BRISTOL, Tenn. — Christopher Bell used his polished dirt background to his advantage on Easter Sunday, scoring the NASCAR Cup Series win at Bristol Motor Speedway’s Food City Dirt Race.
Bell, aboard the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, led 100 of the 250 laps around the .533-mile makeshift dirt track to earn his fifth career win. Bell gave JGR their first win of the 2023 season.
“Man, those were some of the longest laps of my life,” Bell said. “This place is so much fun whether it’s dirt or concrete and whenever the cushion got up there on the top, it was very, very tough because you couldn’t drive it super hard otherwise you would get sucked in.
“If you got your right-front into it, you would push a little and if you got your right-rear into it, you would slide. It was just a lot of fun, but just so grateful to be here driving this No. 20 DeWalt Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing. That was a lot of fun.”
In what turned into a classic race on dirt with an elbows up style of racing, Bell held off late charges from the likes of 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe.
The final restart came with eight laps to go, after a Kyle Busch spin triggered the 13th caution on the night.
Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney chose the inside lane on the restart, underneath leader Bell. However, heading into turn one, Blaney got spun by an opportunistic Briscoe, allowing the No. 20 to pull a gap.
While Reddick would close within half a second, it wouldn’t be enough as Bell would set sail to the checkered flag.
“It was a lot of fun honestly and really intense,” Reddick said. “Towards the end there, definitely felt like I had a little bit more on the edge and there in the closing laps I thought I found it. Just hate it for everybody on this SiriusXM Toyota Camry TRD. Just needed to be a little bit closer than I was.
“Maybe with two to go I could have made that move work. Obviously, coming into three and four on the white flag lap we were going to see, but we’ll never know if it would have worked. Still a good rebound for us. We thought the track was going to take a different direction than it did as the race unfolded. As it worked out, our strategy wasn’t the best, but that was on me.”
Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon brought the famed No. 3 Chevrolet home in third, with Daytona 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finishing fourth.
Briscoe’s No. 14 would cross the line in fifth after the 28-year-old battled a hand injury in both the Cup Series and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event on Saturday evening. Briscoe suffered a broken middle finger on his left hand while racing a dirt late model on Thursday.
As It Happened
Starting on pole for the Food City Dirt Race was Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson, who dominated the opening stage from start to finish.
The first caution flag would wave on lap 11, with Bubba Wallace losing control in turn two, collecting reigning Cup Series champion Joey Logano. Both drivers would continue with minimal damage.
On the final lap of Stage One, Josh Berry would get spun into Denny Hamlin, causing a pileup in turn four.
Larson would win Stage One under caution, after leading every lap.
During the stage break, some teams elected to stay out, including Reddick, Wallace and Martin Truex Jr.
Shortly after the beginning of Stage Two, brought the first of multiple run-ins involving Larson and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Ryan Preece. On lap 79 while battling for position, Larson squeezed Preece’s No. 41 Ford, sending the 32-year-old into the wall.
After a Jonathan Davenport spin two laps later, Preece visibly showed his displeasure with the driver of the No. 5 under the yellow flag.
Preece would spin while running eighth, lighting the caution lights on lap 103.
Later on up front, Reddick held off Dillon to win the second stage of action.
Bell and Briscoe were among the drivers to stay out during the stage break after pitting prior to the end of Stage Two, setting them up for the front row for the beginning of Stage Three.
With 76 laps to go, Preece door slammed Larson, sending last week’s winner spinning backwards towards the wall. Larson’s race would be over, with the HMS driver finishing 35th after leading 75 laps.
With Bell in command of the lead, the battle for second got heated between Briscoe and Reddick with only 27 laps to go. Briscoe would make contact with the wall while racing side-by-side with the No. 45 Toyota. No caution would be displayed, however Briscoe would begin to drop positions.
The final caution on the day involving a spinning Busch would set up Bell and Blaney on the front row.
After Briscoe sent Blaney spinning on the restart, Bell would clear the field, hanging onto the lead for the victory.