The Camping World Truck Series’ debut on dirt went from novelty to mainstay in the span of three hours Wednesday night at Eldora Speedway, as Austin Dillon scored the first NASCAR national series win on a dirt track in 43 years.
If you watched and weren’t entertained, I don’t know what to tell you.
“This is real racing right here, this is all I’ve got to say,” Dillon said in victory lane after beating Kyle Larson to the finish line in a green-white-checker sprint.
The thing is, that wasn’t just the joy in Dillon coming out after he reached victory lane. The excitement of being at Tony Stewart’s track was palpable and authentic. Drivers and team members exclaimed throughout the evening about the race, and heck, not even a discouraging word was said by the NASCAR social media chamber, a notoriously finicky segment.
A big reason for that excitement? The racing.
Yes, it was different. But it wasn’t just the difference in styles in how a driver attacks a half-mile dirt track versus a 1.5 mile asphalt track that made Wednesday night mesmerizing. It was multiple grooves, the throttle management and a genuine sense that the race was ultimately going to be decided by the drivers and their trucks, not by clean air. (Which can be a bit of an oxymoron at a dirt track anyway.) Throw in a big helping of nostalgia — many NASCAR drivers grew up racing local dirt tracks — and it’s hard not to consider the night a rousing success.
Need proof of how that all came together? Look no further than the battle between Norm Benningand Clay Greenfield in the Last Chance Qualifier race to get into the 150 lap main event. Instead of relying only on single truck qualifying to set the field for the race, NASCAR used heat races and a subsequent last-chance race to whittle the 35 trucks attempting the race to the 30 trucks that would start the race.
With two laps left in the Last Chance race, Benning was holding onto the final transfer spot into the main race in fifth place. Greenfield was right behind him, both drivers in trucks they own and prepare themselves, a far cry from the multi-million dollar operations in the Sprint Cup Series.
Greenfield leaned on Benning’s bumper as the two approached the white flag. Benning got loose, but stayed in the throttle and held the position. As they came through turns three and four again,Greenfield got to the inside of Benning and slid up into him, forcing Benning’s truck into the wall. Sparks flew, but Benning stayed in the gas once again, nipping Greenfield at the line for that last place starting position.
And when Benning got back to the garage? Members from seemingly every team were waiting for him to get out of his truck to congratulate him.
Did NASCAR take a gamble by staging a type of race not run for nearly half a century at an 18,000 seat facility owned by a Sprint Cup Series champion? Probably. Did it pay off? Absolutely. Instead of the question being “Does the Truck Series return next year?” it’s now “When can the Nationwide and Cup Series do this?”