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Rain swamps Bristol dirt track; make-up today

Two Canada geese float along in a flooded area at Bristol Motor Speedway after races for both the Truck Series and NASCAR Cup Series auto race was postponed due to inclement weather Sunday. (AP Photo)

BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — NASCAR’s hyped return to dirt is instead a muddy mess on hold at least until today.

Torrential rains flooded campgrounds and parking lots surrounding Bristol Motor Speedway and created a rut for NASCAR far deeper than anything the Cup Series drivers encountered on the track.

NASCAR canceled all Sunday activity because even if Bristol’s converted dirt track could eventually be readied for night racing, the entire facility was a swampy mess. Grandstand seats that had been covered in dust were caked in mud, while pit road and the apron around the 0.533-mile bullring held several inches of standing water.

After 2 1/2 inches of rain fell across “Thunder Valley,” NASCAR made an atypical decision to call an early washout. The first Cup Series race on dirt since 1970 was rescheduled for 4 p.m. today; trucks were set to run at noon.

Somewhere, Tony Stewart likely was having a hearty laugh at Bristol’s expense.

Stewart successfully hosted seven Truck Series races at his Eldora Speedway dirt track in Ohio, but when Fox asked NASCAR to put a dirt event on the Cup schedule, the date instead went to the concrete bullring at Bristol. An incensed Stewart declined to bring the Trucks back to Eldora this year out of spite and has sat back and watched from afar as Bristol attempted to tackle the challenges of a dirt race.

He openly fretted that a bad show at Bristol would damage the future of NASCAR dirt racing — and NASCAR itself seemed to admit it was a valid concern.

“We need this show to be great,” Scott Miller, NASCAR’s vice president of competition, said Saturday.

Stewart, who has insisted Eldora can successfully host the Cup Series, declined to comment Sunday when reached by The Associated Press.

“I’m not getting my hands dirty,” he said.

In fairness to Bristol parent company Speedway Motorsports, its CEO has been unafraid to take risks and spend considerable money in an effort to bring new energy into the sport. Marcus Smith was all-in on offering Bristol for the Cup experiment on dirt, and his staff spent six months converting the concrete oval with 2,300 truckloads of red Tennessee clay.

Issues began to crop up Friday when Cup and Trucks held their practice sessions. The dust that kicked up from the dirt was thick, but the main concern was the durability of the tires provided by Goodyear. Drivers reported significant wear down to the cords on their tires and the 3,400-pound stock cars were tearing up the track surface.

“If dirt racing became a thing, I think we could develop a tire that could handle the loads at a track like Bristol, and this kind of dirt, they could stay together and put on good racing,” Larson said Sunday.

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