The racing action at Richmond Raceway boiled down to long runs and fresh tires once more. Last time, it was Denny Hamlin who made it work in the spring by scoring the win. This time around, it wasn’t the case for his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Christopher Bell, who came up a few car lengths short of winning Sunday’s Federated Auto Parts 400.
Similar to the spring race, Bell also had a strong late-race Toyota Camry but wasn’t able to visit victory lane in Virginia. More so in this race as he ran out of laps to catch Kevin Harvick, who went on to score his second straight win and the 60th of his illustrious NASCAR Cup Series career.
After overcoming a single car spin in Turn 4 on Lap 251, Bell ultimately found a way to gain an essential advantage under his sleeve. That being his No. 20 Rheem Camry having fresher tires by 12 laps over the competition.
As the laps were winding down and the 0.75-mile circuit was gaining grip, Bell was creeping on the leaders.
From four seconds down to a second, Bell was on a roll but faced two major hurdles — Austin Cindric and the lapped duo of Ty Dillon and Michael McDowell.
Coming to four to go, Bell passed Chris Buescher, who had been fighting hard to stay toe-to-toe with Harvick and become the 16th different winner. Buescher ended up third in the outing, but once Bell took second, all eyes were on the Oklahoman as the chase was on for a second victory.
However, Bell had a hard time getting around Cindric but was still gaining a lot of ground on Harvick in the final two laps. The latter’s next challenge was lapping Dillon and McDowell, which he succeeded in doing, but it held up Bell, who had to sandwich his way by them on the final lap.
With no more lapped traffic, Bell tried everything to cut the gap but ran out of time to give Harvick hell. Something the race winner noted and even made one error that could have proven detrimental.
“I knew he was coming, but I forgot to shift down the front straightaway the last time. I was not paying attention and he got closer than he should have,” Harvick on Bell. “I made a mistake there a couple laps doing the same thing. I wasn’t shifting on the back and I was shifting in the front. There was a lot going on, and made a couple mistakes, let him get too close.”
A win wasn’t meant to be, but Bell will be fighting for a championship come playoff time as he’s one of 10 drivers that are officially locked into the postseason. Plus, Bell had fun behind the wheel when strategy parlayed into the race equation.
“I got held up pretty bad at the beginning of the run by a couple of slower cars and that was ultimately the difference when you get beat by a couple car lengths. Just really fun and really fun race when you have different strategies and you have guys coming and going. I love whenever the races stay green and you’re able to play your cards a little bit different,” Bell explained.
“Really proud of everyone on this 20 crew to be able to come back from how we started. Very tough weekend for us. We didn’t practice very well and we didn’t qualify very well. And the guys did a really good job getting this Rheem Camry up front and where we needed to be at the end.”
Bell is currently the 10th seed with just two races remaining in the regular season. The next stop on the Cup tour is the highly anticipated race at Watkins Glen International (Sunday, August 21 at 3:00 p.m. ET on USA) where it will be the site of the anticipated debut of 2007 Formula One World Champion Kimi Raikkonen. In Bell’s only start at The Glen last year, he started and finished seventh.