The third edition of the Bristol Dirt race was this past weekend, and it may have been met with the most criticism it has since the announcement of the race. Drivers, fans, and media alike were giving their own ideas of what to do about the dirt race. Most notably Kyle Larson, who said NASCAR shouldn't be on dirt. Regardless, there was still a race and it delivered exactly what NASCAR wanted: complete chaos.
JGR wins first race of 2023
Here's a wild stat: Christopher Bell has won JGR's last four races (!), dating back to mid-2022 with his win at New Hampshire. Bell has proven that he has what it takes to not only compete at this level, but compete for a championship. Bell already has a whopping 5 top-5s in the first eight races this year, already almost matching half of his total 12 top-5s last year. He did get a bit lucky however with the last lap caution, because Tyler Reddick may have had something for him. Still, he's had a great start to the season and it's a wonder he hasn't been considered by many for an early-championship threat. Outside of the Hendrick cars, he's undoubtably been the most consistent.
Ryan Preece vs Kyle Larson
So this was a pretty unexpected rivalry. After the lap 176 incident that put Kyle Larson out of the race, Kyle was obviously not happy about the incident and didn't hold back laying into Preece in post-race interviews. Preece was apparently "sick" of excuses, while Larson felt he hadn't done anything wrong. The bigger picture here is that once again Ryan Preece finds a way to throw away a good result. Sure, he has had bad luck this year - but at some point you just make your own luck. He's had speed in several races this season, but just cannot find a way to get a good result. His whole "done with excuses" and bad man image he's trying to paint for himself doesn't seem to be helping his performance either.
NASCAR Lets Race Stay Green
In one of the bigger surprises of the season so far, NASCAR held the caution on race day. Even a spin with 25 laps to go that probably warranted a caution. Luckily they did though because there were 14 cautions in the 250 lap race, but at no point did it reach COTA levels of embarrassing. Sure , there were a couple frustrating cautions of course, but overall I felt like it didn't ruin the race. NASCAR kept the cautions very short, at an average of about 5 pace laps per caution, so it was pretty bearable. Even though I'm not too keen on the Bristol Dirt race even happening, being completely objective I felt like it was a pretty decent race with some great racing. That being said, I don't think I want Bristol Dirt to stay.
Todd Gilliland Hot Streak Continues
There was a lot to happen in this race, so why am I using a spot for Todd Gilliland? Todd has been on a bit of a hot streak the last month, and has had a pretty solid season overall. He already has matched the amount of top-10s he had in all of last season (2) and has an average finish inside the top-20, just a few spots worse than his teammate Michael McDowell. Not to mention McDowell only has one top-10 on the season. He has four straight top-15s (2 top-10s) and has ran 99.5% of laps this season, despite being in a Rick Ware car for a race. He has made a remarkable step up this season, and has shown that Front Row Motorsports is a legit two car team, not just the Michael McDowell show. He probably won't make the playoffs, but he's set to have the best points finish that the No. 38 team has ever had.
Dirt Deliveres Parity
Aside from Todd Gilliland, there were plenty others that had great runs on Sunday night. Unfortunately these results don't hold a huge amount of weight due to the nature of the event, however I think they're worth something. Justin Haley needed a good run after Kaulig's penalty was upheld last week, and he did just that with a great 6th place run. He didn't run inside the top-10 the entire race, but he was there when it counted. Taking advantage of these crazy races is exactly what Kaulig needs to do.
Austin Dillon isn't necessarily an underdog, but it is worth noting he out-ran Kyle Busch almost all day. It'll be interesting to see if he's able to build some momentum from this run. Same story with Chase Briscoe who has been off to a pretty rough start to the season - he was able to bring home a top-5 finish. And what about Ricky Stenhouse? He already has 3 top-10s this season, and only had 5 all over last season. He's been driving great so far this season, hope to see him keep up the pace.