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Bristol Herald Courier photo by David Crigger via AP / Kyle Busch drives on the dirt at Tennessee's Bristol Motor Speedway during a NASCAR Cup Series practice Friday. Sunday afternoon's race will mark the first time the top-tier series has competed on dirt since 1970.

Don't wear white to Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend. Pack a pair of goggles and be prepared to get really dirty.

The East Tennessee venue has trucked 23,000 cubic yards of dirt into its famed bullring to host NASCAR's first Cup Series race on literal earth since 1970. This wild experiment was pushed by broadcast partner Fox at the same time NASCAR was looking to diversify a schedule that had turned stale.

Speedway Motorsports, which counts Bristol among the many tracks it owns, said it was game — elbowing out Tony Stewart and his well-established Eldora Speedway, a dirt track in Ohio — and offered up "The Last Great Coliseum" for Sunday's adventure.

Once one of the toughest tickets in all of sports with a 55-race sellout streak from 1982 through 2010, Bristol lost some of its luster when its spring race date bounced from as early as mid-March to as late as mid-April. Fans grew tired of expensive local hotel rates and unpredictable weather — it snowed during the 2006 race weekend — but a dirt race gives Bristol a chance to reestablish itself as a bucket list event.

The buzz hasn't stopped since the race was announced last year, and Bristol, which hosted the World of Outlaws' Sprint Cars on dirt in 2000 and 2001, began the enormous project.

Steve Swift, the senior vice president of operations and development at Speedway Motorsports, traveled to 18 dirt sites in a 150-mile radius to find the perfect native, red Tennessee clay for the job. Swift said he sent the samples to "a gentleman out in California by the nickname of Dr. Dirt" for analysis.

Ed Davis, a scientist/farmer/dirt racing enthusiast at S&E Organic Farms in Bakersfield, California, whittled the samples down to three for this weekend's action. The third-tier Truck Series will compete Saturday night at Bristol, with the second-tier Xfinity Series off until next month.

A layer of sawdust was spread over the 0.533-mile concrete oval, and then 2,300 truckloads of dirt were dumped on the track. The next layer is soil from the Outlaws races two decades ago, followed by dirt from a campground near the track and a final top layer from nearby Bluff City.

The track is done, and Bristol successfully hosted Late Model cars in races all last week as a tuneup for NASCAR's visit. The Bristol Dirt Nationals drew a handful of current Cup Series drivers who wanted to get a look at the surface, and they included Kyle Larson, one of the nation's most successful drivers on dirt.

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Bristol Herald Courier photo by David Crigger via AP / Coleby Frye, left, and Travis Stemler make contact in the first turn at Bristol Motor Speedway during a Super Late Model heat on March 19. NASCAR Cup Series drivers were among those who competed in races last week at the Tennessee track in preparation for this weekend's competition.

Larson was pleasantly surprised by the track because a weekend of racing last November at The Dirt Track at Charlotte, another Speedway Motorsports property, was a dusty disaster.

"I get to race on a lot of different track surfaces, and dirt and the orange clay is always hit or miss. It's either good or it's really bad," the Hendrick Motorsports driver said. "How Charlotte was last year, I think a lot of people were worried. But Bristol, the car I raced last week, once they let the track get slick and start getting dark and black, it really widened the groove out, and the pace slowed down and the racing got really good.

"If they continue to let the track get slick, I think it will be a really good race this weekend."

That's easy for Larson to say because of his extensive dirt racing background, and the same goes for Christopher Bell and a handful of others. However, the experience level varies greatly throughout the Cup Series field from professionals to drivers who have never raced on dirt at all.

Seven full-time Cup Series drivers entered this week's Truck Series race for extra track time. Kevin Harvick, who most recently raced a truck in 2015, is one of them.

"I would never decide to put dirt on any race track, ever," Harvick said. "It's not something I grew up doing, nor something that I've enjoyed when I've done it along the way. But I can tell you it's probably the single best event that we will do this year just because of the fact that it's so different, so far outside the box, and I think the anticipation leading up to it has been a lot of fun for all of us."

Three ringers have entered the Cup Series race because of their experience on dirt. Stewart Friesen, a Truck Series regular, will make his debut on the top circuit alongside newcomers Chris Windom, the United States Auto Club champion, and Sprint Car driver Shane Golobic.

Brad Keselowski earlier this month ran a Crate Late Model race at Cochran Motor Speedway in Georgia to gain some dirt experience, and reigning Cup Series champion Chase Elliott was among those who raced last week at Bristol in either Modified or Dirt Late Models.

Friday night practice sessions were to be followed by Saturday heat races to determine the starting lineup. NASCAR also decided pit stops will be controlled and teams will only be permitted to change tires and fuel at the stage breaks — a ruling that will keep most pit crews at home so that fabricators and mechanics can take those roster spots to attend to damage done during the first traditional three-day race weekend since NASCAR returned after a two-month shutdown last spring amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The entire field got a virtual look at the track Wednesday night in an online iRacing event won by William Byron. Bell said the video version was not realistic to the conditions drivers will face Sunday.

In fact, if it's anything like the conditions in the iRacing event, Bell believes Bristol could be a disaster.

"We saw the track was really heavy on the iRacing simulator, and if we get those conditions in real life, we're not going to be able to see because the windshields will be mudded up," he said. "The radiators are going to be mudded up, and we're not going to be able to get air flow to the engines.

"We can't have those conditions. And if it gets super dry, it's going to be really dusty. I don't think the track conditions were realistic."

The current forecast has a 100% chance of rain Sunday. NASCAR won't race in the rain, even on a dirt surface, but Bell said a little water won't do much harm. A downpour would be more difficult to overcome, but no matter the track conditions, the quality of racing will still be what determines if dirt racing was a good idea for NASCAR.

"A great finish is necessary for it to be considered a great race, and we know it's going to be a full field and we know there's going to be bumping and banging," Bell said. "I just hope it's not a demolition derby."

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