Christopher Bell Survives Daytona Road Course

Same venue, but a completely different approach to “The World Center of Racing” as the Cup drivers dabbled on the road course circuit. (Image: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

In as many races run in this young season, the NASCAR Cup Series saw another first-time winner. Last week, it was Michael McDowell. This week, it was Norman, Okla.’s Christopher Bell.

The resilient 26-year-old put on a show in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course. It was on full display when he passed Joey Logano coming to the white flag and checked out to score the victory for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Following his win, Bell felt a shot for the top spot wasn’t in the cards after passing Kurt Busch with five to go. That’s where crew chief Adam Stevens stepped in and kept him motivated.

“Whenever we pitted and then we came out, I liked where we lined up,” Bell said. “But then the yellows kept coming and I thought the yellows were hurting me because I felt like I needed laps to get back up through there.

“Honestly, I didn’t think I was going to get there. but Adam up on the pit box kept telling me I was going to get there. I didn’t believe it, but he really struggled coming out of (turn) six one time, and allowed me to close the gap.”

In just his second Cup start with Joe Gibbs Racing, Christopher Bell have already made his name present with a victory in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 235. (Image: James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Sunday’s triumph marked the third time the opening two Cup races began with new winners. The other two seasons where it occurred were in 1949 (Jim Roper and Red Byron) and 1950 (Harold Kite and Tim Flock).

Bell also became the 35th driver to win in all three NASCAR national touring divisions as he scored a combined 23 wins in Trucks and Xfinity from 2015-19.

Podium Reflections

Stevens

Stevens, who was Kyle Busch’s crew chief from 2015-’20, certainly didn’t have to wait long to get back into victory lane. This time, it’s with a sophomore racer. The victory was satisfying not just for him, but for the entire No. 20 Rheem crew who he felt deserve all the credit.

“I’m beyond thrilled for Bell and beyond thrilled for all my team guys,” Stevens said. “It’s a complete new over-the-wall group. They had phenomenal pit stops today. New car chief, we’re all learning each other. Everyone is doing such a good job with such a good attitude. That’s what feels good to me. Certainly less about me.

“It always feels good to win. It’s nice to be reminded we’re doing the right things and we’re doing them the right way (and) to get that reminder very early in the season.”

Logano

For the second straight race, a race win that was in the palm of Logano’s hands went away. While it didn’t end in a crash like last Sunday, Logano still felt the disappointment.

“I was trying to keep him behind me,” Logano said. “We gambled by staying out and then I’d say it paid off overall, but you just hate being so close and one lap away. He started catching me a second a lap. And it wasn’t like I blew any corners or anything. He was just faster. We just got beat, plain and simple. We’ve got to get our long-run speed faster.

“We made some gains and gotten better with our Shell/Pennzoil Mustang. We’ve just got to be able to find a way to keep our rear tires on these things on the road courses. We’ve identified the issue, now we can go to work.”

Hamlin

Crossing the line in third was Denny Hamlin who had a relatively solid and consistent race. Since he wasn’t on par with Bell, he noted there’s room for improvement all across the No. 11 FedEx camp.

“We were third-best, to be honest with you,” Hamlin observed. The 20 (Bell) was fast there the second half of the race. Maybe I was fourth-best. I thought we were solid. (I) was trying to hold onto third or fourth fastest and that’s all I’ve got. I just have to get a little bit better. I have to keep getting better to put ourselves in a position to win more.”

Stage 1

Following a little duel between Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon to start the program, Chase Elliott led the field to the green flag. Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell started alongside last August’s winner, but his day went awry. McDowell went wide into Turn 1 and fell outside the top-20. The 500 champ ended up scoring an eight-place finish.

Kyle Busch sustained damage following a hole on his right front after going through the grass. Unlike Xfinity Series winner Ty Gibbs, Busch’s excursion through the grass proved that Cup cars and grass don’t jibe.

The madness would carry onto the entire stage with several drivers either having flat tires (ex. Erik Jones and Matt DiBenedetto) or tires being uncontrolled (ex. Tyler Reddick and William Byron).

To describe how Stage 1 felt, imagine dozens of SpongeBobs scrambling for answers when they couldn’t find his name. That’s how it felt for a large majority of the 40-car grid.

Chase Elliott hunting down Christopher Bell for the lead in Stage 1 (Image: James Gilbert/Getty Images)

None of the madness fazed Elliott, who was looking for his fifth straight road course Cup win. He only had to sweat Bell, who stayed out late in the stage, to get his top spot back on Lap 14. Elliott went on to score his sixth career stage road course victory, beating Joey Logano by 3.148 seconds.

Stage 1 Results: Elliott, Logano, Hamlin, Keselowski, Ku. Busch, Larson, Truex Jr., A. Dillon, Harvick and Buescher

Stage 2

The race resumed on Lap 20 with Elliott still being the man that runs road racing. A few spots behind was fifth-place A.J. Allmendinger, who was on the move in his first Cup start since Homestead in 2018.

Another driver making progress was Martin Truex, Jr. who was chasing Hamlin for the second spot and got it on Lap 26. The motive was clear for MTJ – he’s still the man who can conquer the left and right turns. He has four wins for a reason.

Business picked up following Ross Chastain’s incident in Turn 6. The wounded McDonald’s Chevy came to pit road, but the odds of lifting the 26-year sponsorship curse was over. Chastain ended up with a 39th place result.

Pit stops ensued with Allmendinger staying out and took command of the race. Nearly the rest of the field pitted with Hamlin exiting out first. Hamlin would take the lead from Allmendinger in Turn 4 on Lap 31 and never looked back. The 2016 Watkins Glen winner took the stage by 1.377 seconds. Behind Hamlin is where the suspense took place.

Allmendinger’s older tires would kick in and wound up crossing the line in ninth to wrap up a much tamer second stage.

Truex was on a prowl of taking second from Kurt Busch, but he locked it up in the NASCAR Chicane on Lap 33. It led to a tap, but the moment certainly bit him hard and wound up fifth. The elder Busch on the other hand, barely eked out Logano for second by 0.004 seconds to get nine stage points.

Stage 2 Results: Hamlin, Ku. Busch, Logano, Bell, Truex Jr., Elliott, Byron, Custer, Allmendinger and Busch

Stage 3

Allmendinger’s day turned worse when he had to restart at the tail end of the longest line for speeding in Section 1. The 2012 Rolex 24 winner held himself accountable and explained over the radio what went down.

“The dash is messing me up a little,” Allmendinger said in his in-car radio. “It’s so quick and I throttle up immediately. I lost all the lights because I was too quick. I tried to check up.”

Back up front, Daniel Suarez led the field on Lap 38. While he had a great restart, he lost the top spot to Kurt Busch quickly. The 2004 champ’s time in P1 was cut short after a curb jump snapped his No. 1 Chevrolet and spun into the Turn 5 grass.

The blunder gave Bell the top spot, but lost the lead to Elliott with 30 to go. Even though the road course master held the lead, Bell never lost touch.

Once the race boiled down to its final 20 laps in regulation, green flag pit stops unfolded. Both Elliott and Bell pitted with 18 to go, but the result remained the same.

Shortly thereafter, the rain arrived in the infield as teams began grabbing for wet compound Goodyear Eagles. NASCAR officials initially reported it was light sprinkles. But, the caution would come out for weather with 15 to go.

It came down to the teams pondering to go with the dry slicks or the wet tires. With some parts of the track stop raining or even dry, the front runners stayed with dries. When the dust settled, Bell was the first one off pit road while Elliott exited out in fourth.

Grueling Closing Laps

There were 11 drivers who stayed out, so Bell restarted in 12th with Logano leading the field back to green with 12 to go. Like expected with several guys staying out, chaos ensued with Tyler Reddick plowing through the grass to avoid being hit by Austin Dillon. Seconds later, Reddick’s wounded car went into flames and his day was over.

For the second straight race, Daytona was a burden for Tyler Reddick. Only this time, it resulted in an exit. (Image: James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Allmendinger was furious with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. following some contact resulted in a left rear tire going down. Fortunately for the Xfinity Series regular, he rallied back to score Kaulig Racing’s best Cup result with a seventh.

Meanwhile, Elliott was sliding in Turn 4 and escape with just grass on his grill. Elliott’s solution of getting rid of the gunk was sing Hamlin as a pick to clean his grill.

When the race resumed, Elliott was shown in 14th, but the angst continued in front of him. Truex wheel hopped in Turn 1, contacted Bell and spun around. The incident eliminated him from the fight as his winless streak continues.

Just as the race was going to be calm, it wasn’t the case for the two Kyles as both Larson and Busch crashed, but the race kept going. Bell was a man on a mission on trying to snatch second from Kurt Busch despite having a tire rub.

Elliott’s bid for another road course victory was over with six to go after getting hit by Hamlin in Turn 6. Before being snake bitten, Elliott was trying to get by Keselowski for fourth. Instead, he crossed the line in agony, finishing 21st.

While everything was going down, Logano was at a different zip code. That was until two to go when Bell caught him red handed and took the lead in the NASCAR Chicane. It’s all he needed to become a first-time winner in the Cup Series in his 38th start.

The win also capped off a superb weekend for Joe Gibbs Racing as Ty got his maiden NASCAR win on Saturday. Something Bell was thinking about when describing his first Cup victory.

A perfect weekend for first time winners at Joe Gibbs Racing capped off by Bell’s rally. (Image: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“I don’t know, it’s unbelievable. Watching last night and seeing Ty (Gibbs) win was such a special moment. I was so proud of Ty,” said Bell. “Obviously, Joe Gibbs Racing does a great job giving everybody great equipment. I knew that going into this year that I was going to have to perform. Just really, really proud to be here. It’s a dream come true.”

Final Top 10 Results: Bell, Logano, Hamlin, Ku. Busch, Keselowski, Harvick, Allmendinger, McDowell, Preece and Bowman

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Luis Torres

Throughout my young motorsports media career, my number-one goal is to be a personnel that can be flexible with my writing and photography in the world of NASCAR, INDYCAR and ARCA (occasionally F1 and IMSA stuff as well). Whether it's the Daytona 500 or an ARCA Menards Series West race at Evergreen Speedway, content delivery is vital because this is my main passion and what keeps me going.

I've dealt with several challenges in my life, such as autism and making most out of trips despite relying on transportation. Even my quest of finding acceptance in my profession which has been my biggest challenge since graduating from college in 2016. Despite those hurdles with Motorsports Tribune and now The Podium Finish, I promise that you'll see excellence with my content.

Outside of media, I'm super vocal about my musical tastes that goes from Metallica to The Aces. Not only that, expect my social media filled with GIFs about my Seattle Seahawks because they make things a roller coaster experience.

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