle Busch also suffered early overheating problems that put him out of contention. It was an unpredictable race, and NASCAR announced it will be doing it again next season. This week, the competitors get a break before another short track, Martinsville Speedway, restarts the action in two weeks.

UPGRADE

Joey Logano – Logano kept himself in contention for the lead throughout the second stage and then made his move in the final laps to capture the segment win, despite Suarez leading the majority of the laps. Logano was then in prime position to continue out front all the way to the end to win for the first time this season, leading the final 61 laps and surviving an overtime finish. A win was coming for Logano at some point after a number of top performances in the early weeks of the season, but clinching the win in the first Cup Series race on dirt since Richard Petty will hold a special spot on his resume. Logano has one Martinsville win, which was one of three top-five finishes at the track in the last five visits. 

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex had a Monday to remember at Bristol despite not being one of the more obvious favorites on dirt. He started the afternoon by dominating the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race before going on to win the opening stage of the Cup race. He lost ground in the final segment but led 126 total laps in the Cup race and scored stage points in both opening segments. While he only finished 19th at the end, Truex was still one of the top performers of the day. He is now third in points with a win in hand heading into a week off before attacking Martinsville. Truex has two wins from 30 starts at that track, and both of those came in the last three races there, and he led 725 laps in that span, too.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Stenhouse laid low through much of Monday's race only to surge forward in the final segment. The JTG Daugherty Racing driver made the most of the final laps and raced to a second-place finish – his best of the season. He is 14th in the standings at the moment and hasn't finished lower than 18th yet this year. Consistency is the key to getting top results in the series, and Stenhouse has had consistency so far. Despite two top-10 finishes at the track, Martinsville has not been the best circuit for him, however. He finished 21st and 20th in the two visits there last season, but has been a regular feature in the top 15 so far this year. Stenhouse is off to a good start in 2021, and the coming weeks will show us if he can sustain it.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin showed Monday afternoon that neither the track nor the surface can keep him from being one of the top competitors each week. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver spent the entire afternoon racing at the front of the field and finished third in both stages and the race overall. He is the first and only driver so far to exceed 300 championship points and has six top-fives from the first seven races. While he hasn't yet won this season, Hamlin is extending his run at the top of the field from last season. He has the most Martinsville wins among active drivers. He has only failed to finish in the top 10 there nine out of 30 tries, but two of those were from last year's races.

DOWNGRADE

Kyle Busch – Busch started near the front and got to the lead quickly Monday afternoon before having to run down pit road just as quickly. The front of his car became quickly encased in mud, which sent steam pouring out of his engine. He returned to the race a lap down after making adjustments to his air intake, but he wasn't a factor in the race after that early issue. He continued in the fray and was able to climb back into the top 20 for a 17th-place finish, but he likely will chalk up Monday's race to a missed opportunity. Busch has two Martinsville wins from 31 series tries. He finished ninth and led five laps there last fall and is hoping to get a win this season sooner rather than later.

Christopher Bell – Bell entered the Cup Series race at Bristol as one of the favorites given his experience on dirt, but an early spin ended his chance to show what he could do. He lost grip high in the corner and was collected by Larson and others. He drove his car behind the wall for repairs, but the crew found an oil leak, and he was done for the afternoon. It was his first DNF of the season. However, Bell already has a win this season, and that gives him the luxury of having a little less pressure at this point. He continues to be quite fast, also. He improved on his second series visit to Martinsville last season and earned a 15th-place finish after finishing 28th in the spring race.

Aric Almirola – Almirola was mired in traffic early in Bristol's dirt race, and he was one of the first to complain about visibility because of that. That complaint was an omen, because just a few laps later, he was unable to avoid a pile up that happened ahead of him. His car suffered heavy damage in the wreck, which put him completely out of the race. Almirola returns to more familiar territory after taking a week to regroup. In 24 Martinsville starts, however, he only has five top-10 finishes, but at least two of those were in his last four trips there. Sitting outside of the top 20 in the standings in the off week will be tough. He needs success quickly once action resumes in two weeks. He has not scored a top-10 yet this season.

Ross Chastain – Chastain was another driver who failed to capitalize on an opportunity after getting caught in an early wreck Monday afternoon. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver didn't enter the weekend with a ton of dirt racing experience under his belt, and his early accident didn't enable to him to gain much experience during the race. The DNF was his second of the season and leaves him 26th in the standings. Chastain has four prior series starts at Martinsville, but this time will be his first at the track in Ganassi equipment. His best finish there is 29th, which he achieved three out of those four tries. Chastain is gaining experience in his new surroundings and still needs some time before becoming a reliable fantasy option.

Bubba Wallace – A late flat tire left Wallace two laps down at the finish without the result he deserved. Throughout Monday's race he was one of the drivers to watch, able to navigate traffic, and walking away with stage points from both opening segments. Wallace also raced in the Truck Series earlier in the afternoon and took home an 11th-place finish. He was a top-10 contender throughout the Cup race, but that late tire left him limping to pit road with no caution flag. His team made the change and he returned to finish, but his chance of scoring his first top-10 of the season vanished. Wallace has not finished in the top 10 in six Martinsville starts.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Daniel Suarez – Suarez put together an impressive performance on Bristol's dirt surface despite having never raced on dirt prior to last week. He led 58 laps and finished fourth for his first top-five of the season. He had a bit of extra practice racing in the Truck Series just before taking off in his Cup car. He scored stage points in both opening segments and enters the off week full of momentum after overperforming on the dirt. He has two top-10 finishes from eight Martinsville starts but finished 27th in both races at the track last season. Suarez' showing Monday afternoon demonstrates that his new Trackhouse Racing Team can snag top finishes under certain circumstances. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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