History will be made this weekend when the NASCAR Cup Series returns to the dirt for the first time in more than 50 years. Bristol Motor Speedway, the half-mile, high-banked short track, will host Sunday's Food City Bristol Dirt Race, and at the very least, the inaugural dirt event at the track promises to be memorable.
The dirt put down at Bristol has decreased the banking a bit, but the cars should still carry plenty of speed. Throw in the weight of the Cup cars on a dirt surface, and you can expect plenty of slipping and sliding as drivers fight to get around the track. Don't be surprised if there are plenty of wrecks, cautions, and attrition throughout the 250-lap event.
We also consider which drivers are going to be best equipped to handle the dirt. You have regulars like Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell, who still races in the dirt track series routinely, and we also have some dirt racing ringers like Stewart Friesen entered this weekend. Plenty of other drivers have some experience on the dirt, especially from their early racing years.
I have to believe more experience with dirt racing will be a benefit, but Cup cars aren't designed to run on dirt. Will drivers who have typically run well at Bristol still show some degree of an advantage with a dirt surface? It remains to be seen, but between those unknowns and the likely attrition, this could be a wild week for Fantasy NASCAR owners.
I may be exaggerating a bit, but I am almost approaching this race like a superspeedway event. I plan to stick to a lot of middle-tier and sleeper options for my fantasy rosters. In case this race gets downright ugly, I don't want to waste any starts from drivers who I will for sure be using the maximum number of times.
- Kyle Larson: Larson spent his year in NASCAR exile piling up 80+ dirt track wins, and he has looked like the best driver in the series in 2021 in his first season with Hendrick Motorsports. That seems like a winning combination as we prepare for the inaugural dirt track event at Bristol.
- Christopher Bell: Bell's dirt racing resume includes a USAC midget championship, a trio of wins in both the Chili Bowl Nationals and Turkey Night Grand Prix, and a Truck Series win at Eldora. A strong start to the 2021 season in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing is also a reason for optimism. I'll be using Bell in Fantasy Live and the Driver Group Game.
- Ryan Blaney: He has posted some great numbers at Bristol in his career, and Blaney has a third-place finish at Eldora in the Truck Series under his belt. He also happens to be Dave Blaney's son, one of the most decorated dirt racers ever. Yes, Dave pushed Ryan to the pavement to bolster his chances of Cup Series success, but I'm guessing he has imparted some dirt track racing wisdom over the years.
- Austin Dillon: Dillon has logged plenty of laps on the dirt in his career, and he picked up a win in the Bristol Dirt Nationals just last week, and he finished in the top-10 in all three of his Truck Series starts at Eldora, winning the inaugural event in 2013. Normally a driver with limited upside, I think this a great spot to use him for Fantasy Live and the DGG.
- Chase Briscoe: His rookie year has not gotten off to a smooth start, but Briscoe has a golden opportunity to right the ship this weekend, and fantasy owners have a chance to maximize his potential. His career began on the dirt, and in three Truck Series starts at Eldora, he owns a 3.7 average finish. Briscoe won at Eldora in 2018, and he led a race-high 93 laps in the 2019 race.
- Denny Hamlin: Although he doesn't have the dirt racing background of some of the other drivers who I have ranked in the top 10, Hamlin does have one of the best resumes at short track, including Bristol. Throw in that he is a top-5 contender almost every week, and I think the combination of raw speed and talent will yield solid results.
- Kyle Busch: His incredible resume at Bristol certainly won't hurt his chances of adapting to the dirt this weekend, and when it comes to wheeling a racecar, Busch is one of the most talented and versatile drivers in NASCAR today. When in doubt, trusting Busch's natural ability isn't a bad strategy.
- Chase Elliott: He logged a little bit of a track time at the Bristol Dirt Nationals last week before a wreck ended his race, but Elliott has enjoyed enough success at short tracks, including Bristol, that he should be able to put up a fight this weekend. The strong week-to-week speed of the No. 9 machine should also help matters.
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Armed with a background in sprint cars and midgets, Stenhouse should feel right at home on the dirt this weekend at Bristol. Not to mention that Bristol might be his best track outside of the superspeedways. I'd have no problem using him in Fantasy Live or as a Group C option in the Driver Group Game.
- Tyler Reddick: The sophomore was winning races in the Lucas Oil Dirt Late Model Series at 15 years old, and he finished in the top 5 at Eldora in the Truck Series in both 2015 and 2016. His dirt racing roots should come in handy this weekend, and Reddick is a legitimate top-10 threat with upside.
- Kevin Harvick: He didn't grow up on the dirt, but Harvick is one of the best all-around drivers in the series today. He will also have some seat time under his belt at Bristol since he is entered in the Truck Series race. A veteran driver like Harvick will take full advantage of the extra experience.
- Martin Truex Jr.: Truex will be facing a learning curve on the dirt, but running the Truck Series event at Bristol should prove beneficial. Plus, a large chunk of the field faces the same learning curve, and in Truex, you are getting one of the top drivers in the series in one of the best cars.
- Stewart Friesen: Friesen won't be driving for a powerhouse Cup team this weekend, but he boasts an incredible dirt track resume that includes over 300 wins across various series. In the Truck Series alone, he has reeled off three straight top-3s at Eldora, winning the most recent race at the track. His equipment creates some risk, but Friesen has a ton of upside based on his experience.
- Bubba Wallace: He has some road racing experience under his belt, and the last time he raced at Eldora in the Truck Series, he led the most laps on his way to the win. In stock cars, Wallace has enjoyed his best results at short tracks, so a dirt race at Bristol should play to his strengths.
- Kurt Busch: No, he doesn't have an extensive background in dirt racing, but like his young brother, Kurt seems to find success driving any car in any series. He is also one of the best in the business at Bristol, but in the end, I am trusting the natural ability and versatility more than anything.
- Brad Keselowski: Keselowski entered a couple of dirt races in recent weeks to try to prep for Bristol, and while I don't expect a few starts to make a big difference, it can't hurt. He has been strong at Bristol in recent years, and he should have a shot at a decent finish based on talent and equipment alone.
- Joey Logano: His Bristol numbers have been among the best in the series in recent years, but dumping a bunch of dirt on the track will change the equation. Still, being one of the top talents for the top teams should help Logano adjust to the situation quicker than most, and while I am saving his starts in fantasy leagues, I wouldn't be shocked to see him challenge for a top-10.
- Alex Bowman: Bowman drove sprint cars early in his career, but while he largely left the dirt after a bad accident, he still has more experience on the dirt than a lot of the competition this weekend. He should be a solid play in most formats.
- Ryan Newman: He did most of his dirt racing early in his career, but Newman did participate in Gateway Dirt Nationals in 2019, and he is entered in the Truck Series race this weekend. He is also tough to pass, a skill that I expect to come in handy as drivers try to adapt to the dirt on the fly.
- Erik Jones: He has raced in a couple of Truck Series events at Eldora, but Jones' background is largely on the pavement. On the plus side, he has been strong at tracks with lower grip at the Cup level, and there will be plenty of sliding around this weekend. Jones could be a solid sleeper play.
- Matt DiBenedetto: DiBenedetto doesn't have many dirt laps under his belt, especially recently, but he is one of the better restarters in the series, and this is a race that could see plenty of them. If his restart prowess translates to the dirt, DiBenedetto could be a GPP gem at the DFS sites.
- William Byron: His path to the Cup Series was relatively quick, but Byron wasn't plucked from the dirt racing ranks. This could be another case where raw talent and his equipment's strength overcome the lack of experience, but I don't expect to have a ton of exposure to Byron unless he ends up starting in the back.
- Aric Almirola: Almirola has made a career at Stewart-Haas Racing of getting solid finishes with reliable equipment, but I'm not sure his conservative strategy is going to work on what will likely be a slick dirt surface this weekend. I could see Almirola spending most of the race mired in the middle of the pack.
- Chris Buescher: He is enjoying a solid start to 2021, but Buescher's best runs seem to come on the mile-and-half ovals. He typically excels at avoiding trouble and mistakes and picking up spots, but I think Buescher needs high attrition to end up with a top-20.
- Cole Custer: Custer's climb through the ranks didn't include the dirt track circuit, and while he did enter the Bristol Dirt Nationals last week, he still has plenty to learn. I'm not expecting a ton out of Custer this weekend.
- Michael McDowell: He already tipped his strategy this week, saying he will hope to avoid early trouble and be in the mix at the end. Whether he can do that remains to be seen, and McDowell's value will be completely qualifying-dependent.
- Ross Chastain: Chastain has spent the last couple of years driving just about anything he can find, but his loaded schedule has been focused on NASCAR's top three series. I think Chastain has the car control to handle the dirt, but given the aggressive approach he continues to take, I'm not sure he makes it the whole race this weekend.
- Ty Dillon: He will drive a Gaunt Brothers Racing entry this weekend, and while Ty has had his share of starts on dirt, he hasn't had the success of his older brother. Throw in less-than-elite equipment, and Dillon will be relegated to a DFS longshot.
- Daniel Suarez: He has been a surprise overachiever for Trackhouse Racing to start the year, but it will be interesting to see how Suarez and his equipment hold up on the dirt. He is entered in the Truck Series event on Saturday, but this isn't the weekend I am rolling the dice on Suarez as a fantasy sleeper.
- Chris Windom: Windom is another of the dirt racing ringers in the field, but it doesn't get much worse in terms of equipment at the Cup level than Rick Ware Racing. Experience will mean a lot, but I don't think Windom can make that much noise with the resources at his disposal.
NASCAR guru Brian Polking has been committed to producing Fantasy NASCAR coverage for nearly a decade and written countless articles for his devoted audience who swear by his advice year after year.
This article is free, but Brian also provides a premium service which is an integral part of SI Fantasy Pro. Hit the button below to learn more about the advantage you'll gain across from our DFS & gambling experts.