• Fri. Jun 2nd, 2023

Christopher Bell leaves previous Bristol dirt winners in the dust

ByBrenden Martin

Apr 10, 2023
Christopher Bell celebrates in Victory Lane

Photo courtesy of Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

After three years of running the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, a dirt racer finally wins it. Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 driver Christopher Bell led exactly 100 of the 250 laps to take his first win of the 2023 season and fifth of his career.

“Those were some of the longest laps in my entire life,” Bell said to Fox Sports’ Regan Smith.

Bell is the seventh winner in the eight races run so far this season, bringing about the same parity that saw 19 different winners last season. This third installment of the Bristol Dirt Race saw a bunch of cautions and even more spins that arguably could have brought out yellow flags.

The previous two winners at Bristol dirt had rough endings to their races, paving the way for Bell to hold on to his win. Inaugural Bristol Dirt Race winner Team Penske No. 22 driver Joey Logano had issues from the jump, spinning on Lap 11 and subsequently speeding on pit road. Logano was also involved in the second caution on Lap 38 when he got into Rick Ware Racing No. 51 driver Matt Crafton, who filled in for Cody Ware who was out due to a family matter.

Logano hit the wall multiple times and his car eventually gave out on Lap 96, resulting in a dead last 37th-place finish. It was the complete opposite of his stage-sweeping win in the Weather Guard Truck Race on Dirt the previous night.

“You get caught up in the garbage when you get back there,” Logano said to Fox Sports’ Jaime Little. “It happens.”

Last year’s winner, Richard Childress Racing No. 8 driver Kyle Busch, had a much better run but ultimately succumbed to a similar ending. Busch spun with 15 laps to go to bring out the final caution. NASCAR warned Busch that he was not meeting minimum speed and pulled out the yellow flag despite Busch spinning right into pit road.

He suffered a broken right front shock and other suspension issues that dropped him back to a 32nd-place result.

Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 driver Kyle Larson started on the pole and earned a playoff point with a win in Stage 1 that saw three cautions. Larson, the prohibitive favorite due to his dirt racing background, went wire-to-wire in the first stage.

Pit strategy put Larson behind the leaders who decided not to pit during non-competitive pit stops. Strategy was ultimately the No. 5 team’s downfall as interim crew chief Kevin Meendering and Larson decided not to put on fresh tires after Stage 2.

Larson spun shortly after and had his race ended at the hands of Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 driver Ryan Preece, who put Larson into the wall after Larson did the same earlier in the race.

“I don’t race dirt,” Preece said to Fox Sports’ Bob Pockrass,” I know [Larson] was making speed up top and I tried to move up there and we were just too loose.”

“It had been probably an hour and a half I would have to guess since then,” Larson said. “I figured we can just be grown-ups and get the f*** over it, but I guess not.”

Preece, a Modified racing champion on paved tracks, finished 24th and Larson was unable to finish the race in 35th.

Bell joins 23XI Racing No. 45 driver Tyler Reddick as the only Toyota drivers to reach Victory Lane. Reddick, who finished second in a heartbreaking end to last season’s Bristol Dirt Race, matched that finish again this year.

“It was a lot of fun honestly,” Reddick said to Little. “Really intense toward the end there. I definitely feel like I had a little bit more. I thought I had the edge but it wasn’t quite there in the last couple of laps.”

Reddick did come away with a Stage 2 win after staying out after Stage 1. The large number of cautions in Stage 2 kept him out front for restarts that control each time.

The final stage saw the track open up as tire rubber stuck to the track and drivers were willing to drive closer to the wall. The closing stretch consisted of a three-way battle between Bell, Reddick and Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 driver Chase Briscoe. Briscoe, who also ran in the Truck race and finished seventh, raced the weekend with a broken left middle finger that physically hampered his race, but it didn’t look like it as he improved from his truck result to finish fifth.

“I felt like I was OK,” Briscoe said to Fox Sports’ Josh Sims. “I just wasn’t quite as good. I thought the 45 [Reddick] was definitely probably the best. The 20 [Bell], I felt like I could probably pace him but it was going to be nearly impossible to pass him. There were a couple of times I was close on [Turns] 1 and 2. I just kind of felt like I had my hands tied the whole time.”

Other road course ringers did not have the same look as Bell and Briscoe. Kaulig Racing No. 13 driver Jonathan Davenport, a Late Model Dirt Series champion, was taken out of the race in the same wreck that ended Larson’s night finish 36th. Spire Motorsports No. 77 driver Ty Dillon used pit strategy to race in the top 10 but hit the outside wall midway through the race to 21st. His brother, RCR No. 3 driver Austin Dillon, finished a season-best third in a consistent day thanks to him winning his heat race on Saturday.

Dillon added his thoughts on throwing dirt on Bristol with its return for a fourth running next season in question.

“I had a blast out there,” Dillon said to Little. “I don’t care what anybody says about the dirt, the concrete, that was cool. That was one of the coolest races I’ve ever been in.”

Bell took the win on the final lap when a caution came out for Trackhouse Racing No. 1 driver Ross Chastain getting into Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 driver Josh Berry. The caution deprived the race of a finish at the checkered flag, but it secured Bell his spot in the playoffs for the third season in a row.

“This place is so much fun whether it’s dirt or concrete,” Bell said to Smith.

The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season will continue its short track swing next week with the NOCO 400 at Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Virginia on Sunday, April 16 at 3 p.m. ET.

TV coverage of the race will be on Fox Sports 1 with radio coverage on Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

NOTE: Technical inspection complete. No issues. Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Christopher Bell is the winner. No cars to the R&D Center.


Bristol Dirt Race Results


Bristol Dirt Driver Points


Bristol Dirt Owner Points