Bell: “It’s just an honor to be here”
Photo by Matt Sullivan / NASCAR via Getty Images
Christopher Bell celebrates his victory at Eldora Speedway Wednesday night.
In what turned out to be one of the most action-packed races in recent NASCAR history, dirt racing star Christopher Bell drove to his first ever Camping World Truck Series victory by beating fellow rookie Bobby Pierce to the line at the third annual 1-800-Car-Cash Mud Summer Classic at Eldora.
Bell, 18, took to the track for just the second time this season just weeks after taking over for Justin Boston for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Driving for the same team that won on dirt last year with Bubba Wallace Jr., Bell was chased around the half-mile by another experienced dirt racer in Pierce, making his first ever start in an underfunded Mittler Brother’s machine.
“Two years ago, I remember watching this race on TV,” Bell said post-race to the media. “I had just started in the midget ranks and just a kid from Oklahoma … It’s just an honor to be here, and I never would have dreamed I would have ever been a NASCAR Truck winner at Eldora.”
The first heat race saw Pierce lead start to finish in a dominating fashion. The leader after qualifying, Pierce, an 18-year-old dirt racer from Oakwood, IL. would become the fifth driver in truck series history to take the pole in his debut, giving Mike Mittler’s small team their first ever pole despite their long history.
In the second heat race, John Hunter Nemechek would secure the second heat race after struggling throughout practice. During final practice alone, the son of Joe found himself spinning out twice, really hurting when it came to finding a perfect lane around the short dirt oval.
Photo by Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images
Bobby Pierce, the runner-up finisher, won the pole for Wednesday night's 1-800-CarCash Mudsummer Classic.
The best moment of the heat races came in the third edition of the night. Kenny Schrader made a three wide pass, blowing by Timothy Peters and Travis Kvapil to take the lead two laps into the third qualifier. Schrader, the truck series speed record holder from back in 2013, was dominant in the caution-filled event, holding off Peters’ last chance effort to hold on for the victory. Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick would both go on to show speed in their heat races, winning the final two battles to advance to the main event with momentum on their side.
Two years after Norm Benning muscled his way into the main event in 2013, the last chance qualifier gave eight teams a chance to earn one of the final five spots into the final race. Madison Crane’s night would end early, electing to skip the LCQ and effectively missing the race after damage in qualifying took her team out of contention. Jake Griffin in the #03 Mike Affarano truck would join Crane on the sidelines, missing out on the big event after a rough night for the 16-year-old driver. Cody Erickson and Ben Kennedy would end up finishing one-two in the 15-lap last-chance race to earn spots in the finale, big moments for two drivers that struggled in their respective heat races.
The Main Event
The action in the main event was hot right off the bat. After the first few laps were led by Pierce, former Eldora winner Austin Dillon showed his strength by moving from tenth to first in the first seven laps, leading right up to the first caution. Korbin Forrister, driving the Donald Trump #08 truck on Wednesday night, would find himself in trouble after spinning out in turn four, stopping the race for a quick caution.
On lap 16, the trucks would return to caution just in time for Pierce to take back the lead. This time, Cody Erickson would go around after trying to go to the pits to serve a black flag for an illegal start. His spin would claim Jody Knowles, Cole Custer, Sean Corr and John Wes Townley as well, but the damage wouldn’t be enough to completely immobilize anyone’s chances.
26 laps into the battle, the race saw its third caution early on in the battle. Just like in the first one, it would involve Forrister finding himself spinning around, this time after slowing down to avoid a spinning Travis Kvapil at the start finish line. Luckily for Kvapil, the driver of the #1 Make Motorsports truck would avoid any damage after spinning out in the middle of traffic.
After finishing the first segment with 32 of the 60 laps under caution, Christopher Bell held on to the lead heading into the second segment.
Photo by Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images
Christopher Bell leads the field at Eldora Speedway.
Bell, an 18-year-old with a ton of experience on the dirt, would start to distance himself from Austin Dillon and the rest of the field in the second stanza. The seventh caution of the race would help close up the gap, however, as the race would fall victim to its first debris caution of the race.
Bell and Pierce would end up changing places multiple times in the second segment, only getting delayed by spins from Townley and Chris Fontaine. The pair of young stars would show their power despite a lack of experience, with Bell’s two previous starts being the only time either driver had been entered into a race. The second segment would come to a close with a big crash, with Chad Boat, Norm Benning and Jo Cobb all getting collected. Boat’s truck was demolished in the little incident, hitting the turn four wall hard just as the competition caution was displayed.
With 20 laps to go, Bell and Pierce ended up running into some lap traffic. Bell proved he had a fast truck, pulling away originally from Pierce before the 63 truck eventually caught right back up. Both drivers found the wall multiple times in the closing stages, with Pierce going as far as almost removing tonneau cover from slamming the back of the truck into the wall repeatedly. It didn’t affect his downforce right away, but with a late caution coming thanks to a spin by Peters with just over ten laps to go.
With the race coming to a close, one of the most exciting races in recent years would come down to a five lap sprint race. Bell would get a fantastic restart, leaving Pierce, as well as Dillon and Matt Crafton, behind in the dirt. However, Bell’s victory would come to a quick halt after Forrister spun for the third time, creating a green-white-checkered to decide the victor. On the restart, which saw absolute calamity, Pierece was forced to make one last attempt by trying to slide into the 54 truck in turn four, but Bell would on long enough to take his first ever NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory in just his third ever start.
It wasn’t just a historic finish for the race winner. For Bell, it was obviously his first victory, but for Pierce, his second place finish was the first top five in the history for the Mittler Brothers, who had never had a better race in their 200+ tenure.
“It was awesome,” Pierce said. “I know a lot of people were telling me I’d be the Kyle Larson of the race. If I could have just gotten the restarts better, it may have been different”.
With a third place finish, Tyler Reddick was able to close in on Matt Crafton’s point lead, trailing his rival by just 14 points after finishing two positions ahead on Wednesday.