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Too dusty: NASCAR working on visibility in dirty Bristol

BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — Kyle Busch took a long break to carefully choose how to describe the visibility Friday during the first dirt practice at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“So much better, I suppose?” Busch said. “But the second half of that practice, you couldn’t see. You put a car in front of you and you can’t see. Two cars? You definitely can’t see. That’s going to be the hardest part, the dust.

NASCAR brought the Cup Series back to Tennessee for a second straight year as Speedway Motorsports transformed its Bristol arenas for a Sunday night race. It will be the first time NASCAR races on Easter Sunday in more than 30 years in a schedule pick by Fox Sports to attract more eyeballs.

The race will take place at night after the first Dirt Cup race since 1970 last year had mixed results. The 30,000 tons of Tennessee red clay used to coat the concrete turned Bristol into a bowl of dust that had dangerously poor visibility when combined with glare from the sun.

“We have to race at night,” said Joey Logano, who won the Bristol dirt race last year. “It was important. Because you couldn’t even see the cars and it wasn’t safe inside the car.

Speedway Motorsports also made changes to the track, removing 3 degrees of incline to make it 16 degrees on the apron; the trail gets progressively steeper closer to the wall. This was done to create multiple racing lines and prevent too much rubber from grinding into one smooth lane.

Defending Cup champion Kyle Larson believes more could have been done, particularly the removal of the windshields. He thinks NASCAR is wasting its time running a pseudo-dirt race and not embracing all the elements that make the formula a fan favorite.

“If we’re not going to take the windshields off, then why are we running on dirt?” Larson said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We just shouldn’t be racing on dirt if we’re not going to take the windshields off and have a dirt race with moisture on the track and be able to produce a real dirt race. I have the feel like we’re wasting everyone’s time a bit and not giving fans and competitors what we all deserve.

Larson and Austin Dillon last year were the two main drivers advising Bristol and NASCAR on track preparation and both argued that dirt could not be watered down and made wet enough with the windscreens as they would be coated mud. Rather, the dirt is watered down just enough – and that creates the blinding dust that drivers have complained about.

Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio this week that racing without a windshield – something NASCAR tried during a test of the Next Gen car on dirt with driver Stewart Friesen – is too risky.

“The windshield is a critical safety feature of our cars,” Miller said. “Highly developed laminate. Really resistant to the intrusion of foreign bodies. Until we can further investigate the possibility of not using a windshield, (we will) stick to the safety element of what we have done.

Larson said NASCAR replaced the windshield during the test with mesh, and the mud that slipped through Friesen’s hands would have stung while he was driving.

“I wouldn’t have felt safe with what they had for testing,” Larson said. “With them putting chicken wire in it, it probably didn’t look like they worked on it for very long, like maybe last minute. I feel like if they had worked on it months ago, they probably would have found something safer to put in place to prevent large objects from entering the cockpit.

COACHING

So many of the drivers have very little dirt racing experience, so they raced in the Truck Series race on Saturday to get some extra seat time.

Among those racing on Saturday is defending winner Logano. He and Harrison Burton will both drive for David Gilliland Racing. Austin Dillon will drive for Young’s Motorsports and Chase Elliott will drive for Spire Motorsports, which won last week at Martinsville with William Byron.

RACE FORMAT

The peloton will be defined by elimination races and the alignments will be done by drawing lots. Drivers will earn points to use in setting their starting position on Sunday based on their finish in heats on a 10-to-1 scale. There is an additional point available for each improved position from the start of the heat until the end. Ties in the general classification will be broken by the owner’s points.

NASCAR will use double-file restarts but will have the option to go single-file for safety reasons. There will be no live pit stops and teams will only be able to change tires and refuel during stage breaks, which will last six minutes.

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