Christopher Bell, no stranger to success on dirt tracks, took control of the Bristol Dirt Race in the final stage and scored his first NASCAR Cup Series win of the season Sunday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Bell’s team decided to stay on track during the pit session after the race’s second stage, putting him in position to control the race at the front during the final stage. Although he was under pressure occasionally, he built a comfortable lead and held off challengers after a late-race caution flag.
Bell, who led the final 100 laps, won the race under caution as a yellow flew on the white-flag lap. Tyler Reddick was in the shadow of Bell’s car on the last lap and finished second, followed by Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Chase Briscoe.
MORE: Bristol Cup results, driver points
MORE: Kyle Larson, Ryan Preece discuss their incidents
Reddick was in position to challenge Bell for the win on the final lap, but his charge was blunted by Ross Chastain hitting the wall and forcing NASCAR to throw the caution flag, freezing the field and putting Bell in Victory Lane.
Bell said the decision to skip pitting before the final stage was the key to the win.
“We clearly were not the best car, but Adam (Stevens, crew chief) kept asking me what I needed and I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know if you’re going to be able to help me enough on a pit stop adjustment to get me where I need to be.’ I just said, ‘Let’s stay out,’ and he believed in me and we were able to make it work.”
The track surface befuddled drivers much of the evening as spins, slides and multi-car crashes led to a string of caution flags. The surface changed markedly during the course of the race, leading drivers to search for the fastest groove for their cars. The late-race leaders ran near (or into) the outside wall trying to keep their speeds up.
Pole winner Kyle Larson and Ryan Preece had several “moments” during the race, the biggest a series of side-by-side bumps and thumps that resulted in Larson slamming into the outside wall, producing the night’s 11th caution.
Damage to Larson’s car forced him from the race. He finished 35th despite leading the race’s first 75 laps. Preece’s car was damaged, but he finished 24th on the lead lap.
Reddick was among several drivers who stayed on track during the pit availability between the first and second stages, and he led most of Stage 2, including the last lap of the stage. Second through fifth were Austin Dillon, Larson, Bell and Kyle Busch.
Larson was king of the hill in the first stage, leading all 75 laps. He was followed by Austin Dillon, Busch, Preece and Ryan Blaney.
Stage 1 winner: Kyle Larson
Stage 2 winner: Tyler Reddick
Who had a good race: Christopher Bell finally scored seasonal win No. 1 after a string of tough-luck races. … Austin Dillon had a strong car throughout the race, running in the top five much of the night. … Michael McDowell had a couple of high moments, spinning in two 360-degree loops but avoiding contact and continuing on track.
Who had a bad race: Joey Logano had a lousy evening. He was involved in a couple of incidents and parked with suspension issues on Lap 104, finishing last. … Brad Keselowski spin out twice. … Dirt-track ace Johnathan Davenport parked during the final stage after being involved in a couple of crashes.
Next: The Cup Series races April 16 at Martinsville Speedway (3 p.m. ET on FS1).