Austin Dillon etches some history on dirt
The Scoop: The first NASCAR dirt race in some 43 years went down at Eldora Speedway in Ohio. The Tony Stewart-owned track has played home to many prestigious races over the years, but the Camping World Truck Series made history Wednesday night, running the Inaugural Mudsummer Classic. Not only was NASCAR racing on dirt for the first time since Richard Petty's 1970 win at Fairgrounds Speedway, but the sport also varied its qualifying and race procedures for the unique venue: two-lap qualifying to set heat races, five eight-lap heat races, top 20 in points locked into main event and one non-locked-in driver in each heat race transferring to main event, last chance race with top 5 drivers transferring to main event. And the race itself was unorthodox for NASCAR: three segments (60 laps, 50 laps, 40 laps), each separated by a red flag for non-live pit stops. The trucks moved slow on the dirt, but the allure and novelty attracted non-Truck Series "dirt ringers", such as former champ Austin Dillon, Ken Schrader, Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, Kenny Wallace, Scott Bloomquist, Dave Blaney, and more. Some NCWTS regulars had barely or ever raced dirt, making for entertaining practice sessions and some surprising results once some got the hang of sliding on the dirt banks. Ken Schrader (driving self-owned No. 52), Jared Landers (driving No. 6 for ESR, races for Clint Bowyer's team on dirt), Timothy Peters, Kenny Wallace (driving No. 81 for SS/Greenlight Racing), and Jeb Burton won their heat races and Brennan Newberry won the last chance race. Five drivers missed the main event. Early in the race, Ken Schrader and Timothy Peters (who never had raced on dirt) led laps, before heavy favorite Kyle Larson rose to the front on lap 39. He led for 50 laps, but Austin Dillon, driving the No. 39 with owner's points borrowed from RSS Racing (Ryan Sieg sat out this week), caught Larson in lapped traffic and snagged the lead right before a debris caution. That put Dillon in the catbird seat the rest of the night, as he chose the preferred high line on each restart and led all but one lap the rest of the way. The race was very clean early, only slowing for the change in segments or debris cautions. A crash on lap 116 started when Jared Landers (12th) spun and collected Ty Dillon (16th). Johnny Sauter (29th) piled into the mess and Jeb Burton (18th) also received damage. Sauter's radiator broke, ending his night. As the race neared a close, drivers leaned on each other and repeatedly scraped the outside wall. But leader Dillon, who started 19th, stayed in front of the hard battles to score the historic win. Turner Scott Motorsports teammates Larson and Newman finished 2nd and 3rd, after a hard fought battle that proved to be the best action of the night. Joey Coulter was 4th and Brendan Gaughan 5th. A sellout crowd saw the race, which surprisingly had only one crash caution, after many drivers spun in the practice sessions.
140 Characters or Less: Dillon first to win on NASCAR dirt since Richard Petty. Larson strong, too. All series should run dirt, some weeknight races.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Austin Dillon - He led the most laps and showed just how trained he is in the dirt discipline, as he has won plenty of dirt races and a few championships. Dillion's most impressive feat is that he started 19th - passing and keeping positions was very hard. And he held of that Kyle Larson kid - we hear he's pretty good.
North Korean Missile Dud of the Race: Ty Dillon - He also has plenty of dirt experience, but Ty could not make up the same ground his brother did. The No. 3 Chevy hovered around 10th most of the night and finished 16th after the crash. Many expected him to contend for the win.
Never Fear, Underdogs Are Here: Norm Benning - Benning averages a 26th place finish in the Truck Series this year and finished there in the Mudsummer Classic. But he also raced his way into the main event, finishing 5th in the last chance race and to much aplomb from the garage and race fans. At 61, Benning runs each race on very limited funds and deserved every bit of applause he got for actually getting to pass some trucks Wednesday.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Darrell Wallace Jr. - He never had raced dirt before, spun several times in practice, and is a rookie, but Wallace Jr. stayed clean (so to speak) at Eldora and moved from starting 17th to 7th. Props go to both Larson (started 13th) and Dillon (started 19th) on their strong rises to the top two spots.
Wheel of Misfortune: Ron Hornaday Jr. - Not known as a dirt expert at all, Hornaday Jr. held his own most of the race, until contact with Max Gresham's No. 8 caused a broken brake rotor and 28th place finish.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: Timing - There were several complaints that the hour-long break between the heat races and the feature should have been eliminated. Yes, SPEED did have to do its pre-race show, but that should have been done during its RaceHub program or at least should have been shortened. The race ended around 11:30, which is late for a weeknight and could have gone much later if there had been more wrecks. This was one small blemish on an overall wonderful night.
Ghost Driver: Scott Bloomquist - Driving the strong Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 51, Bloomquist figured to be a big threat at Eldora. Instead, he was one of the first trucks lapped and finished 25th. Even with extensive dirt experience, stock car experience is also a good tool in a race like this. Bloomquist never seemed to have a handle on the heavy, slow feel of the truck.
Georgia On My Mind: The Mudsummer Classic should have gone worse for the Georgia contingency. Max Gresham went a lap down and got the free pass twice and then worked his way from 20th to 10th (throw him in for a "Comeback Award" too). Not a dirt racer and not locked in the top 20 in points, Gresham had to race into the show and was able to gain his 2nd-career top 10 finish. John Wes Townley spun six times in the Tuesday practice sessions (which gained him plenty of bad attention in social media), but stayed clean on Wednesday and finished two laps down in 22nd. Ryan Sieg's team leant the No. 39 to race-winner Dillon, technically making them a first-time winner in the series, though they did not field the truck. Besides the monetary value of sitting out and the fact that Sieg is not experienced racing dirt, he told me RSS Racing has very few trucks and did not want to "junk up" one of their few good chassis. The team's other No. 93 entry withdrew.
Next: The Sprint Cup (Sun, PRN 12 p.m.) and Nationwide Series (Sat, PRN 4:00 p.m.) race at the Brickyard. The Trucks race again Saturday, 8/3 at 1 p.m. on SPEED.