Christopher Bell Wins Richmond Xfinity Race
A short run at the end of Friday night's GoBowling.com 250 was just what pole winner Christopher Bell needed to charge into the second round of the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs.
In a race that saw regular-season champion Justin Allgaier end his night with a hard crash into the Turn 3 wall with 24 laps left, and in a race that saw Dale Earnhardt Jr. lead the most laps in his only scheduled race of 2018, Bell surged past race leader Matt Tifft after a restart on Lap 237 of 250 and pulled away to beat Ross Chastain to the finish line by .566 seconds.
Assured of a place in the next round of the NASCAR Playoffs by virtue of his fifth victory of the season, Bell now can pay a stress-free visit to the Charlotte Road Course on Sept. 29.
"I tell you what, that's pretty cool," said Bell, who won for the second time at Richmond—both this season—and for the sixth time in his career. "It's not very often you get to win with a car that's not a winning car. So, we'll take it.
Chastain, who won his first NASCAR Xfinity Series race last Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, started from the rear after his clutch locked up following a third-place effort in qualifying. Over the last 14 laps, he chased Bell, eventually running a much higher line around the .75-mile short track—but to no avail.
"I can't believe I'm disappointed with second, but a dream-come-true to drive for you guys," Chastain told his team over the radio at the end of his third and final ride in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.
"I can never thank you enough. It's something I'll never forget."
Earnhardt, who led 96 laps, won the second stage under caution after the No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Ty Majeski slammed into the inside SAFER barrier, the result of contact from teammate Ryan Reed.
"That's the first stage win of my career," a jubilant Earnhardt said on the team radio after taking the green / checkered flag.
"It got my expectations all messed up," Earnhardt added after the race. "Man, I'm like, ‘Dang, I've got to win now.' But we didn't have the car at the end. We started on the outside (on the final restart), which was kind of tough. Just didn't have what we needed at the end. But I'm glad that we got to lead a lot of laps. We ran really good for all the people that came down to watch us."
Earnhardt, who finished fourth behind NASCAR Playoff driver Daniel Hemric, then won the race off pit road and led the field to green for a restart on Lap 159. He held the top spot until Katherine Legge—making her first oval-track start in NASCAR racing—hit the outside wall between Turns 1 and 2 to bring out the fourth caution on Lap 218.
After the race, Earnhardt hugged long-time friend and JR Motorsports driver Elliott Sadler, who announced he will retire from full-time racing at season's end.
"We've been really close friends since we raced late models together," Earnhardt said. "It just dawned on me in that moment, ‘We'll never race (together) again.' I'm glad he's enjoying this."
Tifft finished fifth, followed by Sadler, Tyler Reddick, Brandon Jones, Shane Lee and Ryan Reed. Bell took the series lead by 28 points over Hemric and 34 over Allgaier, who held third because of his points advantage entering the NASCAR Playoffs.
"It's really disappointing," said Allgaier, who clobbered the Turn 3 wall after contact between the Ford Mustangs of Austin Cindric and Cole Custer knocked Custer's car into Allgaier's. "Just unfortunate to be in that position, but at least we've got a good points lead."
CHRISTOPHER BELL, No. 20 Rheem Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 1st
How does it feel to advance in the Xfinity Series playoffs?
“I’ll tell you what buddy, that’s pretty cool. It’s not very often that you get to win with a car that’s not a winning car, so we’ll take it. Just thank you to my pit crew for the awesome pit stops tonight. Jason Ratcliff (crew chief) did a great job making this thing better each and every time we hit the pit road. Man, I'm just pumped. To be able to sweep Richmond and to get five wins on top of that just couldn’t be happier.”
What kind of a statement does it make to come out and win the first race of the Xfinity playoffs?
“That’s just really cool man. To be able to come out here and to win on a restart like that is really special. Just really proud of Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief). He’s done such an excellent job of taking care of me. I don’t have a ton of experience in the world and he does such a good job of making sure I've got what I need in the race. Each pit stop we kept getting closer and closer. We weren’t the best car, that’s for sure. On the long run those guys would just drive away from me. He kind of knew what we needed for a 10 to 15 lap run there at the end and gave me what I needed. The pit crew did an awesome job keeping me out front. Got to restart on the front row and that was key.”
What enabled you to get by Matt Tifft and take the lead in the final restart?
“Just a couple restarts and a couple practice attempts. I restarted on the top a couple of times and kind of knew what I needed to do. Luckily, I got to start in the middle of the race track instead of the top of the race track and that really helped. I don’t know if the 2 (Matt Tifft) car was getting pressure to the inside or not but I took the lead leaving (turn) two.”
What was the difference in your Camry at the end of the race to get you out to the front?
“It was all track position. Track position and then it was just a short run. If it was a long run at the end I don’t know if we had the best long run car, but whenever we came in we had really good pit stops so was able to get out and get position and then restarting on the front row there and was able to take the lead.”
How big is this not to have to worry about where you finish at the new road course at Charlotte next weekend?
“Now we can go to the Roval and race to win so I'm excited about that. We don’t have to go to the Roval and try to finish the race because we’re going to try and win that sucker.”
What does it mean to win this race and automatically transfer to the next round?
“To me it feels better to know that I don’t have to worry about getting crashed or crashing so I can be aggressive and go race and try to win so that’s the biggest thing for me. Me and Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) sat down a couple weeks ago and kind of went over our little Playoff schedule here and there are race tracks on here that are circled that we can win at -- and for the most part, that’s all of them, but Richmond is definitely one of them that we had highlighted that we should be really good at and we should be able to contend for a win. To be able to win two here is really special and the thing about winning the first race is you have the target on your back. Everyone is working to get better to beat you and that really showed. We weren’t the dominant car by any means, but Jason did an excellent job of tuning on that thing and getting it right at the right time and that was kind of the story of our day. Even qualifying, I’m not going to say a mid-pack car, but we were fifth to 10th and each round of qualifying until that last round and he put the magic setup on it and we went out there and got the pole. Kind of the same deal, I was right there in the hunt and would fall back a little bit and when it mattered, he put the tune-up on it.”
Is there anything you need to execute better for the upcoming rounds?
“We definitely weren’t as fast as what we needed to be tonight and that’s really two weeks in a row – Vegas and here – where we haven’t been fast enough to compete for the lead all race long, but at the same point, we still won the race and that’s because my team executed. Not just me, but my pit crew did a good job of maintaining our track position. We gained a couple spots over the course of the night and Jason tuned on it and made sure we weren’t setup for the long run when we only had 20 laps left and he made it good at the end. We have to get faster, but that’s track dependent and we’ve got a lot of really good race tracks that we’re fast at coming up.”
Is there something special to win a race that Dale Earnhardt Jr. competed in and led laps in?
“Yeah, it’s cool. I got to race with him last year in this race and I raced alongside of him and I think we battled a little bit throughout the course of the race – it wasn’t for the lead. It’s cool, but at the same time whenever you strap the helmet on, you don’t realize who’s in the race car. They just become cars and drivers. Whenever you’re out there racing, you don’t think about who you’re racing against.”
How gratifying is it to get this win and complete the sweep at Richmond this season?
“It’s really cool and to be able to win two races here is really special and to be able to pull into victory lane there with all the fans there, that was really cool and to be the first one to do it is really something that you don’t get to be in the history books very often. I’m the first guy to pull into Richmond victory lane now or the new one anyway. It’s really good to be able to win and racing is such a mental sport, I put a high percentage – probably 70 or 80 percent mental and confidence is everything. Winning gets you confidence and now unfortunately we have to go to a road course that might shake it a little bit. I think we’re in a really good spot.”
JASON RATCLIFF, crew chief, No. 20 Rheem Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How have you developed this relationship with Christopher?
“Winning races helps and we have something in common and that’s we enjoy racing and we enjoy winning. And hanging out, we make sure that we schedule time every week to talk about what did we do well the week before and what do we need to do better the next week. It’s obviously been a good pairing for myself and for him and the race team to go out there and we have five wins now this season. We’re in a good spot. I think we still have a lot of things that we can do better, but at this point I think we’re right on par with where we need to be and we’ll see. We got the first round under our belt and I think the Roval is one that there’s a lot of unknowns there and there’s a lot of guys going in there next week that are concerned. For us to be able to go in there and not have any concerns and hopefully go in there and win would be fun. It’s good to know that we don’t have any pressure until we get to Kansas and then it will be back on.”
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