BRISTOL, Tenn. — After excessive wear during NASCAR Cup Series practice Friday prompted tire concerns from multiple teams, NASCAR competition officials revealed several updates to the race format for Sunday’s Food City Dirt Race on Saturday afternoon.
Chief among the changes were the extension of the first two stages by 25 laps apiece. While the overall race distance will remain at 250 laps, stages one and two will now end at laps 100 and 200, respectively.
Previously, the first two stages were 75 laps each, with the final stage going 100 laps in distance.
Further breaking up the race will be a pair of competition cautions at laps 50 and 150, effectively separating the race distance into five segments of 50 laps each.
Caution laps during the two competition yellows will not count after NASCAR has sent the free pass car around to catch the tail of the field, giving NASCAR additional opportunities to prep the race track and teams two more chances to pit for tires.
NASCAR will give all Cup Series teams an extra set of Goodyear dirt tires for Sunday’s race to aid in making sure teams can get to the finish without major issues.
Teams will now have six sets of tires at their disposal, one from their heat race and five more sets of sticker tires to utilize at will during the main event.
NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller said the sanctioning body worked with drivers, teams, track officials and representatives from Goodyear in making the format adjustments that “should put on the best show possible” come Sunday afternoon.
“Obviously, this is something that we haven’t done in the premier NASCAR series (Cup) in a very long time, more than 50 years, so we knew that with the character of this track and everything that goes into this race that we could be faced with some things that we needed to adjust,” Miller told reporters Saturday. “Based on practice Friday, higher-than-anticipated tire wear … and then we all saw the dust that was kicked up, so [making these changes] gives us more opportunity to prepare the track during the breaks and assures us that the story will be about the racing.
“Trying to ask the tires to do more than they [realistically] could wasn’t in anyone’s best interest, so we made the adjustments in the interest of the event and the industry.”
Miller tipped that several of the Cup Series drivers with extensive dirt backgrounds were “really important” in coming up with the right changes to the format to put on an entertaining product.
“We had a lot of back-and-forth conversations with some of the drivers, some of the crew chiefs … Kyle Larson has been extremely helpful on a lot of this,” Miller noted. “He and Austin Dillon have been really good and were engaged with us as they participated in the [Bristol] Dirt Nationals last weekend to give us feedback on what was going on. A lot of conversations led to this decision.”
Several crew chiefs had expressed concerns over tires wearing down to the cords during the course of longer runs practice, including Rudy Fugle, William Byron’s crew chief at Hendrick Motorsports.
Fugle came into the Bristol dirt weekend with past experience crew chiefing a NASCAR dirt race at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway, doing so for several years in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports.
“If we don’t get any more tires, it’s going to be really hard — you’re going to have to choose to ride and just maybe try to stay on the lead lap and have some tire left,” Fugle said Friday night. “Just not have a flat. I expect, hopefully, that they’re going to add another caution and another set of tires, and that’ll at least let us survive a little bit, but it’s still (about) saving some tire and having tire for when we need to.”
Despite heavy rain that moved through the Bristol area late Saturday morning, as of 4 p.m. ET the track was packing in considerably well and Miller didn’t anticipate having to scratch any of the heat races planned for either the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series or the Cup Series.
“We would really like to have the heat races, obviously. It’s the same as every weekend; we don’t like to have to take anything off the schedule,” Miller said. “If we had to from a time perspective, we could, but right now … the track took quite a bit of rain this morning, but I was honestly surprised at how quickly we were able to get it ready [Friday]. It was strange to me, because we had about two-and-a-half inches of rain in about 24 hours and yet before we put cars on track, we had the water truck out there.
“We’re optimistic today that if it doesn’t rain anymore, we’ll be ready to get the program underway.”
Heat races for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Bristol Motor Speedway are anticipated for a 5 p.m. ET start, with live television coverage on FS1.