Rookie on a roll: Bell sets victory mark at Dover in Xfinity race

Christopher Bell celebrates after winning Saturday’s Xfinity race. Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder

DOVER — There was only one thing on Christopher Bell’s mind during a frenzied finish in the Bar Harbor 200 Xfinity Series race at Dover International Speedway on Saturday — stay in front of any potential chaos.

Mission accomplished.

Bell was able to successfully do that as he finished an up-and-down day in “up-mode” and cruised to a record sixth victory of his rookie season by about five car-lengths over Cole Custer at the Monster Mile.

Bell broke a tie for the Xfinity rookie mark for most wins in a season that he had shared with Greg Biffle, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards.

Christopher Bell does a burnout after winning the Xfinity Bar Harbor 200 at Dover International Speedway on Saturday. Special to the Delaware State News/Pete Hinson

It was Bell’s first triumph in the Xfinity Series at Dover in just his second visit to the track.

“This means the world to me,” said Bell, a 23-year-old driver from Norman, Oklahoma. “To be able to have the season that we’ve had, it’s been a pretty good year for me and it’s all credit to everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing and my crew chief Jason Ratcliff and everyone who works back at the shop.

“We have really fast race cars every time we go to the race track and all of our partners deserve it.”

Justin Allgaier and non-playoff drivers Ryan Preece and Spencer Gallagher rounded out the top-five finishers.

The Bar Harbor 200 was the last of three races in the opening round of NASCAR’s playoffs, as the top eight drivers in the points standings at the finish remained in the hunt in a battle for the championship.

Christopher Bell wins Saturday’s Xfinity race. Special to the Delaware State News/Chuck Snyder

Bell had already clinched his spot in the Round of 8 by virtue of his win at Richmond in the opening race of the playoffs.

Following a couple of routine 45-lap stages at Dover — with Bell in front at the end of the first and Daniel Hemric in front at the end of the second — the final stage was met with an increase in intensity as pressure increased on the drivers.

Ross Chastain and Matt Tifft, fighting for the final transfer spot into the Round of 8, brought the caution flag out on lap 179 after Chastain nudged Tifft’s car as he tried to pass him on the bottom in the fourth turn.

Chase Briscoe, driving on the outside, was caught up in the contact when Tifft washed up the racetrack, causing Briscoe to spin into the outside wall.

That set up a restart with 16 laps to go and Bell was able to keep Custer in his rear-view mirror on Dover’s high-banked, one-mile oval.

“It was pretty stressful,” Custer said. “I was pretty worried, but I think our team did an awesome job. This race we made our car 10 times better and that’s a testament to our team and this next round’s going to be more of our strong suit – the mile-and-half tracks and stuff like that. I’m looking forward to it.”

Joining Bell in the Round of 8 are: Allgaier (finished third); Hemric (seventh); Custer (second); Elliott Sadler (11th); Tyler Reddick (14th); Tifft (15th) and Austin Cindric (eighth).

Chastain came up just three points shy of advancing in the playoffs with a 13th-place finish.

“There were too many mistakes on my part,” Chastain said. “I just tried to do the best I could. We had the car to do it.”

As for that late-race contact with Tifft, Chastain said, “I’m not sorry at all. I don’t apologize for what I do on the racetrack, I bring my friends with me. It’s racing, man. It’s awesome. We were in the heart of it.”

Joining Chastain as drivers who were eliminated from championship contention after the race at Dover were: Ryan Reed, Ryan Truex and Brandon Jones.

Bell led a race-high 110 laps in an event that featured four cautions, including two for the completions of stages, and had six different leaders.

But it wasn’t a completely smooth ride for Bell at Dover on Saturday. He dropped back to eighth place near the race’s midway point when his pit crew had a slow pit stop.

Bell wasn’t about to point fingers.

“We’re all in this together and I’ve sped down pit road before and butchered restarts and they don’t yell at me, so it’s not my job to tee off on them,” he said. “They know … and they came back better than ever.”

Despite already having his position locked in for the second round of the playoffs entering Dover, Bell said he raced with the same mentality — to win — and he eventually made his way back to the front of the pack.

“To say that I raced any different than any other day, probably not,” Bell said. “We put our emphasis on winning stages and winning races.

“I was able to be really aggressive. For the most part it was the same mentality and it paid off.”

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