Moving and grooving: Multiple lanes form during Next Gen's first day on Bristol dirt

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — The Next Gen car is no longer NASCAR‘s shiny, new toy. It‘s now dirty and two months old.

The dirtiness, of course, is built up and caked on from Bristol Motor Speedway‘s temporary surface in place for this weekend. Sunday is the Next Gen‘s ninth points race of 2022 and the Cup Series‘ second edition of the Food City Dirt Race (7 p.m. ET, FOX). A pair of 50-minute practices were completed Friday on the 0.533-mile makeshift dirt track.

“I basically went from feeling like I was OK, pretty decent at the end of the first practice to the second practice, the entire time, just feeling like I was a bird with no wings,” Martin Truex Jr. said. “I couldn‘t do anything. I was just hanging on. I was really slow, couldn‘t find any traction on the race track.”

Image From Ios (8)
Image From Ios (8)

RESULTS: Practice 1 | Practice 2

The entire field was slower in the later go-around. Tyler Reddick set the pace in the first practice, turning a lap in 20.017 seconds at 89.924 mph. Denny Hamlin topped the second leaderboard at 20.638 seconds and 87.218 mph.

Before the 2021 inaugural dirt event, the second practice was also a tick slower than the first, but not as noticeably. The difference between the best times from Alex Bowman and Ryan Blaney was 0.017 seconds and the top speeds was 0.075 mph.

“Last year, we saw the race track like really come apart, get real patchy and have holes, which you can make grip through the holes and give it a bunch of character,” Bowman said. “And this year, it‘s just super slick and smooth and a little bit on the bottom, little bit on the top and then a bunch of dust.”

Said Chase Briscoe: “I thought it was interesting how we were running the top versus last year we were always on the bottom. Hopefully, we can race where it‘s like that and you can kind of move around and it‘s not just stuck on the bottom.”

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The track, understandably so, got slicker and smoother the more it was raced on during daytime conditions.

Image From Ios (7)
Image From Ios (7)

There was a Camping World Truck Series practice in between the Cup Series‘ slots. As the dirt packed down, though, multiple lanes formed. Bowman and Briscoe each independently noted the top and bottom grooves, and there were also cars running practically in the middle.

“By the end of practice, like (Kyle) Larson and (Christopher) Bell, they were up there, they could do it really good, but I think they both hit the fence pretty hard,” Blaney said. “I was right around the middle. I‘m not good enough to run up there consistently like they‘re good for honestly. So I was like middle, I thought I had pretty decent grip actually, so yeah, that‘s gonna be tough.”

For what it‘s worth, Larson and Bell are dirt-racing MVPs outside of NASCAR.

Grip, which Blaney touched on, was another practice highlight. Despite Truex‘s traction comment, multiple compliments were tossed around about Goodyear‘s new radial this year. That doesn‘t mean there won‘t be any slipping and sliding as the weekend progresses, especially Saturday when the cars are pushed even harder in their respective qualifying heats (6 p.m. ET, FS2) that‘ll ultimately set Sunday‘s lineup. The ability to successfully control consistent runs up against the wall may prove to be advantageous.

“You‘ll just have to weigh that out as you go,” Chase Elliott said. “Because there might be a certain point in the race where you have to take that risk and then maybe points where don‘t need to. We‘ll see.”

MORE: See the scenes from the 2022 Bristol Dirt Race weekend