Before Sunday night’s Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, Christopher Bell lamented that a “dirt guy” hadn’t won the NASCAR Cup Series’ only race on the red clay in Thunder Valley.
Bell fixed the problem—in a race that also saw hard feelings between pole winner Kyle Larson and Ryan Preece boil over.
Holding off charging Tyler Reddick in the final stage of the 250-lap race, Bell held a slim lead over Reddick when NASCAR called the 14th caution with 200 yards left in the final circuit.
A dirt-track aficionado who won three straight Chili Bowl Midget Nationals from 2017-2019, Bell collected his first victory of the season and the fifth of his career.
“Man, let me tell you, these are some of the longest laps of my entire life,” Bell said of the lates stages of the race. “This place is so much fun, whether it’s dirt or concrete. Whenever the cushion got up there on the top, it was very tough, because you couldn’t drive it super hard. Otherwise, you’d get sucked in.
“If you got your right front into it, you’d push a little bit. If you got your right rear into it, you’d slide. It was a lot of fun.”
Bell used his experience on dirt to negotiate the two ends of the half-mile track, which featured markedly different racing characteristics.
“(Turns) 3 and 4, that was the scary corner for me, because if you got into it too far, you lost all your momentum,” the driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota explained. (Turns) 1 and 2, I think I kept hitting the wall a couple times.
“Seems like there was a little bit more moisture up there—it would hold me better. I’m like, ‘OK, I can really attack 1 and 2.’ But 3 and 4, I had to be careful… Definitely the track tonight favored experience.”
Staying out on old tires after the end of Stage 2, Bell led the last 100 laps. Reddick, on the other hand, forewent a pit stop after Stage 1 and won Stage 2, but paid the price with a pit stop at the second break and rested 12th on Lap 151.
It wasn’t until Lap 223 that Reddick passed eventual fifth-place finisher Chase Briscoe for the second position, as Briscoe scraped the outside wall in Turn 4. Reddick began his pursuit of Bell, but the final caution foiled any opportunity he might have had.
“Yeah, towards the end there definitely feel like I had a little bit more,” Reddick said. “I thought I had the edge, but I wasn’t quite there in the last couple laps. Definitely found it.
“Just hate it for everybody on this (No. 45 23XI Racing) Toyota. Just needed to be a little bit closer than I was. I think with two (laps) to go, it would have been really bold to try to make that move work. Obviously, on the white flag coming into (Turns) 3 and 4, I was going to see. We’ll never know if it (would have) worked.”
Larson won 75-lap Stage 1 wire-to-wire, but he angered Preece with a move that forced the Stewart-Haas Racing driver into the outside wall. On Lap 175, 20 circuits after Larson spun and fell to the rear of the field, Preece returned the favor in Turn 4. Larson’s No. 5 Chevrolet then shot to the inside into the door of Preece’s No. 41 Ford before spinning into the outside wall.
“Yeah, I’m guessing he was paying me back for whatever I did earlier,” said Larson, who exited the race with suspension damage to his car. “He ran me straight into the fence, and my car was broke and we crashed.
“It sucks, but I should just be mad at myself for spinning out earlier and putting myself back there. Just sucks.”
Austin Dillon ran third, followed by Daytona 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Briscoe and Justin Haley, as drivers with dirt-track backgrounds claimed the top six finishing positions. Martin Truex Jr., Todd Gilliland, Kevin Harvick and Ty Gibbs completed the top 10.
“I just have to thank (Speedway Motorsports Inc.) for all of the hard work they’ve done with this dirt racing,” Dillon said. “I don’t care what anybody says, that was an amazing show throughout the field. I felt like it was some great racing.”
— NASCAR News Wire —