Bristol Dirt winners and losers

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Take a look at the winners and losers from Sunday night’s race on the dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway


Kyle BuschRight place, right time. After frustration in Las Vegas led him to accuse Alex Bowman of backing into victories, Busch did just that (and acknowledged as much) Sunday at Bristol. Busch was running third when race leader Tyler Reddick was sent spinning after a desperate move from Chase Briscoe went awry in the final corner on the final lap. Busch beat Reddick to the line by 0.33 seconds and returned to victory lane for the first time since Pocono in June 2021. Busch has shown speed throughout the first third of the regular season but various issues negated his chances to win. A third-place finish would have been a respectable run. A win is even better, especially as Joe Gibbs Racing claims victories in two of the last three races. Although he got some help, Busch scored the best average running position of the night (4.73).

Tyler Reddick: A spin away from his first career Cup win means Reddick likely isn’t feeling like a winner, but his second-place finish should be celebrated. He and Briscoe checked out from the field during the final laps, so even though Reddick was sent for a 360-degree slide, the two-time Xfinity Series champion maximized his circumstances and got the car righted quickly enough to hold onto the runner-up spot. It’s the fourth time Reddick has finished second, and this one likely stings the most — Reddick led a race-high 99 laps, all of which were in the final 100-lap stage of the event just to be spun with a turn and a half remaining. The 26-year-old held his poise post-race though and handled the circumstances like a winner.

Kyle LarsonIt should come as no surprise to see Larson’s name in this half of the article considering his dirt prowess, but this was a much-needed fourth-place finish for the defending series champion. In nine races this year, Larson now has four top fives including a win at Auto Club Speedway, but his other five finishes are 19th or worse. Sunday was a swing back in the right direction, notching his second top five in the last three weeks. The No. 5 team still needs to find its consistency, but Bristol treated Larson well.

Christopher Bell: The No. 20 Toyota started second and ran up front all night, averaging the third-best average running position (6.06) before finishing seventh. Bristol marks Bell’s third top-10 finish in the last four races, a significant improvement from starting the year with four finishes of 23rd or worse in the first five races.

Ty DillonDillon wheeled the No. 42 Chevrolet well all weekend, culminating in a 10th-place finish for his first top 10 since Talladega in October 2020. Dillon started seventh after a strong showing in Saturday’s qualifying heat races and proved that was no fluke, averaging the seventh-best average running position of the night (9.64). He has flown under the radar with quiet, mid-pack runs but has been steady, earning six top 20s throughout the first nine races of 2022. He now sits 21st in points, gaining four positions at Bristol.


Chase Briscoe: Briscoe handled his post-race interactions with class and maturity, immediately seeking Reddick to apologize after eliminating either of them from the win in the final corners of the race. But while Reddick rallied to finish second, Briscoe plummeted from second to 22nd as the field stormed by en route to the checkered flag. Briscoe was impressive all race, snagging the lead from Stewart-Haas Racing teammate and polesitter Cole Custer at the start and rallying through pit strategy back to the lead after an earlier spin at Lap 50. But Briscoe now has two finishes outside the top 20 in his last four starts, the other a 30th-place finish at Circuit of the Americas.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.Bristol Dirt seemed like the perfect place for Stenhouse Jr. to capitalize on his strengths. Instead, the No. 47 car went spinning twice Sunday night and finished 29th, 10 laps down. It was a disappointment for the two-time Xfinity champion, particularly thanks to his second-place effort in this race a year ago and typical success on dirt.

Kurt BuschBusch was an innocent bystander Sunday night when Austin Dillon blew his engine at Lap 212. As Dillon’s No. 3 slowed, Busch had nowhere to go and veered right to avoid Dillon. Busch went across the track and across the nose of Aric Almirola, sending Busch’s No. 45 Toyota into the outside wall head-on and finished 32nd. After a few strong finishes to start the year, Busch has now finished 32nd or worse in three of the last four races.

Kevin HarvickHarvick left no doubt about his feelings for the dirt event at Bristol Motor Speedway. Harvick was forced to pit road in the opening laps of the event because his grille was caked in mud, causing his engine to overheat. The caution came out soon after, with officials mandating a pit stop to clean the grilles and windshields. Harvick and Custer received wavearounds to get one lap back, but Harvick felt he should have gotten the free pass to return to the lead lap. His frustrations heightened after a crash at Lap 98 saw Noah Gragson climb over the back of Harvick’s car, heavily damaging the No. 4 Ford and knocking him out of the race. Harvick finished 34th.

Denny HamlinWhen will the awful luck for Hamlin end? Yes, the No. 11 Toyota went to victory lane at Richmond Raceway on April 3, but that win remains Hamlin’s lone top-10 finish all year. A blown engine relegated Hamlin to 35th Sunday, his fifth finish outside the top 20 in nine races. Hamlin now sits 23rd in points, tied for the position with Custer.

Corey LaJoie learning in his week with Chase Elliott’s team


Spending this week with Hendrick Motorsports has proved eye-opening for Corey LaJoie.

He will pilot Chase Elliott’s No. 9 car today at World Wide Technology Raceway after NASCAR suspended Elliott one race for wrecking Denny Hamlin during last week’s Coca-Cola 600. This gives LaJoie the chance to drive in the best equipment of his career.

MORE: Corey LaJoie not giving up on his dream 

MORE: Details for Sunday’s Cup race

Working with Elliott’s team also has given LaJoie an inside look as to what makes Hendrick Motorsports so successful.

“I thought that I knew what we didn’t have at Spire Motorsports, but I had no idea,” said LaJoie, who starts 30th after tagging the wall during his qualifying lap. “There’s tools that those guys have, intellectual properties specific to Hendrick Motorsports, that even some of the other teams don’t have.

“But the biggest thing that I noticed was just the people and the attitude of the pursuit of perfection. All the key partner teams across all the (manufacturers) all have the same data, but (Hendrick Motorsports has) an unbelievable way of delegating, taking, compacting and making it just digestible – whether it’s for a driver, an engineer, a crew chief.

“I think the fact that they have four incredibly strong teams individually raises the tide for those guys because when you’re sitting in the simulator and William Byron ran a 33.20 (seconds for a lap) … if you’re running a 33.35 with the same setup, you know you have a tenth-and-a-half under your butt and you have to go find it. And then when I go run a 33.20, William next time is going to want to run a 33.19.

“There’s always a consistently raised watermark on the driver’s end. There’s always a consistently raised watermark on the crew chiefs in trying to build the best setups, and the engineers trying to find the best strategies.

“The inner-team competition is one of the biggest things, and I think there are several teams that have that … the healthy ones are certainly evident. But it’s just the overall structure. We have a Hawkeye (camera-based inspection stations used by NASCAR at the track) … all the things that do the same stuff that Hendrick Motorsports has, but the depth of people, collective focus of the goal and the mission is noticeable and evident. It’s a different world.”

It would be easy for LaJoie to be overwhelmed in this situation. His career has been marked with underfunded rides and trying to make the most of his equipment. He’s having his best season in Cup this year. LaJoie ranks 19th in points heading into today’s race.

LaJoie acknowledges the opportunity he has, but he also can’t let it alter his focus.

“It’s been a wild week,” he said. “I can get all sentimental … (about) my dad subbing in for Ricky Craven in 1998 (for Hendrick Motorsports) and all that sort of stuff. But at the end of the day, when I sit in that thing, I don’t know that NAPA is on it, or the No. 9 is on it.

“I’m going to drive it like I have been driving the No. 7 Chevy and putting that thing 19th in points. It’s been a super fun, successful year so far, and we have a lot of work left to do and things to accomplish over there.”

When he returns to his Spire Motorsports ride after today’s race, LaJoie admits this weekend’s experience with Elliott’s team will help him with his own team.

“How I prepare, how I’m going to engage with my team at Spire Motorsports going forward is going to change,” LaJoie said. “I think I’m going to be able to come in there and just apply and share some of the things I’ve learned over the course of the week with (crew chief Ryan) Sparks and the No. 77 team, as well, and I think we’re all going to be stronger for it.”

Dr. Diandra: Is 2023 the season for a Ricky Stenhouse Jr. redemption?


Coming into 2022, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had two career Cup Series wins in 364 starts. But both wins — and his career-high 13th-place season finish — happened back in 2017.

Stenhouse was unceremoniously dropped by Roush Fenway Racing in 2020 and landed with JTG Daugherty Racing. He made the news every now and then at a superspeedway but could be counted upon to head up season-ending lists of drivers involved in the most accidents. In the years Stenhouse hasn’t been at the top of the list, he’s been near the top.

DNFs and accidents have plagued Stenhouse throughout his NASCAR career. Jack Roush went so far as to park the Mississippi native in his early days in the Xfinity Series because he tore up so much equipment.

Stenhouse redeemed himself, going on to win two Xfinity championships.

From the way his 2023 season has started, it looks as though Stenhouse might be on a similar mission of redemption this year in the Cup Series.

Finishing races

Stenhouse started the 2023 season in the best possible way – winning the Daytona 500. But drivers from less-funded teams who win early superspeedway races usually settle to the bottom of the rankings by now.

Stenhouse hasn’t. He ranks 13th heading into Sunday’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway.

Standings aren’t as good a ruler this year as they usually are because of drivers missing races and teams incurring penalties. But Stenhouse’s statistics back up his ranking.

Stenhouse has finished every race this year on track, as opposed to in the garage or on the hook. Only Ryan Blaney and Corey LaJoie have achieved the same distinction.

In 11 of those 14 races, Stenhouse finished on the lead lap. That’s the same number of lead-lap finishes as William Byron. Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. are tied for most races finished on the lead lap with 13 each.

This time last year, Stenhouse had already racked up seven of the series-leading 18 caution-causing incidents he would be involved in for the season. Runner-up Chase Elliott had 15 incidents.

Going into Gateway this year, Stenhouse has been involved in only two accidents (Talladega and Charlotte) and had a tire go out at Darlington.

Approaching his career best

I compare three years in Stenhouse’s career in the table below: the 2017 season — his best to date — along with last year and the 14 races run so far this year.

A table comparing loop data stats for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. showing his path to redemption

Stenhouse’s current average finishing position of 13.5 ties with Christopher Bell for sixth best in the Cup Series. That’s 9.3 positions better than Stenhouse’s 2022 average. He’s even beating his 2017 average by 3.6 positions.

Qualifying results are down a bit from 2017 — but remember that those numbers are from the days when NASCAR allowed multiple practice sessions. Stenhouse is only two positions worse relative to 2017, but 7.6 positions better than last year when it comes to establishing his spot on the starting grid.

Stenhouse’s average running position is comparable to 2017 and 2.8 positions better than 2022. He ranks 20th among full-time Cup Series drivers in average running position. Although it’s an improvement, it’s still more than double William Byron’s series-leading 9.1 average running position this year.

More interesting is the difference between Stenhouse’s average running position his average finishing position. Some drivers run better than they finish. Stenhouse is doing the opposite.

In 2017, Stenhouse finished about 1.4 positions better than he ran. This year, he’s gaining an average of about five positions from where he runs.

One might argue this gain results from the plethora of late-race incidents this year that have removed drivers in the front of the field from contention. But Stenhouse deserves credit for putting himself in a position to benefit from those events.

Stenhouse’s green-flag speed rank is 11th among full-time Cup Series drivers. His 15.3 average, however, is 1.7 positions worse than 10th-place Kyle Busch. Still, it’s impressive that JTG Daugherty is right there in the mix with much better-funded teams. William Byron again has the best average green-flag speed rank at 7.9.

Consistently strong finishes

It’s not uncommon for a mid-pack driver to win a superspeedway race. But Stenhouse’s Daytona 500 win appears to be something more. The table below summarizes his wins and finishes for the same three years.

A table comparing finishes for 2017, 2022 and 2023 showing Ricky Stenhouse Jr's redemption attemptsThe difference between last year and this year is striking.

In 2022, Stenhouse finished in the top 20 in 12 of 36 races. He’s already matched that mark this year. He earns top-20 finishes 85.7% of the time in 2023 compared to 33.3% last year. Top-20 finishes aren’t the same as contending for a championship. But they’re a first step.

Stenhouse finished 2017 with nine top-10 races. With about 60% of the season remaining, he’s already earned five top-10 finishes this year.

What’s changed? The Next Gen car is one factor, but it didn’t make much difference for Stenhouse last year. I would point instead to Stenhouse’s reunion with Mike Kelley as his crew chief.

Kelley co-piloted both of Stenhouse’s Xfinity championships in 2011 and ’12. Although Kelley worked with Stenhouse and previous crew chief Brian Pattie since 2020, this is the first year Kelley is back up on the pit box.

Together, they’re basically halfway to matching Stenhouse’s best year.

And another step closer to redemption.

Portland Xfinity race results, driver points


Cole Custer went from fourth to first on the overtime restart when the top three cars made contact and went on to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Portland International Raceway. Custer is the 10th different winner in 13 races this season.

MORE: Portland Xfinity race results

MORE: Driver points after Portland Xfinity race

JR Motorsports took the next three spots: Justin Allgaier placed second, Sam Mayer was third and Josh Berry was fourth. Austin Hill completed the top five.

John Hunter Nemechek remains the points leader after 13 races. He has a 14-point lead on Hill. Nemechek leads Allgaier by 44 points.

Cole Custer wins Xfinity race at Portland in overtime


Cole Custer held off Justin Allgaier at the finish to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race in overtime at Portland International Raceway. It is Custer’s first victory of the season.

JR Motorsports placed second, third and fourth with Allgaier, Sam Mayer and Josh Berry. Austin Hill finished fifth.

MORE: Race results, driver points

Custer went from fourth to first on the overtime restart when Parker Kligerman, who restarted third, attempted to pass Allgaier, who was leading. Sheldon Creed was on the outside of Allgaier. All three cars made contact entering Turn 1, allowing Custer to slip by. Creed finished seventh. Kligerman placed 14th.

Custer won the second stage when John Hunter Nemechek made contact with Creed’s car while racing for the lead on the final lap of the stage. The contact spun Creed and Custer inched by Nemechek at the line.

Early in the final stage, Creed gained revenge with contact that spun Nemechek, who went on to finish 10th. A few laps later, Nemechek and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Sammy Smith had issues. Smith spun Nemechek. After getting back around, Nemechek quickly caught Smith and turned into Smith’s car, damaging it.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

STAGE 2 WINNER: Cole Custer

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Despite the contact on the overtime restart, runner-up Justin Allgaier managed to score his fourth consecutive top-three finish. … Sam Mayer’s third-place finish is his best on a road course. … Austin Hill’s fifth-place finish gives him four consecutive top-five results.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Daniel Hemric finished 33rd after a fire in his car. … Riley Herbst placed 32nd after an engine issue. After opening the season with six top 10s in a row, Herbst has gone seven races in a row without a top 10.

NEXT: The series competes June 10 at Sonoma Raceway (8 p.m. ET on FS1).