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NASCAR: Bristol Dirt Race provides action as Bell triumphs, Hendrick Motorsports faces new headaches
Racing world mourns death of sprint car driver Justin Owen
NASCAR Cup Series driver Josh Berry (9), NASCAR Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin (11), and NASCAR Cup Series driver Noah Gragson (42) race three wide during the Food City Dirt Race on April 9, 2023 at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, TN. (Photo by Chris McDill/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

An action-filled Food City Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday, April 9, capped off a busy week of NASCAR-related news and events, including new issues for Hendrick Motorsports.

But on Saturday night, tragedy unfolded in the sprint car world.

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During a qualifying run for a USAC National Championship event at Lawrenceburg Speedway in Indiana, 26-year-old Justin Owen’s car collided with the outside wall in Turn 3 before overturning, spinning and coming to an abrupt landing.

Owen later succumbed to his injuries resulting from the crash.

A native of Harrison, Ohio, Owen had over a decade of sprint car experience and was the 2022 track champion at Lawrenceburg Speedway. 

Many across the racing world paid their respects to Owen and expressed their condolences to Owen’s family.

On Sunday, the NASCAR Cup Series reconvened in Bristol to run the Food City Dirt Race.

After Friday’s practice session was canceled due to rainy conditions, Saturday’s qualifying session consisted of four heat races, with mid-week dirt track regular Kyle Larson winning the pole.

While Sunday’s race proved to be caution-filled and slippery, Larson was the dominant car for the opening quarter of the race. 

An exchange of pleasantries between him and Ryan Preece during that first stage of the race would come to a boiling point later, with Preece retaliating and taking out Larson with just under 100 laps remaining. 

Meanwhile, Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell became the dominant cars while Chase Briscoe and Austin Dillon chased just behind. 

And in between all the cautions, there was plenty of mid-pack shuffling and strategy involved — giving many different drivers and teams a chance to compete.

That included Josh Berry in his fifth race filling in for Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car. Interim crew chief Tom Gray made another bold strategy move, directing Berry to stay out after the Stage 2 caution.

Berry benefitted from the move, staying in the top 10 for nearly the remainder of the race before getting caught up in a crash on the final lap, finishing 27th.

Despite the 14 caution flags, Bell and Reddick were in the deserving positions of the top two cars when the white flag waved, with Reddick closing in quickly. But the backstretch incident that included Berry brought out one last yellow flag, giving Bell his first win of the season.

Earlier in the week, Hendrick Motorsports experienced a full range of team issues.

Prior to the April 2 Richmond race, Hendrick had their previous set of hood louver-related penalties partially rescinded for all four teams, with fines upheld but all points restored from their deductions. 

On Thursday, April 6, NASCAR announced that the No. 24 car of William Byron and No. 48 car of Alex Bowman were each issued L1-level penalties for a “modification of the greenhouse” following an inspection after the Richmond race. Each team suffered a 60-point driver and owner point loss and a loss of five playoff points.

As of the DCN print deadline, Hendrick has not announced the status of Chase Elliott’s return from injury.