Dirt racers shine as Christopher Bell holds off Tyler Reddick to win Food City Dirt Race at Bristol
FiredUp Network Sports Writer
Monday, April 10, 2023
Photo credit: CBS Sports.
BRISTOL – Since NASCAR and Speedway Motorsports decided to cover Bristol Motor Speedway in dirt for its spring date in 2021, drivers with significant dirt racing backgrounds have surprisingly struggled.
In its inaugural running two years ago, favourites Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson were both taken out early, both being caught in the same accident. In last season’s event, Chase Briscoe came together in Turn 3 on the final lap with Tyler Reddick when racing for the win, allowing Kyle Busch to unexpectedly take the flag.
In 2023, though, the script flipped in favour of the dirt specialists.
Despite a visibly loose race car in the final stint on 150+ lap old tires, and a late race caution to stack the field up, Bell ran on the edge of disaster in the high groove against the wall to fend off Tyler Reddick, and Chase Briscoe to win the Food City Dirt Race at Bristol.
Bell’s Easter Sunday win made him the seventh different winner this season, and the first for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2023.
“Those were some of the longest laps of my entire life,” Bell told Fox Sports’ Regan Smith post-race. “It was a lot of fun.”
Reddick, also a fellow dirt racing specialist, wound up second best for the second year running.
“A lot of fun,” Reddick reiterated. “Really intense. I thought I had the edge at the end, but obviously not enough, and he (Bell) found it.”
While each of the top five finishers, including Austin Dillon in third, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr in fourth were all of dirt racing backgrounds, things didn't go so well for some of NASCAR’s other dirt drivers.
Despite Briscoe finishing a season-best fifth, it was a rather disappointing result. With 25 laps to go, Briscoe was running second, and right on the back bumper of Bell before he got a little too high and out of the groove, sending him into the wall and out of winning contention. The driver of the No.14 also spun Ryan Blaney, who fell to a 23rd place finish, on the final restart.
“It was so much fun, I hope the fans enjoyed it too,” Briscoe said, remaining positive. “It was much more of a dirt race than we had in previous years.”
Fortunes were even worse for last week’s Richmond winner Kyle Larson. Despite dominating Stage 1 to take ten points and a crucial playoff point with it, the former Chili Bowl winner - perhaps dirt racing’s biggest crown jewel event - pitted during the stage break for his one and only allowed stop, while others stayed out.
Fighting his way through, he ran Ryan Preece into the wall on the exit of Turn 4, much to the anger of Preece, before spinning himself exiting the same corner at the beginning of Stage 3. He and the No.41 then got together again in what looked like retaliation from Preece, which put Larson out of the race with suspension damage.
“I guess he was paying me back for whatever I did earlier and ran me straight into the fence,” stated Larson after retiring his car from the event. “Then my car was broken. I hate that I put myself back there by spinning. Just sucks.”
Both welcome surprises, and bitter disappointments were aplenty throughout the field. Kaulig Racing’s Justin Haley, fresh off the team’s failed appeal for its houver violation penalty, scored a fantastic 6th-place finish, while Todd Gilliland also scored a top ten in eighth. This shockingly marks his fourth top fifteen finish in the last four races split between Front Row Motorsports and Rick Ware Racing.
Regular front-runners Denny Hamlin, Ross Chastain, and Joey Logano all had horror shows at NASCAR’s colosseum, with all three drivers being involved in two or more high-profile incidents en route to 22nd, 28th and 37th place finishes. Chastain brought out the twelfth and final caution of the night on the last lap when he stopped in the middle of Turns 3 and 4.
All three of NASCAR’s top series head east to Ridgeway, Virginia next weekend to take on the ‘paperclip’ at Martinsville Speedway. With Bell having won there in the fall last season, today’s winner will likely be the early favourite heading into next Sunday.
Stage 1 Results:
Stage 2 Results:
Martin Truex Jr
Final Results (Top 10):
Ricky Stenhouse Jr
Martin Truex Jr