Christopher Bell and his Rheem team made their only visit of the 2018 season on Friday night at Kentucky Speedway for the Alsco 300. After officially starting the 200-lap event in 12th, Bell dropped to the rear of the field prior to the start of the race for unapproved adjustments to his Rheem Camry after spinning in the final round of qualifying Friday afternoon. Despite the setback, Bell drove his Rheem Camry from last to first, earning his third-career NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) victory Friday night.
The field took the green flag just after 8:20pm local time with Bell wasting no time working his way towards the front, cracking the top 20 by lap seven. Continuing his march forward, Bell radioed to crew chief Jason Ratcliff on lap 14 that his Rheem Camry was “pretty good, but a little loose in dirty air.” Despite battling the loose condition, Bell worked his way into 15th by lap 23 and ended stage one in 14th on lap 45. Under the stage one caution, crew chief Jason Ratcliff called Bell down pit road for four tires, fuel and a round of adjustments to the Rheem Camry. Following the stop, Bell restarted stage two in 13th on lap 52.
Stage two would go green for the entire run with Bell picking off three competitors on the initial restart and cracking the top 10 on lap 53. Working his way into eighth on lap 67, Bell radioed to his Rheem crew once again that his Camry “felt pretty good now. A little on the free side, but not bad.” With his Rheem Camry feeling comfortable, Bell picked up one more spot during the run and ended stage two in seventh on lap 90. Under the stage two caution, Ratcliff once again called Bell down pit road for four tires, fuel and a round of adjustments to help tighten up the Rheem Camry. Following a lightning-quick stop by his crew, Bell restarted the final stage in sixth on lap 98.
Following the restart, Bell cracked the top five by lap 98 and was scored in fourth when the caution flag waved once again on lap 100. Staying out under the caution, Bell restarted in fourth on lap 104. Another quick caution ensued on lap 105 with Bell being scored in third. Staying out once again under the caution, Bell restarted in third on lap 109. With his Rheem Camry dialed in, Bell picked up one more spot during the run and was scored in second when the caution flag waved once again on lap 133. Under the caution, crew chief Jason Ratcliff called Bell down pit road once again for four tires and fuel. Following the stop, Bell restarted in ninth on lap 139. With his Rheem Camry once again coming to life following the restart, Bell worked his way back inside the top five by lap 140 and was scored in third when the final caution of the night came out on lap 162. Staying out under the caution, Bell restarted in third on lap 167 and took over the race lead for good on lap 184. Bell would go on to lead the remaining 15 laps of the race and earn his second win of the 2018 season for Joe Gibbs Racing.
With the win, Bell recorded his 10th top-five finish of the 2018 season.
Bell currently leads all NXS drivers this year with eight top-three finishes.
Following their win at Kentucky, Bell and his Rheem team currently sit fourth in the points standings, 17 points behind the leader. However, Bell and his team have accumulated the most playoff points with 12.
The NXS returns to the track next weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for their only visit of the 2018 season and the next Saturday, July 21st . Coverage of the race begins at 4:00 PM ET live on NBCSN, PRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio.
How would you describe this win?
“Man, it was extremely difficult. Starting in the back there, I knew my car was going to handle a little bit different than what it would at the front and all throughout practice I knew that we were – my car that was capable of racing for the win, but when we started in the back, man, it just drives so different back there and the guys kept getting good pit stops and we’d gain a spot here, gain a spot there, get a good restart and next thing you know we’re up there racing at the front and it’s driving totally different and keep telling myself, ‘We’ve got a shot at this thing,’ and just really proud of this team, everyone at Rheem, Ruud, GameStop, Toyota, TRD (Toyota Racing Development), all the people at Xfinity that help put this series on. It’s just a ton of fun to be here and I’m thankful that I get to stand in victory lane one more time.”
How did you keep it together after the spots lost on pit road?
“It’s just something you don’t even think about really. You just go out there and your job is to drive the race car as fast as you can and my guys have been doing a great job all night long, you know? We were picking up spots and I made a mistake last week in Chicago – I sped on pit road – and my guys didn’t beat me up about, so I was going to say nothing to them about theirs.”
What did it feel like to go from the back to the front to victory lane?
“That was pretty cool, man. To be able to come from the back here at Kentucky and just really shows how good of car we have. This Rheem Camry was extremely good on the long run. Even on the short run too, I could fire off and have really good restarts, so I’m just thankful that everyone stayed behind me and everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing believes in me, so it’s a dream come true to be racing in the Xfinity Series, let alone standing in victory lane one more time.
How did you make your moves during the last restart?
“Yeah, the 21 (Daniel Hemric) was really good whenever I was following Kyle (Busch) there about midway through the race. I was just really riding trying to get away from the pack. The 21 wasn’t falling back. He was pushing it right there with us, so I knew he was really strong and, you know, once I got to clean air there in front, just a matter of hitting my marks and, you know, Daniel was obviously really good too, so I think at that point it was a matter of who got out front first.”
How do you feel about your championship chances?
“Well, I knew coming in here driving for Joe Gibbs Racing that we’d be championship contenders, but I’ve just got to minimize my mistakes and start winning more, so now we’ve got two of them and we need to get a couple more.”