Christopher Bell earns first XFINITY Series victory at Kansas
By Justin Melillo
October 21, 2017
KANSAS CITY, Kan.—Christopher Bell collected his first career NASCAR XFINITY Series victory Saturday afternoon, but it was at the expense of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Erik Jones.
With four laps remaining in the Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway, Bell dove to the bottom of the track and slid up off the corner to block. Jones had a huge run off the center, but had nowhere to go but into the rear end of the No. 18 JBL/Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
With the damage, Bell was able to hold on for the win, his first in five career NXS attempts.
“We’re all riding around on the top there and our tires are really old and worn out and everybody is sliding around, and I got a big run off of two,” Bell said.
“I tried to drive in really deep into turn three and clear him and get back to the top, but I hate that we didn’t get to race it out and he didn’t get to finish, but it’s my first XFINITY win and it’s something I’m really proud of and really proud of all these guys who have given me this JBL Camry.”
The first stage of the day went from the drop of the green flag to lap 45. Tyler Reddick earned the pole for the event in the No. 42 BBR/Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, but was unable to lead the first lap.
Jones took the early command and led the entirety of the opening stage, going wire to wire without slowing down for any cautions.
Jones led the field to the green for stage two, but Reddick repaid the favor from the start and took away the top spot. It didn’t last long, however, as Jones reclaimed the lead three laps later.
The second caution of the day flew at lap 78 when Elliott Sadler took the No. 1 Hunt Brothers Pizza Chevrolet for a spin exiting Turn 4. The vehicle was unharmed for the most part, and the regular season champion was able to rejoin the race.
On the ensuing restart, Ryan Blaney took control of the race, but with as dominant the No. 20 Reser’s Toyota was, it was difficult to keep Jones at bay for very long. Jones resumed leading, and once again claimed victory at the end of stage two.
With differing pit strategy, Ty Dillon wound up taking the field to the green flag to begin stage three. Dillon held off Jones for as long as he could, but at lap 98, the dominant Jones continued his quest toward victory lane.
With just over 60 laps to go, the final caution flag flew for the No. 39 RSS Racing Chevrolet, as driver Ryan Sieg took a spin cycle out of Turn 4. The field took to pit road for what would be the final time, and it was Jones who continued to command the race.
During the final round of stops, Daniel Hemric, driver of the No. 21 Blue Gate Bank/Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, was penalized for pitting outside of the box, and subsequently lost a lap to the leaders.
The race would go green flag racing for the remainder of the event, but the intensity started to grow with 20 laps to go. It was the longest run of the afternoon, so many teams were concerned about making it to the end.
Many drivers, including Justin Allgaier in the No. 7 Degree / JR Motorsports Chevrolet, were nursing tires to make it to the end. Allgaier also had issues with engine, but battled hard to finish in fifth place, giving the Riverton, IL veteran driver the NXS points lead heading into Texas in two weeks.
“The challenge with a header issue like that is, is they don’t happen very often, but when they do, it hurts power, number one, but it also kills your fuel mileage,” Allgaier said to The Racing Experts post race. “You’re battling two issues that are unfortunate when you’re in that situation.”
Enter Christopher Bell.
Bell stayed consistent through the event, running in the top five for the majority of the time on track. With the laps winding down, it seemed that Bell had saved his equipment better than anyone else, including Jones, who looked like he would seize the day.
Jones, who led a race high 186 of 200 laps, wound up limping home to a 15th place finish after the contact.
“Well, I mean it’s not dirt racing, you know,” Jones said. “He’s not clear. I can’t just stop on the top. I mean he was – I didn’t expect him just to drive in on the bottom so far, he wouldn’t be able to hold his lane.
“It’s unfortunate. The Reser’s Camry was really good and I thought we were going to race for the win and unfortunately it wasn’t much of a race. It was more of a wreck. It’s unfortunate, but we’ll just have to move on.”
Bell was apologetic about the circumstances that led to his victory Saturday afternoon.
“I’m going to apologize and it sucks that we couldn’t race it out or that he (Erik Jones) didn’t finish the race,” Bell said. “I don’t know man, I cleared him there. We were both on old tires and we were both sliding around.
“I ran him down from however far back I was and I got there, and it’s always tough to make the pass because you get up there and the air gets disturbed and you don’t have the grip that you have by yourself.
“Just really thankful to be here and bummed at the way it finished, but happy it held on. I was getting tire smoke in the cab those last couple laps and I was worried that we weren’t going to make it.”
Justin Allgaier takes over the points lead, by two over teammate William Byron. The No. 9 Vannoy Construction/JR Motorsports Chevrolet came from the back of the field after unapproved adjustments to finish in fourth place.
Elliott Sadler finished seventh after his early spin, and remains third in the standings. Brennan Poole moves up to fourth after coming home with a 12th place finish.
On the outside looking in are Matt Tifft, Ryan Reed, Daniel Hemric, and Cole Custer.
Hemric was unable to recover from his penalty on the final round of stops. He came home 18th, and fell six points below the cut line.
Custer ran well for the majority of the race, but pitted within the closing laps to attend to a flat tire. Custer was the lowest playoff contender, finishing 19th.
The series takes off next week, but returns at Texas Motor Speedway for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300.