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Joey Logano Takes Checkered Flag at Bristol on Dirt

Joey Logano got a jump on Denny Hamlin on the overtime restart to earn his third career victory at Bristol. But this was not the Bristol of old, the track had been covered with 2,300 truckloads of red Tennessee clay so that NASCAR could add a dirt track to the Cup schedule for the first time since 1970.


Logano became the seventh race winner through seven races this season and gave Team Penske back-to-back victories. Ryan Blaney won in a Penske Ford last week.


The Logano victory closed a weekend of uncertainty and even some hysteria as NASCAR launched this drive through the dirt. It was broadcast partner Fox who wanted a dirt race on the Cup schedule and Speedway Motorsports, seeking some new energy at its beloved Bristol bullring, said it would take the race.


So NASCAR awarded the experiment to Bristol, bypassing dozens of quality established dirt tracks across the country. The snub extended to Tony Stewart, who had successfully hosted seven Truck Series races at his Eldora Speedway dirt track in Ohio but said was never considered for a Cup race.


Ricky Stenhouse Jr., a veteran dirt racer, was second for his highest finish of the season. Hamlin, who had last raced on dirt in go-karts when he was 8, finished third.


Daniel Suarez was a season-best fourth for new team Trackhouse Racing, which is part-owned by Pitbull. Suarez’s first drive on dirt came in Friday practice and he caught on so quickly that he led his first laps of the season — 58 of them in all — and even bumped Logano out of his way to take over the point.


But Logano took over with 61 laps remaining and wasn’t challenged until the final restart when the race went to a two-lap overtime.


Seven of the Cup regulars entered the Truck Series race just to get some track time on an unknown surface, a decision that bought them two additional practice sessions as well as Monday’s earlier race. Truex, a dirt novice, dominated the field to win the trucks and led a race-high 126 of the 253 laps.


Suarez was the other benefactor of adding the truck to his schedule with a breakthrough finish for his brand new team. Of the so-called dirt experts, it was Stenhouse with a quiet runner-up finish who delivered.


Ryan Newman, who in the past few years began racing a bit on dirt with some regularity, finished a season-high fifth.


There had been serious pre-race concern that the 3,400-pound Cup cars were too heavy for the Goodyear tires on the dirt surface. The combination on Friday, in addition to kicking up serious dirt, caused the tires to wear to the cords while deep ruts developed on the track.


The rain that washed out Sunday racing also washed away much of the problems, and an all-nighter by the Bristol track prep crew had the surface ready to go for the doubleheader. It wasn’t perfect and the dust was an absolute visibility hazard for the drivers, so much so that midway through the race NASCAR ordered all restarts would be single-file to mitigate the sudden burst of airborne dirt.


NASCAR is off for Easter and the Cup Series resumes Saturday night April 10 under the lights at Martinsville Speedway. Martin Truex Jr. is the defending race winner.

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