Tempers flared. Sparks ignited. And Dust flew. But at the end of it all, Joe Gibbs Racing's Christopher Bell stood above the rest as the winner of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The driver of the No. 20 DeWalt Tools Toyota Camry TRD led a race-high 100 laps on his path to victory, but it was Bell's ability to bide his time throughout a chaotic event that put him in a position to score his first victory of the 2023 season.
After a late-race caution for a spinning Kyle Busch, Bell would have to endure a battle with Tyler Reddick to snag the win. For Bell, the 20-second laps around Bristol Motor Speedway felt like an eternity in the closing laps.
"Let me tell you, those were some of the longest laps of my entire life," Bell laughed. "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 tough because you couldn't drive in 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."
While Bell took the win, it was another close call for Reddick on the dirt at Bristol. Following the race, Reddick explained that he was chasing the limits of the track all night long, and felt like he finally found the optimal edge of the track as he was chasing down Bell in the closing laps.
"It was a lot of fun, honestly. Really intense. Towards the end there, definitely feel like I found a little bit more," Reddick said. "I thought I was at the edge. But I wasn't quite there and in the last couple of laps, definitely found it."
As Reddick was bearing down on Bell for the race lead, a caution came out on the final lap for a crash involving Ross Chastain, Josh Berry, Chris Buescher, Ryan Preece, and Daniel Suarez, which sealed the deal for Bell.
Here is a video of the crash that led to the race-clinching caution for Bell:
Austin Dillon finished an impressive third, after securing a total of 18 Stage Points by finishing second in both Stages 1 and 2.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who won the season-opening Daytona 500, came home in fourth and Chase Briscoe finished fifth despite nursing a broken finger, which was sustained in a dirt late model event on Thursday night.
Justin Haley, Martin Truex Jr., Todd Gilliland, Kevin Harvick and Ty Gibbs rounded out the top-10 finishers.
For Gibbs, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender, this marks his fourth-consecutive top-10 finish.
Kyle Larson scored the Stage 1 win, and led 75 laps from the pole position, and seemingly was the favorite to score the win on Sunday night in his No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. However, heading into the final Stage of the race, Larson opted to remain on older tires.
On Lap 156, Larson lost the handle on his car in Turn 4, and spun out. In an instant, he went from inside the top-10, to outside the top-30.
As Larson attempted to rally back through the field, he found himself in another incident, this time with Ryan Preece. As Preece and Larson made contact, it sent Larson hard into the outside wall, which ended his race.
Larson would be credited with a 35th-place finish.
Photo Credit: Will Bellamy / Racing America