Bell wins the Xfinity battle in the Granite State

Bell wins the Xfinity battle in the Granite State
Chris Trotman/Getty Images for NASCAR

LOUDON, N.H.—Christopher Bell mastered the Magic Mile on Saturday.

Bell traded paint with pole-sitter Cole Custer on the first lap, then took the lead out of Turn 4.

He held the point for 186 laps en route to his second win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and the 13th Xfinity Series victory of his career.

“Great job everyone on this team, that was fun,” Bell said as he crossed the line four-seconds ahead of second-place Cole Custer. “I’m just really lucky to be able to drive these cars for Joe Gibbs Racing. A racecar driver is only as good as his race car. I’m glad to be driving such great race cars.”

Justin Allgaier, Tyler Reddick, Paul Menard, Chase Briscoe, Ryan Truex, Ryan Sieg, Brandon Jones and Noah Gragson rounded out the top 10.

Bell led the first 33 laps but pitted after John Hunter Nemechek hit the Turn 1 wall to trigger Caution 1. Bell’s JGR teammate Brandon Jones assumed the lead on the Lap 38 restart. Bell and Reddick took the No. 19 Toyota three-wide at the conclusion of the first stage, but Jones held on for the win. Sieg, Allgaier, Truex, Custer, Justin Haley, Paul Menard and Briscoe rounded out the top 10.

Bell gained the lead for the start of the second stage and held to point for 43 laps for his 11th stage win of 2019. He held serve out of the pits with Allgaier, Austin Cindric, Briscoe, Reddick, Menard, Truex and Harrison Burton in tow. In 13 laps, Bell had extended his lead over Allgaier by 3.2-seconds.

NASCAR called a fourth caution for debris on Lap 142. Bell retained the lead and extended his advantage when the fifth and final yellow flag waved after Paul Menard punted Burton while battling for fifth in Turn 1 on Lap 155.

Burton, who finished 29th, approached Menard for an explanation following the race.

“He was mad,” Menard said. “He hit me twice. I hit him once. I guess he’s mad at me for hitting him that one time. I was mad at him for hitting me twice before that, so that’s the way it goes.”

Burton saw the incident differently from Menard.

“He was holding us up for a long time in the race—honestly, the whole race,” Burton said. “I was racing him clean. He said he was mad that I hit him on the restart. “But I was on the apron, and he turned down across my nose. He got mad about that, and then I barely touched his door, and I got out of the gas because I didn’t want to hit him any harder than I did.

“Then I passed him clean, and he wrecked me… He didn’t really seem to care, and that’s fine for him. I’m just going to go out and beat him on the race track. That’s all I can do to show these guys that I’m here to play. I’m not going to get pushed around anymore.”

Custer moved up to second following the restart on Lap 160, but Bell once again checked out over the final 40 laps.

“At the end, I felt like we had a car that could compete with him, but I just wasn’t driving the car right at the start of the race and I got us behind on adjustments,” Custer said. “From there, we were kind of playing catchup. 

“They gave me a really fast car and I think I learned a lot, but I wish we would have won. I learned a lot though and I’ll be better next time. I knew I wasn’t the best here, so I thought there was stuff I had to learn.  I thought I had a good idea of what I needed to do, but there was still a little bit of a learning curve during the race.”

With his fifth win of the season, Bell trails points leader Tyler Reddick by 56 points.

“I just can’t say enough about this team,” Bell added. “It’s so, so fun to be able to drive for this group of guys. Like I said earlier, all of our partners at Rheem, Ruud, Toyota, Toyota Racing Development, they’re the ones that make this happen. I’m really thankful to be able to drive for them. They give me race cars that are as fast as this one here.”

 

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