Ring That Bell: Christopher Bell Jumps to NASCAR Cup Series Standings Lead With Bristol Dirt Victory

Rising like a rocket into the atmosphere, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell has soared to the NASCAR Cup Series standings lead following his first win of the 2023 season at Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt. The win was the fifth of his career and his first at the half-mile track.

Now, for the third consecutive season (2021-2023), the 28-year-old Oklahoma native has locked himself into the Playoffs and has also earned a spot in the NASCAR Cup Series All-Star Race that will be held on May 21 at the historic North Wilkesboro Speedway.

Atop the standings, Bell holds a 13-point lead over Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain in second and a 26-point lead over Stewart-Haas Racing’s veteran Kevin Harvick in third. Through eight race this season, Bell has put up one win (Bristol Dirt), five top fives (series-most) and six top 10s (tied with Alex Bowman for series-most). Bell is the seventh different winner and the fourth different points leader through the first eight races of the season.

“We knew this was going to be a good stretch of races,” said Bell. “Obviously wanted to capitalize on it.

Last year through the Playoffs, it was a really big eye opener of Playoff points, how important they are. Frankly, we didn’t have very many of them last year. The only thing that pays Playoff points is race wins and stage wins. Thankfully, we have five in the bank now and we need to get some more.”

Looking to Martinsville this weekend, Bell must be encouraged about keeping up this early season success, as he is the most recent winner at 0.526-mile track, taking the victory last Fall in the Playoff race to earn his spot in the Championship 4 Round.

“I feel good about going back to Martinsville,” said Bell. “It’s going to be certainly different with the low downforce package. But it’s different for everybody. I feel like we were the best car there in the Fall, so hopefully we can do our homework and make sure to study the differences between Richmond and Phoenix with the low downforce package and what we expect at Martinsville.”

In six NASCAR Cup Series starts at Martinsville Speedway, Bell has put up one win (2022), one top five and two top 10s. His average finish at the half-mile track is 14.6, and he has led 159 laps.

NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: NOCO 400

The Place: Martinsville Speedway

The Date: Sunday, April 16

The Time: 3 p.m. ET

The Purse: $7,324,203

TV: FS1, 2 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 210.4 miles (400 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 80),

Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 180), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 400)

NASCAR Cup Series’ short track swing culminates at Martinsville Speedway

Amid a short track swing on the 2023 season schedule, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to the half-mile Martinsville Speedway for the NOCO 400 this Sunday, April 16 at 3 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio – the third of three consecutive tracks measuring less than a mile (Richmond, Bristol and Martinsville).

Martinsville Speedway, at 0.526-mile in length, is the longest continuously running track on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule, and the only currently active track that was a part of the inaugural NASCAR Cup Series season in 1949. Martinsville Speedway was originally a dirt track and the facility hosted 12 NASCAR Cup Series races on the then dirt surface before paving the track in the late summer months of 1955, between the track’s two Cup races that season.

In total, there have been 148 NASCAR Cup Series races held at Martinsville Speedway, one race in the inaugural year (1949) and two races per year since 1950. The first NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway was on September 25, 1949 and won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Red Byron driving an Oldsmobile for car owner Raymond Parks. The first 500-lap Cup Series event at Martinsville Speedway was in 1956 and the event was won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Buck Baker from the pole position. Baker was driving a 1956 Dodge for car owner Carl Kiekhaefer. The now famous concrete corners were added atop asphalt in 1976 making the already uniquely ‘paperclip’ shaped track that much more one-of-a-kind.

Martinsville Speedway’s 148 races have produced 63 different pole winners and 57 different race winners over the years. This weekend, 10 of the 57 NASCAR Cup Series Martinsville Speedway race winners are active.

Rank Active Martinsville Race Winners Wins Seasons
1 Denny Hamlin 5 2015, 2010 sweep, 2009, 2008
2 Martin Truex Jr 3 2021, 2020, 2019
3 Brad Keselowski 2 2019, 2017
4 Kyle Busch 2 2017, 2016
5 Christopher Bell 1 2022
6 William Byron 1 2022
7 Alex Bowman 1 2021
8 Chase Elliott 1 2020
9 Joey Logano 1 2018
10 Kevin Harvick 1 2011

NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty leads the NASCAR Cup Series in wins at Martinsville Speedway with 15 victories (1960, 1962, 1963, 1967 sweep, 1968, 1969 sweep, 1970, 1971, 1972 sweep, 1973, 1975, 1979) – the most any driver in the series has won at a single track; he also won 15 races at North Wilkesboro. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin leads the NASCAR Cup Series among active drivers in wins at Martinsville Speedway with five victories (2008, 2009, 2010 sweep, 2015).

All the NASCAR Cup Series action at Martinsville Speedway begins this Saturday, April 15 at 4:30 p.m. ET followed directly by Busch Light Pole Qualifying at 5:20 p.m. ET; both will be televised on FS2.

Short Track Wheelmen

Since the first NASCAR Cup Series season in 1949, short tracks – a track less than a mile in length – have graced the competitive schedule and been part of the fabric that makes up the sport.

NASCAR Hall of Famer aptly nicknamed ‘The King,’ Richard Petty, scored 138 of his record 200 NASCAR Cup Series victories on short tracks – the series-most short-track wins all-time. He also holds the series record for the most wins at a single NASCAR Cup Series track; posting 15 victories at this weekend’s venue, Martinsville Speedway and Petty also won 15 times at North Wilkesboro Speedway – the home to this season’s NASCAR All-Star Race (May 21).

Among the active drivers, 14 have posted wins on short tracks in the NASCAR Cup Series, led by Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch with 26 short-track victories spread across all seven active short tracks – the only driver with wins all seven. Three drivers added their name to the short track winners list last season – Chase Briscoe with his Phoenix Raceway win last Spring, Christopher Bell with his Summer win at New Hampshire, and Chris Buescher with his Bristol Motor Speedway victory last Fall.

“I didn’t grow up doing this kind of racing, so I had a really hard time when it came to short tracks,” said Briscoe. “It’s a different kind of aggressive driving and you really have to have a car that can stick to the bottom and turn well to be able to do anything. I think the biggest thing I’ve had to learn, and I think it’s probably something I’ve just had to learn in general, but taking care of the tires is so important. It’s a long race, tempers get heated and, if you end up using everything up, you’re going to get run over or moved out of the way.”

Active Short Track Winners Breakdown Of Short Track Wins By Track
Active Drivers Wins Total Bristol Bristol Dirt Dover Loudon Martinsville Phoenix Richmond
Kyle Busch 26 8 1 3 3 2 3 6
Kevin Harvick 24 3 0 3 4 1 9 4
Denny Hamlin 17 2 0 1 3 5 2 4
Joey Logano 11 2 1 0 2 1 3 2
Brad Keselowski 10 3 0 1 2 2 0 2
Martin Truex Jr 10 0 0 3 0 3 1 3
Kyle Larson 5 1 0 1 0 0 1 2
Chase Elliott 4 0 0 2 0 1 1 0
Alex Bowman 3 0 0 1 0 1 0 1
Christopher Bell 3 0 1 0 1 1 0 0
William Byron 2 0 0 0 0 1 1 0
Aric Almirola 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Chase Briscoe 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0
Chris Buescher 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0

Nine of the 14 active NASCAR Cup Series short track winners are looking for their first victory of 2023 – Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, Chase Briscoe and Chris Buescher. Of the nine, six have previously won in the NASCAR Cup Series at Martinsville Speedway – Hamlin (five wins), Truex Jr. (three wins), Keselowski (two wins), Harvick, Elliott and Bowman (each have one win).

Additionally, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick is the only NASCAR Cup Series driver to win in all three NASCAR national series at Martinsville Speedway (NCS: 2011, NXS: 2006, NCTS: 2009, 2010, 2012).

“It’s just a challenging racetrack,” said Harvick. “Martinsville can eat you up pretty quickly with somebody else’s mistake, or you can get behind pretty quickly. You just have to be able to be aggressive without getting your stuff torn up. If something’s not right, it’ll put you behind in a hurry.”

Harvick (2006) and Ty Gibbs (2022) are the only two active Cup drivers with Xfinity wins at Martinsville.

In addition, seven other drivers entered this weekend have won in the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series at Martinsville Speedway – 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace has two wins (2013, 2014), Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin (2011, 2012) and Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch (2016, 2019) each have two wins, Hendrick Motorsport’s drivers Chase Elliott (2017) and William Byron (2022) and Legacy Motor Club’s Noah Gragson (2017) each have one Truck Series win and Team Penske’s Joey Logano also has one win (2015).

Virginia native Denny Hamlin returns to Martinsville

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin returns to Martinsville Speedway, one of his most successful tracks, looking for his first win of the 2023 season. The Chesterfield, Virginia, native leads the NASCAR Cup Series in victories at the historic Martinsville Speedway with five wins (2008, 2009, 2010 sweep, 2015) and has all the intentions of making it six in Sunday afternoon’s NOCO 400 (April 16 at 3 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Among active drivers, Hamlin is one of the most prolific active short track competitors in the series. He is ranked third in short track Cup wins among active drivers with 17 victories across six of the seven active short tracks.

“I think the racing will be better than what we saw last year,” said Hamlin when asked about Martinsville. “The aero package this year has helped with some of the problems we had, but definitely not all of them. You’re still going to have to shift at both ends every lap, so that’s going to be a factor and will make it difficult to pass. But like in the fall, we had a strong car and were able to make passes on guys, so I’m looking forward to this weekend. I think this is a good stretch for me and our 11 team based on past results. We need to take advantage of these upcoming tracks to get some stage points and be up front in contention for wins.”

At Martinsville, Hamlin has made 34 series starts posting four poles, five wins, 17 top fives and 23 top 10s. But his Martinsville Speedway accolades don’t stop there, the NASCAR Cup Series pre-race Loop Data has him either first or second in every category among active drivers heading into Sunday – Average Running Position of 9.681 (second-best), Driver Rating of 104.6 (second-best), 1,191 Fastest Laps Run (series-best), 13,423 Laps in the Top 15 (79.2%) (series-most), 1,122 Quality Passes (series-most).

Next Gen car’s performance with the new ‘selected road course & short track package’

In the NASCAR Cup Series Next Gen car’s sophomore season, NASCAR has introduced a new ‘selected road course and short track package’ that has lowered the downforce on the cars for all tracks that are road courses and ovals less than a 1.1-miles in length (excluding Bristol and Dover). The results in the first two short tracks that ran the new package (Phoenix and Richmond) saw significant increases year-over-year in green flag passes for the lead and total green flag passes throughout the field.

Richmond Raceway’s 2023 Cup race (35 GFPL) set a new track record and saw an increase of +288.9% in green flag passes for the lead compared to the 2022 Richmond-1 event with nine green flag passes for the lead.

Richmond (3,816 GFP) also set a new track record and saw an increase of +24.2% in total green flag passes compared to the 2022 Richond-1 event with 3,072 total green flag passes.

Phoenix Raceway also saw increases of +7.7% year-over-year in green flag passes for the lead and +25.6% year-over-year in total green flag passes.

The Selected Road Course & Short Track Package consists of the following:

  • 2” Spoiler
  • Remove Engine Panel Strakes
  • Remove Center and Inner Diffuser Strakes. Only the Outer Diffuser Strakes will remain installed. Spacers will be installed between the diffuser flap and diffuser due to removing the inner diffuser strakes.
  • Remove Diffuser Fences and Replace with Baseline Fences.
  • Splitter stuffers will remain unchanged from the current components.

The rules are in place at the following tracks: Charlotte Roval, Chicago Street Course, Circuit of The Americas, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Martinsville, New Hampshire, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix, Richmond, Sonoma and Watkins Glen.

NASCAR Cup Series, Etc.

Sunoco Rookie Update: Gibbs is performing at a high level – Through eight races this season, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Ty Gibbs has been performing at a high level and in doing so has opened up the 2023 Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings lead to 83 points over Legacy Motor Club’s Noah Gragson in second.

“Our team has done a good job and we’ve finished well throughout the last month,” said Gibbs. “It’s a credit to everyone on the 54 team and at Joe Gibbs Racing. The next step is trying to finish in the top-five, but we’re just going to keep our heads down and keep working. I like Martinsville and I think we’ll bring a good Monster Energy Toyota Camry TRD.”

This season, Gibbs has collected four top-10 finishes in eight starts. His average finish this season is 16.0.

Zane Smith named as replacement driver for No. 51 Rick Ware Racing entry at Martinsville – Following the indefinite suspension of Cody Ware this week, Rick Ware Racing has tapped 2022 NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series champion Zane Smith to pilot the No. 51 Ford at Martinsville Speedway this weekend in the NOCO 400 on Sunday, April 16 at 3 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Smith has made three previous career starts in the NASCAR Cup Series posting an average finish of 20.3.

This will be Smith’s series track debut at Martinsville Speedway. Though, the 24-year-old has made three starts in the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series at Martinsville posting one win (2021), two top fives and three top 10s.

Run It Back: 2023 Season Stat Leaders – Below is a look at the NASCAR Cup Series 2023 season statical leaders through the first eight races:

  • Wins: William Byron (two: Las Vegas, Phoenix)
  • Poles: Joey Logano (two: Las Vegas, Atlanta)
  • Top Fives: Christopher Bell (five)
  • Top 10s: Christopher Bell, Alex Bowman (six each)
  • Driver Rating: William Byron (104.8)
  • Average Running Position: William Byron (8.011)
  • Fastest Laps Run: Kyle Larson (195)
  • Laps Led: Kyle Larson (438 laps led, 22.07%)
  • Laps In The Top 15: Alex Bowman (1,711 laps, 86.2%)
  • Laps On The Lead Lap: Denny Hamlin (1,970 laps, 99.34%)
  • Quality Passes (Passes In The Top 15): Denny Hamlin (708)
  • Green Flag Passes: Justin Haley (1,405)

Brief history of the unique NASCAR trophy at Martinsville Speedway – There is nothing else out there like it and that’s what makes it so unique, the Martinsville Speedway trophy that is. The seven-foot-tall trophy is known as the ‘Grandfather Clock’ or the Ridgeway Clock. It was presented for the first time in 1964 to NASCAR Hall of Famer Fred Lorenzen. Back then, and for many years, the trophy was manufactured just down the road from the iconic short-track. Clockmakers Howard Miller then bought Ridgeway, who were the manufacturers of the clock, and started making them in their unit in Zeeland, Michigan.

Chase Elliott to return to competition at Martinsville Speedway – Hendrick Motorsports driver Chase Elliott will return to the No. 9 Chevrolet in the April 16 NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway after recovering from a leg injury.

Elliott, 27, suffered a fractured tibia while snowboarding on March 3 and underwent successful surgery at The Steadman Clinic, a U.S. Olympic National Medical Center in Vail, Colorado. The 2020 Cup Series champion rehabilitated in Colorado before returning to his home in Dawsonville, Georgia, in late March to continue physical therapy.

After being medically cleared Tuesday, Elliott tested Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning in the Chevrolet Driver-in-the-Loop simulator in Concord, North Carolina, before making the final decision to return at Martinsville.

“We’re looking forward to having Chase back in his race car to pick up where he left off,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “Since the injury, he’s worked extremely hard and focused all his time and energy on returning to the No. 9 team. Throughout the last six weeks, he’s stayed fully engaged with everything we’re doing, and we know he’s chomping at the bit to get on the racetrack and compete for wins.”

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