NASCAR Barometer:  Christopher Bell Wins On Dirt

NASCAR Barometer: Christopher Bell Wins On Dirt

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Christopher Bell drove to the front to win Sunday night's Food City Dirt Race becoming the first dirt specialist to win the race since it joined the schedule in 2021. The win was a just reward after entering the race as one of the favorites each prior year but being unable to come out on top. The win was his first of the season and the first for Joe Gibbs Racing, too. The was Kyle Laron's to lose at the start. The Hendrick Motorsports driver dominated his qualifying heat and then led every lap in the first stage. Tyler Reddick then stayed out during the stage break and took over the lead for the second stage, except for a six-lap stint where Kyle Busch moved ahead. Reddick recaptured the lead and took the second stage win with Bell still among the top five. The final 100-lap segment fully belonged to Bell, though. The 2022 championship contender withstood every challenge and led every lap on his way to claiming the race win and a spot in the 2023 playoffs.

The three-week stint of short-track racing will conclude this week at Martinsville Speedway. Bell led 150 laps there last fall to earn a final four appearance last season, and would join William Byron, who won at Martinsville last spring, as the only multiple race winners in 2023 if he were to win again this week. The race will be a crucial one as teams prepare for the fall return when the

Christopher Bell drove to the front to win Sunday night's Food City Dirt Race becoming the first dirt specialist to win the race since it joined the schedule in 2021. The win was a just reward after entering the race as one of the favorites each prior year but being unable to come out on top. The win was his first of the season and the first for Joe Gibbs Racing, too. The was Kyle Laron's to lose at the start. The Hendrick Motorsports driver dominated his qualifying heat and then led every lap in the first stage. Tyler Reddick then stayed out during the stage break and took over the lead for the second stage, except for a six-lap stint where Kyle Busch moved ahead. Reddick recaptured the lead and took the second stage win with Bell still among the top five. The final 100-lap segment fully belonged to Bell, though. The 2022 championship contender withstood every challenge and led every lap on his way to claiming the race win and a spot in the 2023 playoffs.

The three-week stint of short-track racing will conclude this week at Martinsville Speedway. Bell led 150 laps there last fall to earn a final four appearance last season, and would join William Byron, who won at Martinsville last spring, as the only multiple race winners in 2023 if he were to win again this week. The race will be a crucial one as teams prepare for the fall return when the track will host the final playoff round before the title-deciding race at Phoenix. 

UPGRADE

Christopher Bell – A dirt specialist finally won the Bristol dirt race! Bell, who rose to NASCAR's top level through the dirt ranks, was the first of the bunch to do it after contact in the first two editions of Bristol's race kept the dirt regulars from victory. Bell climbed to the lead in the final segment Sunday night and held off the challengers throughout the final 100 laps to become the seventh different winner of the 2023 season, finally landing the dirt victory he seemed destined to take. Bell now has a firm dose of momentum and confidence heading to Martinsville this week where he is the most recent Cup Series winner, leading 150 laps to win last fall. That win put him into the championship deciding race at Phoenix, too. Bell has six total starts at Martinsville with an average finish of 14.7 and should be a top consideration for many fantasy rosters this week.

Tyler Reddick - After running the first stage mired in traffic Reddick opted to stay out while the majority of the field headed for pit road at the stage break. The track position he gained from that left him at the front of the field for the second segment, which he then went on to win. The small gamble paid dividends as he led more than 50 laps in the stage, fending off a serious challenge from Kyle Busch, and took a valuable playoff point by doing so. Reddick relinquished the lead at the final stage break and was never able to recapture the point, but he held on to an impressive overall performance with a second-place finish. Sunday's result was his fourth top-five from the last five races. The confidence and momentum earning from Sunday's race should help him this week at Martinsville where he only has one top-10 from six career tries. 

Austin Dillon - It isn't often that a Cup Series driver gets out of the car and says how much fun they had during the race, but that was exactly how Dillon characterized his 250 laps on dirt Sunday night. The Richard Childress Racing driver drove with confidence throughout the race, running among the leaders the entire distance and wrapping up the night with a third-place finish. That was Dillon's first top-five finish of the season and his first top-10 since the second race of the season. Bristol's dirt could not have come at a better time and the optimism Dillon left the track with could help end the slump that has plagued his 2023 season so far. Another short-track visit this week should extend that optimism, too. Dillon finished third in the spring race at Martinsville last season, but he did crash out of the return fall race.

Ty Gibbs – Gibbs entered his maiden outing on Bristol's dirt surface on the heels of three consecutive ninth-place finishes. The unique race could have been a mulligan for other rookies, but Gibbs carried his confidence right through the night and added a fourth top-10 finish to his 2023 haul. Confidence is growing in this young driver and that is showing on the track as he inches closer to a place among the playoff contenders. Sustained performance at the current level would easily put Gibbs among the championship contenders at the end of the season, and with a few improvements he could be on the cusp of regular top-fives and some victories. Gibbs was part of the Cup field at Martinsville last fall, and he started 26th and finished 19th that time. He will be aiming for a top-10 this time, though. That type of outing should not be a surprise at this point.

DOWNGRADE

Kyle Larson - Larson dominated both his qualifying heat Saturday and the opening stage of Sunday's feature race. The dirt ace said he wasn't happy with his car in qualifying despite leading every lap and winning it, and the team made significant adjustments for Sunday's race. Those changes appeared to pay off as he led every lap of the first segment and was consistently one of the fastest cars until losing track position in the second and final stages. Once left to fight in the pack Larson faced more difficulty as the car's handling appeared to deteriorate. He was working hard to regain position but spun and fell to the back of the field early in the final segment. Shortly after that spin he collided with Ryan Preece and crashed out of the race. It was the second time the pair made contact, and it ended Larson's day with another missed opportunity to capitalize on the dirt.

Joey Logano – The weekend on dirt started well for Logano as he dominated Saturday's Truck Series race to win. Sunday's Cup race also appeared promising as he ran up front at the start, but things fell apart after he lost track position and was caught up in multiple incidents. The final blow came with contact that broke his rear suspension, ultimately eliminating him from the race. Unfortunately for him, Logano's was the first car to exit the race, which earned him his second finish worse than 20th in the last three races. The defending champion remains in fine position considering his win at Atlanta, though. Martinsville should be a good gauge to determine how much momentum he retains given the recent challenges. He won at the track in 2018 and has finished in the top 10 there each of his last seven races.

Denny Hamlin – Bristol's dirt didn't help Hamlin's cause. The Joe Gibbs Racing veteran went for multiple spins, suffering significant damage to the front of his car in the first incident. He spent the entire race distance running in traffic and was never able to differentiate himself enough to move forward. His 22nd-place finish was his third of the season 20th or worse and second in a row. This week's coming race at Martinsville is still a chance for Hamlin to land a top finish, but fantasy players may want to approach him with a bit of caution considering his current run of poor form. Hamlin has five victories at that track, and he led more than 200 laps there last fall before finishing fifth as teammate Christopher Bell went on to win. That was the race Hamlin was eliminated from the championship playoffs, too.

Brad Keselowski – Sunday's adventure on the dirt was more of a battle of survival for Keselowski than a race. The former champion suffered multiple spins, dropping him to the rear of the field each of those times, presenting him with a significant challenge to come away with a decent finish. Without positive track position Keselowski found it nearly impossible to move forward, and he spent most of the night working hard simply to stay inside the top 20. Keselowski isn't one of the drivers that fantasy players would have expected to outperform on the dirt surface but he seemed to be working awfully hard for what would become a 17th-place finish. While that finish limited the damage, a more quiet top-15 outing would inspire more confidence. The coming week's return to Martinsville Speedway, where he has two career wins, could help him with a quick return to form, though.

Kyle Busch - What was shaping up to be another top run Sunday on the dirt for Busch became a miss where he failed to convert his speed into a top finish. He spun on lap 235 and exited the race one lap later with suspension problems. Busch's pace certainly should have earned him something better than the 32nd-place classification he left with. He led six laps and scored stage points in both segments before the issue forced his retirement. While the DNF was his worst finish of the season he remains in good standing considering his California victory and consistent top-10 pace. This week's trip to Martinsville will inform fantasy players how quickly he can bounce back from a poor finish with his new team, too. Busch is a two-time winner at the track and finished seventh in the spring race last season. He finished 29th and scored no stage points there in the fall, though.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Todd Gilliland – Four straight top-15 finishes have Gilliland in the midst of a great stretch of races for him. Two of those finishes were also top-10s - the road course at Circuit of the Americas and last week's dirt race. Gilliland was a fun one to watch Sunday night at Bristol, too. He had a good outing in Saturday's qualifying heat, which led him to the 15th starting position for Sunday's race. That wasn't enough for him, though. He ran strongly throughout Sunday's main event and was in and around the top 10 most of the evening, finishing an impressive eighth. He now sits 23rd in the standings, climbing higher with each top-15 result. He might be a driver fantasy players consider this week at Martinsville, too. He finished 13th in the fall race last season and has the last four races of momentum giving him confidence that another top-15 this week is not out of reach.

Want to Read More?
Subscribe to RotoWire to see the full article.

We reserve some of our best content for our paid subscribers. Plus, if you choose to subscribe you can discuss this article with the author and the rest of the RotoWire community.

Get Instant Access To This Article Get Access To This Article
RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only NASCAR Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire NASCAR fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
NASCAR DFS Trucks:  TSport 200
NASCAR DFS Trucks: TSport 200
Brickyard 400 Preview: The Oval Returns
Brickyard 400 Preview: The Oval Returns
NASCAR Barometer: Ryan Blaney Pulls Away to Win at Pocono
NASCAR Barometer: Ryan Blaney Pulls Away to Win at Pocono
NASCAR DFS: The Great American Getaway 400
NASCAR DFS: The Great American Getaway 400