Turns out the third time’s the charm for a “dirt track ace” earning a victory on the dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell took the win on Easter Sunday (April 9), leading 100 of 250 laps on his way to winning the 2023 Food City Dirt Race. The Oklahoma native first made a name for himself running dirt throughout the midwest and still moonlights as much as possible aside from running the No. 20 Toyota in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“Man, let me tell you those were some of the longest laps of my entire life,” a smiling Bell told FOX Sports. “This place is so much fun whether it’s on dirt or concrete, and when the cushion got up there on the top it was very tough, you couldn’t drive it hard or you’d be sucked in… it was a lot of fun.”
Bell survived in a race defined by attrition as numerous top-tier Bristol contenders, including Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano failed to finish. The race featured 14 cautions for 71 laps, over a quarter of the race distance along with a number of additional single-car spins where racing continued under green.
The final laps saw Bell and Tyler Reddick play a cat-and-mouse game out front; Bell would get the jump on a restart only for Reddick to reel him back in. Unfortunately, a wreck on the final lap involving Daniel Suarez, Josh Berry and Ross Chastain caused the race to end under yellow before Reddick had a chance to make his final push.
The win marks Bell’s fifth of his Cup career; he is now responsible for the last four Cup victories at JGR. After coming up short, Reddick settled for second for the second straight year at Bristol Dirt while Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Chase Briscoe rounded out the top-five finishers.
For the third straight year, the temporary Bristol dirt surface offered its fair share of challenges, developing the equivalent of a dirt pothole over the course of the race in turn 3. But most drivers applauded how competitive the track turned out, giving them multiple grooves to run with as the night wore on. Only four lead changes out front masked three and four-wide racing behind the leader as drivers found a variety of ways to pass outside of restarts.
“That was cool,” Dillon said after finishing third. “That was one of the coolest races I’ve ever been in.”
“It was a lot of fun, honestly,” Reddick added. “Really intense, I felt like I had a little bit more. I thought I had the edge, but I wasn’t quite there in the last couple of laps [to catch Bell].”
Larson ended up leading the entire first stage of the race before Reddick took over in stage two, staying out on old tires for track position. That caused Bell and 10 other drivers to pull the same gamble entering the final stage, putting the No. 20 car in position to grab a lead he would not relinquish.
Larson, meanwhile, drew the ire of Ryan Preece during the middle stages of the race after making contact with Preece’s No. 41 Ford Mustang.
Later on, after a Larson spin, Preece caught up with the No. 5 Chevrolet and made contact on the backstretch, sending Larson around and breaking his suspension.
It’s a move the 2021 Cup Series champion felt was a step over the line.
“I’m guessing he was paying me back for whatever I did earlier and ran me straight in the fence,” Larson said of Preece. “My car was broke and ended up crashed. It just sucks.”
Preece wound up continuing on and finishing the race in 24th position. His explanation for the incident was far more simple, simply telling members of the media following the race “I got loose” before walking away from his No. 41 Ford.
The NASCAR Cup Series will finish off their three-race short track swing next weekend at Martinsville Speedway. The NOCO 400 will take the green flag on Sunday, April 16 at 3 ET with television coverage provided by FOX Sports 1.
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