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Bell closes out Toyota’s New Hampshire dominance; Cup playoffs tighten

LOUDON, N.H. — While Martin Truex Jr. led 172 of the first 206 laps Sunday, Christopher Bell and his fellow Toyota teammates closed out the manufacturer’s domination in the final 95 laps while Truex’s team faltered.

Christopher Bell won Sunday’s Ambetter 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway after passing Chase Elliott for the win with 42 laps to go.

Bell and Elliott each pitted for four tires on Lap 207 , while Truex pitted for two tires and Kurt Busch stayed out with two other drivers.

Busch led 40 laps until Elliott took the lead on Lap 247. However, their hard battle left Elliott with worn-out tires, which allowed Bell to take the lead just 13 laps later.

LOUDON, NEW HAMPSHIRE – JULY 17: Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 Rheem/WATTS Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 17, 2022 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Bell is the 14th different winner in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, leaving two playoff spots for drivers to get in on points – currently held by Ryan Blaney and teammate Martin Truex Jr.

Bell earned 47 points, the third-most points of any driver Sunday, after finishing sixth and ninth in the stages and winning.

LOUDON, NEW HAMPSHIRE – JULY 17: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Interstate Batteries Toyota, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 17, 2022 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Truex swept the stages and held a clear lead until he pitted for two tires while Bell and others pitted for four. Even worse, Truex restarted behind Busch and two other drivers who also stayed out, which put him in dirty air with old tires that dropped him to 11th.

Truex slowly worked through the top-10 and finished fourth, one spot behind Bubba Wallace.

Truex still earned 53 points, the most of any driver Sunday.

Photo by Cheri Eaton/The Racing Experts

Wallace earned 44 points, the fifth-most of any driver, after finishing second to Truex in Stage One and 10th in Stage Two. After taking four tires, Wallace restarted outside of the top 10 and picked off Truex – and others on older tires – to earn a fourth-place finish.

Wallace’s third-place finish was his third top-5 finish on a non-superspeedway track. Kurt Busch finished 10th which made Sunday the second time where both 23XI Racing cars finished in the top-10.

Photo by Feliz Vigil/TRE

After staying out on Lap 207 and racing Elliott and Bell Busch dropped to third and pitted with 32 laps to go. Busch passed Bell back and unlapped himself with 18 laps to go, then drove from outside of the top 15 and into a 10th-place finish Sunday.

After Bell’s shockwave win Sunday, Truex now holds the final playoff spot by 68 points over Kevin Harvick with six regular-season races to go.

If there are three more winners, the playoff cutline will move from being among the winless drivers, to being among drivers with one win. Currently, Kurt Busch is 14th in the regular-season points and is ahead of three other drivers with one win:

6. Kyle Larson – 1 win – 616 points

7. Kyle Busch — 1 win – 594 points

8. Christopher Bell – 1 win – 570 points

9. Alex Bowman – 1 win – 510 points

10. Austin Cindric – 1 win – 489 points

11. Kurt Busch – 1 win – 485 points

12. Daniel Suarez – 1 win – 479 points

13. Tyler Reddick – 1 win – 474 points

14. Chase Briscoe – 1 win – 465 points

—2 spots available for race winners or highest winless drivers on points—

15. Ryan Blaney – 0 wins – 656 points, +105 to Harvick

16. Martin Truex Jr – 0 wins – 619 points, +68

—Playoff cutline—

17. Kevin Harvick – 0 wins – 551 points, -68 points to Truex

18. Aric Almirola – 0 wins – 490 points, -129

19. Erik Jones – 0 wins – 465 points, -154

20. Austin Dillon – 0 wins – 421 points, -198

If Blaney, Truex and Harvick hypothetically won and the points stayed the same, the cutline would move to put Briscoe out of the playoffs by nine points behind Reddick. Truex, Christopher Bell and Kurt Busch would be safe by 154 points, 105 points and 20 points, respectively.

Foot note: Toyota driver Denny Hamlin finished sixth overall after finishing 10th in Stage One. Other Toyota driver Kyle Busch spun twice – on Lap 79 and Lap 164 – and didn’t earn stage points but still finished 12th overall.

LOUDON, NEW HAMPSHIRE – JULY 17: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 DeWalt Toyota, spins after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 17, 2022 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

The next race for the NASCAR Cup Series is the July 24 M&Ms Fan Appreciation 400 at Pocono Raceway (3 p.m. ET; TV: USA Network; Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio Ch. 90).

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