Food City Dirt Race (Cup Series) Predictions, Picks & Odds

Food City Dirt Race

  • Oddsmakers say even an engine change can’t bump Kyle Larson from favorite role.
  • Will the dirt specialists prevail in Sunday’s marathon race at Thunder Valley?
  • Tire management will be an essential skill in Sunday’s return to dirt-track racing.

Food City Dirt Race Odds

Winner Odds
Kyle Larson +325
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Christopher Bell +800
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Alex Bowman +1200
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Chase Briscoe +1200
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Kyle Busch +1200
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Chase Elliott +1200
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Ryan Blaney +1400
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Denny Hamlin +1400
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Tyler Reddick +1600
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Austin Dillon +1800
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Martin Truex Jr +1800
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Joey Logano +2200
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William Byron +2500
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Ricky Stenhouse Jr +2500
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Stewart Friesen +3300
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Kevin Harvick +4000
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Kurt Busch +5000
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Brad Keselowski +5000
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Bubba Wallace +5000
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Ryan Newman +6000
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Cole Custer +8000
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Matt DiBenedetto +8000
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Chris Buescher +10000
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Mike Marlar +10000
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Michael McDowell +10000
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Chris Windom +10000
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Aric Almirola +12500
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Ross Chastain +12500
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Ryan Preece +12500
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The NASCAR Cup Series hasn’t raced on a dirt track since Sept. 30, 1970, when Richard Petty won the Home State 200 by two laps over Neil Castles at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. That will change on Sunday when NASCAR’s premier division returns to dirt in the Food City Dirt Race at reimagined Bristol Motor Speedway.

To stage the first dirt Cup race in 51 years, Bristol trucked in 2,300 loads of Tennessee red clay and spread it over the permanent concrete racing surface. The addition of the dirt reduced the banking in the corners from 26 degrees to a more palatable 19 degrees for dirt racing. Sunday’s event will be contested over 250 laps, with stage breaks after 100 and 200 laps and competition cautions after 50 and 100 laps.

How to Watch Food City Dirt Race

Food City Dirt Race Information
What Food City Dirt Race NASCAR Cup Series event
Where Bristol Motor Speedway
When Monday, March 29, 4 p.m. ET
How to Watch FOX

Engine Change Can’t Demote Kyle Larson from Favorite’s Role on Sunday

Over the last year, there has been no winner in dirt racing more prolific than Kyle Larson—not even close. Larson won 46 of the 96 dirt races he entered in 2020. In January of this year, before making his competitive debut in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in the NASCAR Cup Series, he successfully defended his title in the Chili Bowl Nationals—the Super Bowl of midget racing—against more than 300 rivals for the crown.

Larson gave no indication in Friday’s practice that he would do anything other than winning the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. He posted the fastest 10-lap average in the final practice session, an important barometer for Sunday’s race.

Engine troubles, however, beset the favorite to take the checkered flag. Larson’s team had to change the engine, and that means Larson will have to start from the rear of the 39-car field on Sunday. The poor starting position didn’t seem to matter to handicappers, who still consider Larson (+325) the overwhelming choice to win the Cup Series’ return to dirt. In all probability, they’re not wrong.

Will the Dirt-Track Specialists Prevail in Sunday’s Marathon Race?

In addition to Larson in the favorite’s role, oddsmakers see drivers with the most extensive experience in dirt racing as most likely to challenge the driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for the win—provided they’re in competitive equipment.

Christopher Bell (+800), who won three straight Chili Bowl titles before Larson snapped his streak, should provide the prime competition in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. But you can’t discount other Eldora Speedway Truck Series winners Austin Dillon (+1800), Bubba Wallace (+5000), Chase Briscoe (+1200) or Stewart Friesen (+3300).

USAC Triple Crown winner Chris Windom (+10000) also has entered the Food City Dirt Race, as has open-wheel star Shane Golobic (+15000), but it’s unlikely either of those two drivers will have cars capable of running upfront with the likes of Larson or Bell.

Tire Management Will Be an Essential Skill in Sunday’s Race

Austin Dillon spent much of Friday’s practice conserving his tires, rather than trying to push the limits of his NO. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. As a result, he had plenty of block tread left on his Goodyears, where many other competitors had worn the tread completely off their tires.

For the first time since 1989, the Cup Series is using bias-ply tires rather than the customary radials—because the bias plys are more effective at enveloping the rough dirt surface–and drivers who can conserve tire life will be better off at the end of a run than those who abuse their equipment in search of early speed.

That would seem to favor Dillon, or if you’re looking for a driver with limited experience on the dirt surface, Denny Hamlin, who is a master at keeping rubber on his tires as others fade. With qualifying heat races rained out on Saturday, Hamlin (+1400) will start from the front row in Sunday’s Food City Dirt Race.

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Reid Spencer

Expert on NASCAR

Award-winning motorsports writer Reid Spencer has served as lead writer for the NASCAR Wire Service for 16 years, having also spent a four-year stint as NASCAR columnist and beat writer for Sporting News. He is currently serving as president of the National Motorsports Press Association. Email: [email protected]