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A Cup dirt race appears to be a part of NASCAR’s future

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A Cup race on dirt appears to be a part of the sport’s future, a NASCAR executive suggested while on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Tuesday.

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“I think we’re definitely interested in continuing to look at dirt. Still kind of dissecting what took place this weekend, what we can do, where we could be, but all in all, I think the direction, as of today, would be certainly to remain on dirt,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, told “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

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Fox, which aired Sunday night’s Cup race at Bristol, reported that the race had the highest ratings for any spring Bristol Cup race since 2016. Twice between 2017-21, the track’s spring race was moved to Monday because of rain, decreasing viewership. The track’s 2018 spring race was interrupted by rain.

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Fox had 4.007 million viewers for Sunday’s race at Bristol, the first Cup race held on Easter since 1989. The Atlanta race had 4.003 million viewers on Fox. The race at Phoenix drew 3.991 million viewers on Fox. The Circuit of the Americas race had 3.73 million viewers on Fox. The Daytona 500 has drawn the largest audience this year at 8.87 million viewers on Fox. Riding that momentum, both the Auto Club and Las Vegas races, the next two races after the Daytona 500, drew 4.5 million viewers on Fox.

O’Donnell addressed the notion of racing on Easter again.

“For us, it’s what do we all want to do to grow the sport and expose it to more fans,” O’Donnell told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Tuesday morning before the viewership totals were released. “When you’re offered up the ability to be on an additional network race, you’ve got to take a hard look at that and that’s what we did. We expect that when the viewership numbers come out we’re going to be in a better place than we were last year in terms of who was able to see the race, who was able to come out.

“If you compare that to being on a cable race, maybe back in 2019 or 2018, it’s a significant bump to the entire industry. We don’t take it lightly. We know it’s an important holiday for a number of people out there. I thought the track did a terrific job, as well as our TV partner in celebrating the holiday and certainly celebrating the race at the end of the night.”

Easter will be April 9 in 2023. That is scheduled to be the final day of the Masters. NASCAR typically avoids going against the golf tournament, but a Sunday night race would be starting as the Masters would be ending.

“We’re proud of our sport and feel like we can go up against anything,” O’Donnell said. “Certainly, if you can own a weekend or stand alone, that’s something you want to do. When we look at the Masters weekend, that’s probably going to wrap up around 7, so probably a good bet, if we do race on (Easter) Sunday, you don’t want to be racing from 4-7 pm You want to probably put a night race in there or get your race done before the late round of the last round.”

The 2023 schedule is expected to be released in late summer.

With dirt racing in the future for the Cup Series, the focus will turn to the making the cars more adaptable to that style of racing.

“I think that this track is fine if they want to come back and do (dirt racing at Bristol), but they just need to put a lot of attention and emphasis on the race car itself to make it a proper dirt race car,” Christopher Bell said last weekend. “With the car that we bring here, we just put ourselves in such a tight box in track prep. You need water to eliminate dust. If you put too much water down, you get mud and we can’t have mud, either. Just have to put emphasis on making these cars a dirt car, which is absolutely possible.”

Kevin Harvick was vocal about the track prep after he was eliminated from Sunday’s race in a crash.

Bell and others have said that NASCAR needs to look at removing the windshield and better protection to the front of the car to avoid overheating when mud is caked on the vehicle.

“Dirt Late Models and really stock cars, there’s a bunch of divisions of stock cars that have run on dirt. I’ve never partaken in any of it or driven one so I don’t know exactly how they keep cars from overheating, but it obviously can be done.”


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