NASCAR returning to dirt

LAS VEGAS -- It's official. NASCAR is returning to dirt.

The governing body announced Wednesday that Eldora Speedway has been added to the Truck Series schedule with a July 24 race at Tony Stewart's half-mile track in Rossburg, Ohio.

It will be the first time NASCAR has held a race on dirt in any of its top three series since 1970. It will be held the Wednesday night before the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series go to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, about two hours away.

The series also will add its inaugural international event to the 22-race schedule with a Sept. 1 race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario.

The final go-ahead to put Eldora on the schedule came on Monday night after officials from the University of Nebraska that developed the SAFER barriers used by all tracks that host a sanctioned event said the track would be safe for a race without the barriers.

"It has been one of the hardest things to not talk about in my entire professional racing career," Stewart said. "It's going to be a great day. It's going to be a very historic day for NASCAR and Eldora Speedway. The racing has the potential to be very, very good."

Stewart said NASCAR first approached him about the potential for a race at Eldora last year. NASCAR conducted a test Oct. 15 with a specially prepared truck from Richard Childress Racing. RCR's Austin Dillon was the first on the track, followed soon after by Stewart.

Stewart, who jokingly has said for years that NASCAR should bring a race to Eldora, called it a "dream come true." He said while SAFER barriers won't be needed, there will be changes to the walls to improve safety.

"I was pretty surprised in the report we got from them," Stewart said of Nebraska officials. "We kind of had our heads held up when they left."

While Stewart would like to participate in the race that he expects will draw interest from other Cup drivers, he hasn't made a final decision because of responsibilities he'll have as the track owner.

Stewart and NASCAR executive Steve O'Donnell said the only major change to the trucks was the removal of the splitter. O'Donnell said Goodyear is working on a special tire for the event.

O'Donnell said NASCAR is also considering heat races for the event. It's all a part of the sport's attempt to get back to its roots.

Eldora has permanent seating for 16,600, with lawn and patio seating that could expand capacity to over 20,000. Stewart said the track also is considering adding temporary seats at both ends of the track.