Dirt-track aces, including Christopher Bell (20), struggled mightily during Monday's Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. (Toyota Racing photo)

Dirt Aces Struggle During Food City Dirt Race

BRISTOL, Tenn. — It was a grueling day for dirt-track aces during Monday’s Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, as multiple drivers who were expected to be contenders were felled by various issues.

Save for a runner-up result by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and a fifth-place finish for past USAC Silver Crown champion Ryan Newman, Bristol’s temporary dirt surface did not treat the stalwarts of dirt racing kindly.

Three-time Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals champion Christopher Bell, one of the pre-race favorites, saw his day end after only 54 laps thanks to a multi-car accident.

Bell was trying to work the high lane following the first competition break of the day 50 laps in when he got loose exiting turn two and spun while running in the top five.

With nowhere to go, Busch Pole Award recipient Kyle Larson — a 46-time winner on dirt last season — plowed into Bell’s rapidly slowing car, with both cars sustaining heavy damage due to the contact.

The damage was severe enough that it broke the oil cooler in Bell’s Toyota, scuttling the day for the Norman, Okla., native. Bell was credited with a 34th-place finish.

“I was just trying to run the water in under yellow. I knew it was a little bit slick, but I felt like I could go up there and make some time,” explained Bell. “I kind of entered shallow underneath of it and tried to pick it up on exit … and it was just really greasy up there. I hate it for all of our partners — IRWIN Tools, PristineAuction.com, Toyota, TRD. That was a lot of fun, being able to be out there for that first run was really cool.

“I just hate it that I couldn’t be out there longer.”

Larson continued, but battled a severely wounded Chevrolet for the remaining distance. He ended up five laps off the pace in 29th at the finish.

Prior to Bell and Larson’s incident, California open-wheel ace Shane Golobic — driving the No. 78 Ford for Live Fast Motorsports — was taken out in the first major crash of the day on the 41st lap of the race.

Golobic clipped the spinning Ford of Aric Almirola on the backstretch, after Almirola spun exiting turn two, leading to front-end damage that was terminal for the Fremont, Calif., native.

“Bristol on dirt was awesome. It’s a bummer that the heat races got rained out, because I feel like that would’ve helped a little bit (with the lack of experience in a stock car),” Golobic said. “Nonetheless, we were pretty solid. The first however many laps we got to run, we were passing cars and I was having a lot of fun. It’s just a shame we couldn’t get more laps in. That’s part of racing sometimes, getting caught up in someone else’s mess.

“Live Fast (Motorsports) gave us a good car because we were rolling past some pretty good teams out there, with a guy like myself, who doesn’t have a lot of experience out there,” he added. “That says a lot about the team and I can’t thank everybody enough who made it happen. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s just bittersweet that we didn’t get to run all the laps because I felt like the opportunity was there for us to get a strong finish.”

Mike Marlar (66) and Chris Windom race for position at Bristol Motor Speedway. (Toyota Racing photo)

USAC Triple Crown champion Chris Windom, a native of Canton, Ill., who was driving the No. 15 Chevrolet for Rick Ware Racing in a collaborative effort with his USAC sprint car owner Brodie Hayward, retired after completing 62 laps with apparent engine issues.

Big-block modified ace Stewart Friesen fell a lap down during the second half of the 250-lap event and ended up 23rd for Spire Motorsports, while World of Outlaws Late Model Series champion Mike Marlar spun with four laps to go in regulation to bring out the last of 10 yellow flags — forcing an overtime finish.

Despite a rough Monday, those six drivers and other dirt aces from across the country will have a chance to target Bristol Motor Speedway again, as NASCAR and track officials announced before the end of the race that The Last Great Coliseum will be covered with dirt again for the spring weekend next season.

However, until that time comes, it will be a long year for the dirt-track ringers to reflect on how things went wrong Monday — and how they can make out better come 2022.

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