Larson skeptical of Cup Series’ dirt prospects

Photo by Jim Fluharty / Harold Hinson Photography

By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. – 50 years after the last NASCAR Cup Series race on dirt, the outlook for a possible return is up in the air.

The NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series brought NASCAR back to dirt track racing at the national level with the Eldora Dirt Derby in 2013. In the seven races, there have been seven different winners. Those winners have ranged from ‘dirt ringers’ to series regulars.

One of those ‘dirt ringers,’ is NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson. He won the Eldora Dirt Derby in 2016. In what was his third and most recent attempt, Larson rebounded from a flat tire and a penalty to win. His experience on dirt played a key factor in his victory.

Larson’s dirt racing experience is extensive. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver has three Turkey Night Grand Prix victories to his credit. Larson also earned an elusive win in the 2020 Chili Bowl Nationals.

“I think everybody would expect me to be in favor of it,” admitted Larson. “But I don’t think we belong on dirt. I’ve ran the truck race and it was fun. I don’t know, it’s not a sprint car on dirt. I just prefer Cup to stay on pavement.”

As much fun as Larson admitted the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race at Eldora was, it was radically different from the Midget Car racing he’s used to. The heavy weight of the trucks presents a different feel compared to a traditional dirt race.

This has been reflected in what drivers have represented the ‘dirt ringers’ in the Eldora fields. That crowd has slowly transitioned from the Midget Car racing world to the Big Block Modified world.

Larson elaborated on why, as of now, Eldora may not be conducive to racing for the Cup Series:

“I’ve ran the truck race; the tires and the stuff that we run, it’s just so slow. It just doesn’t feel like dirt to me. I think if we could use better tires and stuff like that that are built for dirt racing, not that what they run at Eldora isn’t, but I think it could be a better tire to where we have more grip and can move around.

“Also, the track needs to have some moisture, so we aren’t worried about getting dirt on the windshield and stuff like that. I think there is a lot of stuff they could tweak to make the dirt racing better and then maybe I would be more in favor of it. As far as right now, I would hope that it would just stay on pavement.”

The last driver that won a NASCAR Cup Series race on dirt was Richard Petty at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds. 30 of Petty’s record setting 200 victories came on dirt.

In 2018, Petty the NASCAR Hall of Famer stated:

“Going to dirt would be like the (Carolina) Panthers going and playing in Randleman High School Stadium. It doesn’t work.”

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