LOUDON, NH (AP) — Christopher Bell made it to the NASCAR playoffs on Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to become the 14th Cup Series winner this season.
“She was sorely needed right there,” said Bell, 27.
Bell mastered the track, where he won the Xfinity Series races in 2018, 2019 and 2021, catching up to Chase Elliott – last week’s winner at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Bell is the 14th driver to make it to the 16-driver playoff ground. With six races remaining in the regular season, this leaves the possibility open that drivers over 16 may win a race and the final playoff spot or spots will be decided on points.
That’s another day’s worry for Bell.
Bell followed Elliott late and led the final 42 laps in the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. His only other Cup win came in the second race of the 2021 season at the Daytona Road Course Race.
Elliot Hendricks finished second for Motorsports and third for Bubba Wallace 23XI Racing. Martin Truex Jr. dominated early and finished fourth. And Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five.
“We didn’t know what was going on there in the end,” Wallace said. “I knew it was in the top five. But in the end just tire management, and we were able to capitalize. Just proud of everyone. Delighted. It’s been hell last month for me, so coming out with a top five It’s good. “
Elliott, who had led 13 laps overall when caught by Bell, finished first or second for the fourth straight race.
“We were in a position where people at this level should really turn down a race, if you’ve got that kind of lead,” Elliott said. “Just bad effort on my part.”
Bell gave JGR its fourth win this season and 12th in New Hampshire.
Bell was one of those drivers who had to worry about his playoff chances for the rest of the summer. He entered the race in 16th place on the points table – 19 above the cutline. Bell went on to win five consecutive top-10s in May and June, before only hiccups recently in his last four to better 18th place.
JGR, which supplies pit crews to 23XI Racing, swapped team members with Wallace’s crew earlier this month.
Bell’s biggest concern was trying to handle the 21-pound lobster that was given to the winner on Sunday.
“Earlier this year, I felt like we were right on the verge of winning,” Bell said. “Over the past few weeks, I felt we were too far. Now, here we are today.”
Truex won the first two stages and led 172 laps before he faded after a poor pit stop and finished fourth. Truex dominated early from pole and looked set to end the season-long winless drought. Without a win, Truex is on a playoff bubble. Ryan Blaney is third in the points standings and Truex is fourth, yet both could possibly miss the playoffs without a win. This is the third time in the last 20 years (2002, 2003, 2011) that there have been 14 winners in the first 20 races.
Brad Keselowski and Austin Dillon used their cars to beat the rams in the middle of the race. Dillon hit Kiselowski on the backstretch door. Kiselowski retaliated and hit Dillon on the passenger side of the car and shooed him off the track. Harwick later kicked Dillon off the pit road.
NASCAR’s Cup Series heads to Pocono Raceway for its only stop of the year. The track hosted two cup races each year and Alex Bowman and Kyle Busch won the race over a doubleheader weekend last year.
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