● Outrageously Dependable: Interstate Batteries – one of the most tenured team sponsors in NASCAR history – began its 32nd season as the founding sponsor of Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) with an expanded presence that features the brand’s iconic green livery across all four of JGR’s NASCAR Cup Series entries. So far this season, Interstate has adorned the No. 20 of Christopher Bell at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, and served as co-primary with Gibbs in the season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and on Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota at Circuit of Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas two weekends ago. Interstate returns to Gibbs’ No. 54 Toyota this weekend at Bristol and will adorn his car four more times this season – June 25 at Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway, July 2 at the inaugural Chicago Street Race, Sept. 24 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, and Oct. 8 at the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway Roval.
● Easter NASCAR: NASCAR’s top series will be racing on Easter for just the 13th time in its history and the second time since Rusty Wallace brought home the victory at Richmond (Va.) Raceway on Easter Sunday 1989. Interestingly enough, the first Cup Series race held on Easter was in 1953 and also was held on a dirt track. Dick Passwater brought home that win on a .75-mile dirt track named Charlotte (N.C.) Speedway, which was located off Little Rock Road just south of what now is the Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
● Feels like the 493rd time: Prior to the NASCAR Cup Series’ more than 50-year hiatus from dirt-track racing that ended in 2021 at Bristol, there were 490 Cup Series races held on dirt between June 19, 1949, and Sept. 30, 1970. Sunday’s third dirt race at Bristol will be No. 493.
● Rookie Stripe: This weekend marks Gibbs’ first opportunity to race on dirt in a Cup Series car. He’ll start gaining valuable experience with a pair of practice sessions Friday evening, and during his 15-lap heat race Saturday evening. Gibbs is currently on a streak of three consecutive top-10 finishes – all ninth-place results the last three weeks at Atlanta Motor Speedway (March 19), COTA (March 26) and this past Sunday at Richmond (Va.) Raceway. Gibbs looks to continue his strong rookie campaign with his eyes on keeping the top-10 streak alive during the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol.
● At the age of 19 years, 9 months and 20 days, Gibbs made his first career NASCAR Cup Series start last July 24 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway for 23XI Racing. He became the 37th driver younger than 20 years of age to make a Cup Series start. He started at the rear of the field but completed all 160 laps on his way to an impressive 16th-place finish. Best of his 15 Cup Series starts last year was his 10th-place result Aug. 7 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.
●In the Pits: A unique wrinkle to this weekend’s Bristol dirt race will be the absence of the usual over-the-wall pit crews. Teams will not be permitted to change tires, add fuel or work on their vehicles except during the breaks between stages. Exceptions will be made for vehicles involved in incidents. However, teams are not required to pit during stage breaks. Those that elect to stay on the track during stage intermissions will line up for the ensuing restart ahead of the cars that pit. There will be no race onto or off of pit road, a controlled pit-stop procedure similar to the format used at Bristol the first two seasons the dirt race was held.
● Dazzling Debut: Gibbs was victorious in his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut in the February 2021 race on the Daytona road course. He led 14 of the 56 laps and became the youngest driver to win an Xfinity road-course race at 18 years, 4 months and 16 days. The native of Charlotte, North Carolina, also became the second-youngest winner in Xfinity Series history behind Joey Logano, who won in June 2008 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta at the age of 18 years, 21 days.
What are your thoughts about racing on dirt for the first time in a Cup Series car this weekend at Bristol?
“It’s just another race in the schedule. I’ll do the best I can in our Interstate Batteries Camry. I’ve never experienced dirt in a Cup car, it will be fun to see how that is. I’ve raced on dirt in the past at Millbridge Speedway. I raced karts out there and a few other things, so I don’t have a ton of experience. We’ll just be patient, I’ll try to learn as much as I can and we’ll see how it plays out. It will be much different than anything I’ve done in a stock car, so looking forward to it.”
What does it mean to have Interstate Batteries on your car with the company’s significance in the history of Joe Gibbs Racing?
“Interstate Batteries means a lot to everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing. You just see all the pictures and highlights of the 1993 Daytona 500 and how excited everyone was, and also for a lot of other wins with them at JGR over the years. Norm (Miller, chairman) and everyone at Interstate Batteries have been a big part of Joe Gibbs Racing over all these years. It’s just really cool how they’ve been able to grow with us as the team grew over the years. It’s really an honor to be able to run an Interstate Batteries car every time we’ve been able to do it. I want to be able to continue to make those guys proud and appreciate all they’ve done for us over the years.”
It’s very early in your Cup Series tenure, but how have things gone thus far as you continue to learn and gain experience?
“I got to race in some Cup races last year and I’m really learning so much each and every time I get behind the wheel. I get to race against the best stock-car racers in the world every week. Hopefully all my hard work will pay off. I worked really hard in the offseason and have continued to during the start of the season, and my team has been working really hard, as well. It’s a long year and we’ll keep working each week and try to get better and better as the season goes along. We have three top-10 finishes in a row, we are just working on minimizing our mistakes, and the last three weeks it’s paid off. The dirt race is something new for me, so hoping we can learn in practice on Friday, maybe stay out of trouble and get a strong finish with our Interstate Batteries Camry this weekend.”