Author Topic: Return to dirt roots, qualifying format make Eldora race special  (Read 38 times)

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Return to dirt roots, qualifying format make Eldora race special
BY KENNY BRUCE NASCAR.COM JULY 19, 2017 AT 9:11 AM

Christopher Bell isn’t the defending race winner but the 22-year-old makes a fine substitute.
Kyle Larson is elsewhere, leaving Wednesday night’s Eldora Dirt Derby (9:30 p.m. ET, Fox Business Network, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at historic Eldora Speedway without its defending champion. The loss is his, though. Few races in this series get drivers and fans more excited than this week’s stop for the Camping World Truck Series.
Bell’s more than a suitable stand-in, having won the race in ’15. It was his first victory in the series and he’s gone on to win four times since – including three trips to Victory Lane this year in his No. 4 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
If Darlington Raceway hosts the official throwback weekend for NASCAR’s Monster Energy Cup Series, then the little half-mile of Eldora hosts the unofficial midweek throwback race.
Darlington has throwback paint schemes. Eldora has the throwback surface.
Dirt. Just like the old days.
It won’t be necessary to spray VHT or PJ1 or any other adhesive substance in the turns at Eldora. Just add water and race.
It took NASCAR more than two decades to wean itself from its dirt beginnings and four more until it returned.
Now it’s year five of the annual pilgrimage to the land of milk and Tony.
Tony Stewart, three-time NASCAR champ, purchased the track in 2004; it took him nearly a decade to convince officials a Truck race would be a boon to the track and to the sanctioning body.
He was correct on both counts and the fans have turned out each year in support of the unusual event.
That it is run on dirt is the biggest difference between this race and the other 22 on the schedule, of course, but the race strays off the beaten path for the series in other ways as well.
A qualifying format similar to those seen in your weekly local shows determines the lineup - there is single-vehicle qualifying but that merely sets the table for the five 10-lap qualifying races that follow. It’s stage racing with a different cast of characters each time out.
And for those still on the outside looking in following the qualifiers, there’s a 15-lap last chance race that more often than not is worth the price of admission alone.
Capping it off is the 150-lap feature that’s yet to be won more than once by any one driver. Besides Bell and Larson, previous Derby wins have gone to Darrell Wallace (’14) and Austin Dillon (’13).
Car control is crucial, but no more so than damage control. In last year’s race, Bell battled the wall nearly as hard as he battled Larson in the closing laps; in ’15 runner-up Bobby Pierce waged a furious fight with Bell but did so nearly minus a trunk lid; and in ’14 it was Larson knocking down the wall lap after lap as he tried unsuccessfully to reel in Wallace.
The Eldora Dirt Derby is different and that’s a small part of its charm as well as a large part of what keeps fans coming back year after year.