Truck series top two drivers ready for Eldora Dirt Derby

The dirt covering Eldora Speedway’s high-banked, half-mile oval is considered hallowed ground by Christopher Bell. Johnny Sauter wants to keep Eldora sacred, too, but for a different reason.

Bell, a dirt racing ace coming off a sensational second-place run at the Kings Royal winged sprint car race on Saturday, wants to see another dirt track added to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule. He’s even suggested moving Eldora’s Dirt Derby to the final race of the season. As for Sauter?

“I think you better keep it sacred. I’m good with one,” said Sauter, an asphalt veteran who holds a 28-point lead over Bell in the NCWTS standings.

“I have fun at Eldora. I think it’s a fun place. Obviously a good atmosphere. A lot of great race fans there. But for me it’s just a place where I just haven’t figured it out quite yet.”

If anyone is dialed in at Eldora it’s Bell. He’s won at the famed speedway in a NASCAR Truck, 410 winged sprint, 360 sprint and USAC Silver Crown and USAC midget cars. The 2015 Dirt Derby champ also finished second to Kyle Larson last year. Larson – who’s had his own success at Eldora including sweeping all three USAC features at the 4-Crown Nationals in 2011 – is second in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup standings.

“Being successful in multiple cars is something I’ve felt like I’ve done my entire career and I want to continue that,” said Bell, 22, who started 20th in the Kings Royal on Saturday and stormed through the field to finish runner-up in the 40-lap feature. “It’s why Kyle Larson is where is he is today, because he’s won in everything he’s got in. I want to continue that for my personal goals – to continue to win in everything I drive.”

Sauter, who drives the No. 21 Allegiant Chevrolet for GMS Racing, won the 2016 NCWTS championship and ranks ninth with career 14 wins. His finishes at Eldora have been mixed. Sauter finished 29th in the inaugural race in 2013. He moved up to eighth in 2014 before sliding back to 22nd in 2015. He finished 13th last year.

Sauter was Larson’s Dirt Derby teammate in 2016 and did his best to learn from the dirt racing star. Just like running Eldora, it wasn’t easy.

“You would think I could learn something and I didn’t take much from that,” Sauter said. “Like he told me, ‘Man, I’ve done this my whole life and I’ve raced 100 times a year. It’s something you have to get a feel for.’ If you only do it once a year, it’s hard to grasp that concept.”

NASCAR rules prohibit drivers from testing on their own at series tracks. So Bell’s experience during the three-day Kings Royal could prove invaluable, even on a track surface that changes from race to race and in a car that feels in slow motion compared to his sprint.

Ken Schrader holds the Dirt Derby qualifying record at 91.329 mph. Bell’s qualifying speed for the Kings Royal was 134 mph.

“Getting laps in a sprint car, it won’t really help as far as track conditions because the conditions will be totally different,” Bell said. “But the speed will be so relative whenever we go back to the Truck series, I’ll be able to hit my marks a little bit more precise because I’ll be used to going so much faster.”

Eldora hosts NCWTS practice on Tuesday. The first session runs 7-7:55 p.m. and the second follows from 9-9:55. The 150-lap Dirt Derby is 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.

“Eldora is my favorite race track in the whole world,” said Bell, who drives the No. 4 Toyota Tundra for Kyle Busch Motorsports. “I think over my dirt career here, I’ve run more laps at Eldora than I have anywhere in the world. To go back to Eldora riding the momentum from our Kentucky win in the Truck Series is going to be exciting.”

What : Eldora Dirt Derby

Where : Eldora Speedway

When : Wednesday, July 19

Time: 9:30 p.m. ET

TV: FOX Business, 9 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 75 miles (150 laps) – Stage 1 (Ends on lap 40), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on lap 150)

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