The NASCAR XFINITY Series (NXS) took to the track this weekend at ISM Raceway for their first of two stops during the 2018 season at the one-mile speedway located in Avondale, AZ. Christopher Bell and his Rheem team continued their hot streak, earning the fourth starting position on Saturday morning, running a time of 26.933 seconds around the one-mile oval. After two lengthy rain delays, and a battle for the lead with Cup Series regular Brad Keselowski with 36 laps remaining in the race, Bell and his Rheem team ultimately crossed the finish line in the fourth position, good enough for their third-consecutive top-four finish on the young season.
Following the drop of the green flag, Bell picked up two spots on lap one, and settled into fourth by lap five of the race. Bell continued his hold inside the top five until the first caution flag of the afternoon waved on lap 26 for fluid on the track. Staying out under the caution, Bell restarted in fourth on lap 33. Picking up another spot on the restart, Bell settled into third by lap 35 and was scored in second when the caution flag waved once again on lap 45, signaling the end of stage one. With rain falling over the speedway, NASCAR called the cars down pit road and a one hour and thirty-four-minute red flag ensued. Once the red flag was lifted, crew chief Jason Ratcliff called Bell down pit road for four tires, fuel and a round of adjustments to the Rheem Camry. With teams on varying pit strategies, Bell and his Rheem team restarted the second stage in eighth on lap 53.
With his Camry dialed in for the second stage, Bell was scored in fifth by lap 55 and third when the caution flag waved once again on lap 82 for a wreck in turn three. Under the caution, Ratcliff once again called Bell down pit road for four tires, fuel and another round of adjustments to the Rheem Camry. Following pit stops, NASCAR once again called the field down pit road as rain once again fell in the desert. After another 25-minute delay, Bell restarted 13th on lap 89 as the field was once again on varying pit strategies. Following the one-lap shootout to end the stage, Bell was scored in 10th when the caution flag waved once again on lap 90, the end of stage two. Staying out under the caution, Bell restarted the final stage in second on lap 96.
Following the restart, Bell slipped to fourth by lap 100, but with his Camry dialed in for the long run, Bell picked up one spot by lap 115 and was scored in second by lap 153. Running down the race leader, Brad Keselowski, as the laps clicked away, Bell finally made the pass for the lead with 36 laps remaining in the race. Stretching out his lead after making the pass, Ratcliff called Bell down pit road for his final pit stop of the afternoon on lap 168. Following a four tire stop, Bell returned to the track in second on lap 169. Once green-flag pit stops cycled through, Bell and his Rheem team were scored in third with 21 laps remaining. Fighting a loose Rheem Camry following the stop, Bell continued to battle and ultimately crossed the finish line in the fourth position when the checkered flag waved.
With his fourth-place finish, Bell was the top-finishing Rookie in the race and earned his third-consecutive top-four finish.
Bell will have a new paint scheme next weekend as GameStop will make their first of 10 appearances on the No. 20 next weekend at Auto Club Speedway. Coverage of the race begins at 3:30 PM ET live on Fox Sports 1, MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio.
What happened after that final pit stop?
“I don’t know. I don’t know if the track changed or the car changed. We started the race on qualifying tires and then we sticky tires on. I am sure it changed a little bit but I couldn’t feel much inside the car. I am really bummed we didn’t get a better finish after that long run and taking the lead. I really felt like we had something for him. Our Rheem Camry was really strong on the long run and we lacked on the short run. We were just a little bit too loose. I am still proud of our partners Rheem, GameStop, Toyota and TRD (Toyota Racing Development). Thank you for the fans for sticking it out today and we’ll try to get another top finish next week.”
Was it difficult starting and stopping so much today with rain delays?
“It felt like we were in a heat race and then a feature. Honestly, I couldn’t tell or feel the track change that much. I don’t know if Justin (Allgaier) felt similar or what. As far as track conditions changing from rubber-ed up to not rubber-ed up, I couldn’t really tell much of a difference.”
Do the lengthy delays affect you at all?
“I don’t feel like it affects me at all. Once you get in the racecar, you enter a different mindset when you put your helmet on. It’s kind of like light switch on, light switch off. For me, it didn’t affect me.”
Were you surprised the last stage went as green as it did for that long?
“I was happy it did. At the beginning of the race, my car felt really good. I just never had the speed to get up front in my car. I was struggling a little bit. I knew if I could get a 60-70 lap run my balance would match that really well and it did. I just wish I would have communicated better to Jason (Ratcliff) my crew chief of what I needed more because that was disheartening to take the lead and fall back after the pit stop.”