It didn’t take long for Christopher Bell to figure out Bristol Motor Speedway’s dirt surface was ready made for drivers with dirt experience.
And it was the perfect layout for Bell to win his fifth NASCAR Cup Series race there Sunday night.
“It was a very tough surface to get a hold of and should’ve rewarded guys that kind of knew what to expect and how to get the car around the racetrack, which I think it did,” Bell said.
Bell held on through a restart eight laps from the end hold off another who grew up racing on dirt in Tyler Reddick.
Bell was a whiz-kid dirt racing sensation growing up — he won three Chili Bowl Nationals driving midget cars on dirt — and that experience helped the Joe Gibbs Racing driver on Sunday.
The first two years of Bristol dirt racing, NASCAR champs Joey Logano and Kyle Busch both won despite have less expansive dirt experience than many of their colleagues.
That changed this year as organizers gave racers more of a dirt feel than ever before, Bell said.
“This place is so much fun, whether it’s dirt or concrete,” Bell said.
Reddick was second for a second straight season, followed by Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Chase Briscoe.
Bell’s last challenge came after defending race winner Busch spun with 15 laps left. Bell took off on the restart and widened his lead over Reddick.
Reddick, who won the second stage, was closing in on the last lap when the 16th and final caution came out, instantly ending the race and sending Bell’s team into hysterics.
“Man, I just can’t get over how long those laps feel,” Bell said.
Reddick also enjoyed the intensity down the stretch.
“I thought I had a little bit more,” he said. “I was at the edge, but I wasn’t quite there in the last couple of laps.”
Justin Haley was sixth, Bell’s JGR teammate Martin Truex Jr. seventh, Todd Gilliland eighth, Kevin Harvick ninth with Ty Gibbs in 10th, giving Gibbs three cars in the top 10.
Points leader Ross Chastain, who took the top spot after Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman’s car was hit with a 60-point penalty for violations at Richmond, ended a lap down in 28th.
Kyle Larson, like Bell a dirt racing supernova who started from pole, won the first stage and took only fuel — no fresh tires — heading to the final segment. But Larson spun on his own 96 laps from the end, had to pit and restarted at the back of the field.
Larson’s race ended for good some 20 laps later after bumping several times with Ryan Preece between turn three all the way to turn one.
Preece was angered by earlier contact with Larson and gave him a hand gesture soon after to make that clear as their cars passed each other.
“I’m guessing he was paying me back for whatever I did earlier,” said Larson, who was 35th. “He rode me straight into the fence.”
The Cup Series stays on the short tracks and heads back to Virginia when the Cup Series runs at Martinsville on Sunday. William Byron, already a two-time winner this season, is the defending champion for Martinsville’s spring race.