RACING

Christopher Bell earns his first victory of the season in New Hampshire

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Christopher Bell has quietly established himself as a New England force over the past three years as he rises through the NASCAR ranks and on Sunday afternoon he convincingly claimed his biggest triumph yet there, a victory in the NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter 301 and a ticket to the 2022 Playoffs.

Bell led the final 42 laps of the 301 laps at the 1.058-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway, claiming the trophy – and the traditional lobster at Victory Lane – with a massive 5.767-second win over last week’s race winner Chase Elliott.

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RELATED: New Hampshire Results | Photos on the track

It’s only the second NASCAR Cup Series victory for third-year No. 20 Toyota driver Joe Gibbs Racing, but oh, so significant because it launches the 27-year-old Oklahoman into a tentative playoff spot. . The 14th different winner of the season entered the race bottom of the top 16 drivers who would qualify for the Playoffs. Now he has bolstered his hopes of a title run.

“Man, that one was a must have there,” said Bell, who won three consecutive NASCAR Xfinity Series races at the track from 2019 to 2021 and was a NASCAR Cup Series race runner-up. last year there.

“I’ll tell you what, it was a hell of a ride from my perspective. It was so much fun racing with the 45 (Kurt Busch), 22 (Joey Logano) and 9 (Elliott). We all used different lines. It was awesome. So happy to be here at Joe Gibbs Racing and so good to pick up this 20 car at Victory Lane.

Jacques Gilbert | Getty Images

“Winning Cup races is difficult,” he added with a smile, thanking the crowd. “It just seems like we’ve been close despite falling a little bit last week. I was talking to my best friend and I told him, earlier in the year, I felt like we were about to win. Then the last two weeks, I felt like we were pretty far away.

“But we are here today.”

Elliott, who has finished no worse than second in the last four races (including two wins), said he simply had nothing for Bell at the very end.

“I feel like I was poorly executed on my part in the last run,” said Elliott, driver of the #9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. “It took me a while to pass Joey (Logano) and 45 (Busch) and I had to run harder than I wanted to.

“You just have to make a few mistakes and not have much wiggle room.”

The string of top-two finishes has been little consolation for the 2020 series champion.

“When you’re in position like we’ve been, you have to finish it,” he said.

Bubba Wallace, driver of the No. 23 23XI Racing Toyota, had a record-breaking day in New Hampshire, finishing third – his second top five of the season but his first top-10 finish since a 10th-place finish at Kansas eight years ago. races.

“Just proud of the team, proud of me and proud of everyone at the store,” Wallace said, adding, “It’s been hell for me the last month, so good to come out with a top five. This sport humbles you so there really are no surprises. Have to keep the task at hand and be aware of your surroundings and do your job.”

Bell’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. was fourth followed by Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick.

Pole-sitter Truex won both stages – his series-leading sixth and seventh of the year – and led a record 182 laps; including the first 95 consecutive to start the race.

His No. 19 JGR Toyota looked like the car to beat, but a two-tire stop for him – and for Harvick – with around 100 laps to go proved to destabilize the car and he briefly slipped out of the top 10 before coming back. to his first top five since a fifth-place finish in Talladega, Alabama, in April.

JGR’s Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Trackhouse Racing teammates Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez and 23XI Racing’s Kurt Busch rounded out the top 10. Seventh place was Keselowski’s best result of the season in his first year as a as co-owner/driver of the No. 6 RFK Racing Ford.

MORE: Keselowski, A.Dillon mudguards

With Chastain’s 14th top 10 finish and Ryan Blaney’s 18th place finish, there has been significant movement to the top of the Cup Series standings. Chastain moved into second place, 67 points behind leader Elliott. Blaney – who is still looking for his first win of the season – is now third.

Truex, who is also still in contention for a playoff win, is now 16th and last in the postseason — 68 points ahead of Harvick, who also didn’t win in 2022.

The next NASCAR Cup Series race is the M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400, scheduled for next Sunday (3 p.m. ET, USA Network, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM) at Pocono Raceway.

Remarks: The Cup Series garage inspection was completed without a hitch, confirming Christopher Bell as the winner. … A multi-car crash ruled out four drivers with just four full laps, knocking out Alex Bowman, Ty Dillon, Josh Bilicki and BJ McLeod. … The green flag was delayed about 20 minutes by a mid-afternoon downpour and lightning in the area.

Input: Staff Reports

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