NASCAR still digging the dirt at Eldora

Wednesday marks the fifth year since NASCAR returned to its roots by running the sport’s first national series race on dirt since 1970.

The whirlwind action at Eldora Speedway’s half-mile, high-banked dirt track coats the stands, the fans, the cars and the campers in a thin blanket of dirt. That’s just part of the Eldora Dirt Derby’s grassroots charm — along with a high school band playing the National Anthem and those $2 beers — that dazzles the racing world.

Expectations were high before NASCAR hosted its first dirt race in 43 years among the Monster Energy Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series. In racing terms, Eldora parked it.

Another crowd upwards of 20,000 spectators is expected for the Dirt Derby. The novelty, much like that dirt that gets everywhere, hasn’t worn off.

“I definitely think other series should try racing in the dirt just to get a feel of what we’re doing, how we’re racing,” said John Hunter Nemechek, who enters the Truck Series race eighth in the points standings. “It puts on one of the best shows each year. Something different than our normal asphalt everyday routine. You see guys sliding around three, four wide, as long as they can manage to keep their trucks in one piece and not take out the whole field.”

In addition to the Camping World regulars, the field is expected to include dirt legend Ken Schrader, Eldora fan favorite Rico Abreu and defending champion and Cup Series points leader Kyle Larson.

Christopher Bell, who sits No. 2 in the standings behind Johnny Sauter, won the Dirt Derby in 2015. He’s coming off a victory at Kentucky Speedway on July 6 for a series-leading third win.

“Eldora is a unique place,” said Bell, who has visited the victory lane stage in a NASCAR truck, 410 winged sprint, 360 sprint and USAC Silver Crown and USAC midget cars. “It’s one of the places where you go to where the track is down in a hole. The fans are all up around the race track as well as the grandstands on the front straightaway. The fans fill the hills with lawn chairs. It’s an awesome place because you can feel the energy and excitement. So many people are there camping. It’s just an awesome place.”

The success at Eldora has generated buzz in both the dirt and asphalt racing world. Should NASCAR take the Cup or Xfinity series drivers to play in the dirt? Should Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway and The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway join Eldora on the Truck Series? Yes and no, depending who you ask.

“I’d say let’s just go ahead and switch Homestead-Miami Speedway and Eldora,” Bell said of moving Eldora to the final race of the season. “Let’s race for a championship at Eldora. And we can add another dirt track to fill Eldora’s place at the beginning of the year.”

“I think you better keep it sacred. I’m good with one,” said Sauter, an asphalt veteran.

“I’m there with Johnny, I’d like to keep it sacred,” Nemechek agreed. “Keep it to the asphalt stuff. I like that a little better.”

Austin Dillon won the inaugural Dirt Derby in 2013. Darrell Wallace Jr., Bell and Larson have also won the event. Bell is again among the favorites even before getting in some track time competing in a 410 winged sprint car at the Kings Royal weekend, including winning Friday night’s 30-lap Knight Before the Kings Royal.

The race was scheduled for Fox Sports 1 but was bumped to Fox Business Network for a U.S. men’s national team CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal match. Qualifying starts on Fox Sports 1 at 5 p.m. Heat races move to Fox Sports 2 starting at 7:30. The race on Fox Business follows at 9:30.

Wednesday’s Dirt Derby Schedule

5-6 p.m. – Single truck qualifying (FS1)

7:30-9 p.m.. – Qualifying heat races (FS2)

9-9:30 p.m. – Pre-race festivities (FOX Business Network)

9:30 p.m. – Eldora Dirt Derby (FOX Business Network)

Past winners

2013: Austin Dillon

2014: Darrell Wallace Jr.

2015: Christopher Bell

2016: Kyle Larson

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