The NASCAR XFINITY Series (NXS) made their first of two stops this season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (LVMS) this weekend for the Boyd Gaming 300 on Saturday afternoon. Looking to capitalize on their top-five finish last weekend in Atlanta, Christopher Bell and his Rheem team stayed hot in the desert, earning back-to-back pole awards after running a time of 29.398 seconds around the 1.5-mile oval, good enough for Bell’s third-career pole award in just 11 NXS starts. After leading the field to the green under cold and windy conditions on Saturday afternoon for the 200-lap event, Bell went on to lead six laps, and crossed the finish line in the second position, earning his second top-five finish of the 2018 season.
With the field rolling at the Las Vegas, NV facility, Bell slipped to second following the drop of the green flag, and maintained his position until the first caution flag of the afternoon waved on lap six. Staying out under the caution, Bell restarted outside the leader on lap 11. Throughout the remaining portion of stage one, Bell battled with Cup Series regular Kyle Larson for the top spot, ultimately passing Larson with two laps to go in the stage, and crossing the finish line in first when the caution flag waved once again on lap 45, signaling the end of stage one. With the balance on the Rheem Camry “really close to perfect”, crew chief Jason Ratcliff called Bell down pit road under the caution for four tires, fuel and a slight air-pressure adjustment to the Joe Gibbs Racing machine. Following the stop, Bell restarted stage two in fifth on lap 52.
The second stage would go green for the entire run with Bell maintaining his position inside the top 10 until lap 90 when the caution flag waved once again signaling the end of the second stage. Under the caution, Ratcliff once again called the young rookie down pit road for four tires, fuel and another round of adjustments to the Rheem Camry. Following the stop, Bell restarted the final stage in sixth on lap 98.
Wasting no time working his way towards the front, Bell picked up two spots following the restart and was scored in third on lap 100, the halfway point of the race. Fight a tight Rheem Camry on the long run, Bell slipped to fifth by lap 112 and maintained his position until the caution flag waved again on lap 134. Under the caution, Ratcliff once again called Bell down pit road for four fresh Goodyear Eagles, fuel and another round of adjustments to the Rheem Camry. After a lightning-quick stop by his crew, Bell picked up one spot on pit road and restarted in fourth on lap 138. Continuing to hit his marks and managing his run, Bell worked his way up to third by lap 141 and maintained his position until the caution flag waved again on lap 185. With one last set of tires in the pits, Ratcliff called Bell down pit road for four tires, fuel and one final adjustment on the Rheem Camry. Following the stop, Bell restarted in third with seven laps remaining in the race. Bell continued his battle with Larson during the closing laps of the race, ultimately crossing the finishing line in the second position, earning back-to-back top-five finishes for the Rheem team.
With his second-place finish, Bell was the top finishing Toyota driver as well as NXS regular in the race.
Bell and his Rheem team will return to the track next weekend at Phoenix Raceway for race four of the 2018 season. Coverage of the race begins at 3:30 PM ET live on Fox Sports 1, MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio.
How much did you enjoy racing for the lead against Kyle Larson?
“It would have been nice to get up there and get the lead, but I knew if I could get Kyle (Larson) out there we’d be able to race it out. I have to say, I hope Pete Willoughby and Keith Kunz are watching this because they were the two that put both me and Kyle on the national scene and it’s really cool to be able to run one-two. I guess Keith Kunz Motorsports alumni! Proud of all of our partners at Rheem, Ruud, GameStop, Toyota, TRD and all the fans for coming out here and all the fans that watched at home on the Xfinity X1 app. It was a lot of fun racing and I hope it was a lot of fun watching.”
Third in Atlanta and second here in Las Vegas, do you feel another win is getting closer?
“Let’s hope that means something for Phoenix. I had a really, really good Rheem Camry today and it was a lot of fun to race. We fell off a little bit on that center part of the race, but I guess if you’re going to struggle, that’s the time to struggle, but they got this thing tuned up and we got up in the right lines and got a couple good restarts to get back up front. I think if I could have cleared Larson and had clean air, I’m not sure he would have been able to get back by me. He was out front and I couldn’t get by him. Second-place today so we’re inching closer to that win.”
How much fun was the racing today?
“That was a blast, that was as good as it gets right there. It ended up being a lot of fun today, you could move around really good and get different lines going. As race car drivers, that’s what you like.”