CHARLOTTE — It has been more than 40 years since races got dirty in NASCAR.
That will change next week.
Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, will host its inaugural Truck Series race Wednesday night on its half-mile dirt surface.
The race will mark the first NASCAR national series race on dirt since Richard Petty’s win at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh during September 1970 in what now is the Sprint Cup Series.
While dirt racing is not new, the combination of a dirt surface with race trucks designed for asphalt will make the race unique.
“All the suspension on dirt cars are built to make them get into the race track when it goes real slick, and the trucks don’t,” said points leader Matt Crafton. “The trucks don’t have all that goofy rear steering that those dirt cars have to make them have the grip they have in the back.
“We struggled (during the Truck test) and spun out a bunch trying to get the thing right. At the end, we definitely made a ton of progress, but still .. ”
In other words, even Truck series regulars with experience racing on dirt are unsure of what NASCAR’s return to clay will produce.
Complicating matters is this race will play a role in deciding the series championship.
“It’s going to be huge. Without a doubt, we’re going there to win the race, but we have to survive,” Crafton said. “Survival is going to be very, very big for us.
“It’s going to be for everybody.”
Series regular Ty Dillon is most frequently mentioned as a driver likely to be able to take advantage of NASCAR’s newest venture.
Dillon, and his older brother Austin, drive for Richard Childress Racing and grew up with extensive experience on dirt tracks.
Both brothers are entered in the race, but only Ty is running fulltime in the Truck series this season. He is fourth in points, 48 behind Crafton.
“I’d like to think we have a great chance of winning. It’s going to be a wild race,” Ty Dillon said. “It’s going to be a difficult race, especially with a lot of guys who don’t have much dirt experience.
“Survival is going to be a key and, hopefully, we are the favorite.”
There will be several changes to the race format specific only to Eldora.
The field will be cut from 36 to 30 and the top 20 teams in owner’s points will be guaranteed a starting spot.
A traditional qualifying session will be held, but there also will be five heat races, one last-chance race and a champion’s provisional to fill the remaining 10 spots.
The race length and format are also new for the series. The race will be 150 laps divided into segments of 60, 50 and 40 laps.
There will be pit stops between each segment, with teams having the opportunity to change tires and work on their trucks.
Throughout the telecast, SPEED will air interview segments with Richard Petty shot at the N.C. Fairgrounds in Raleigh that recount that final NASCAR Grand National victory on dirt more than 40 years ago.