- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Christopher Bell said he didn’t think his car would be able to catch up to leader Joey Logano in the final laps of NASCAR’s Cup race at the Daytona road course. Bell had fresher tires, but Logano was far out in front, and Bell had damage and significant tire rub on his No. 20 Toyota.
“Honestly, I didn’t think I was gonna get there,” Bell said on FOX. “Adam on the pit box kept telling me that I was gonna get there.”
And he did. Bell caught up with Logano heading into the final turn just before the white flag. He made his pass on the outside, then led the last lap of the race for his first Cup Series victory.
“This is definitely one of the highlights of my life so far,” said Bell, who is in his second full-time season in NASCAR’s highest series and in his first year driving full-time in Cup for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Logano finished in second and Denny Hamlin, who won the second stage, finished in third. Chase Elliott won the first stage of the race but finished in 21st after leading 44 laps. Bell led five laps of the 70-lap race, including the most important one: the final one.
Christopher Bell steals the show
Bell’s breakout night started long before his win. He was tracking down Chase Elliott, who was running in first, in the final stage before a caution for light rain showers came out with 15 laps to go. Bell finished the first stage in 12th and the second stage in fourth.
“Last year, the road courses were not my best finishes, but speed-wise, I was really fast at both of them,” Bell said. “So I certainly knew we would be in contention, or at least competitive, today.”
Bell pitted, along with Elliott for the lead, during the first in a series of late-lap cautions that started with rain. Logano stayed out to take first place off the restart and held onto first following multiple cautions as drivers spun into the grass.
Bell’s car suffered some damage when Martin Truex Jr. wheel-hopped mid-pack and spun out during the final 10 laps, but the 26-year-old driver missed any major wreckage. He then powered past Kurt Busch for second place, overcoming tire rub and damage, and finally past Logano for his first win in the series.
“We spent a lot of time this off-season talking about building a foundation, scoring some points, getting the finishes that we have coming to us,” Bell’s crew chief Adam Stevens said. “I didn’t imagine we’d win our second race together, but happy to do so...Now that we have one under our belt, I think we can get a few more.”
It’s the second win in two days for a JGR driver after Ty Gibbs, the 18-year-old grandson of team owner Joe Gibbs, won his first race in the Xfinity Series on Saturday. Bell’s win also marks another first-time Cup win for a driver in the opening races of the 2021 season after Michael McDowell won the Daytona 500.
The last time the first two race winners in a NASCAR season were first-time winners was in 1950. The only other time that’s happened was the year before that, in 1949.
Late heartbreak for Chase Elliott
Bell called Elliott the “benchmark” for road course racing and was following his lead when it came to pit stops and strategy as the race was winding to a close. But Elliott’s night ended with a bottom-half finish after contact with Brad Keselowski sent him spinning from the top-10 with six laps to go.
Elliott was shooting for his fifth straight road course win, and nearly made a run at the end, but it was Bell who came out on top. Elliott attempted to move in between Keselowski and Denny Hamlin, and ended up wrecking as Hamlin and Keselowski drove on in the final laps.
After an early commanding performance, Elliott’s night went downhill in the final 15 laps. After a call to pit for tires that took him out of first, Elliott drove into the grass as the field ran three- and four-wide. He saved himself from a near-wreck, but fell to 14th place. Within the next few laps, Elliott made contact with Corey LaJoie in Turn 5 after a restart. Although he was able to keep going, a final spin off Keselowski forced him out of contention.
He said he thought pitting for tires was the right move late in the race, but there were just, “too many mistakes.”
“Tires won the race, so I think it was the right move,” Elliott said. “You get back in traffic and it just gets to be so chaotic. Then just depending on who gets through and who doesn’t kind of determines how it’s going to shake out.”
Tough tire track, but teams scrap through
NASCAR’s pre-race track modifications appeared to help keep cars from sliding through the infield grass. There were fewer instances of overshot turns and cars flying from the lead, as was standard in the Busch Clash on the same course, but late-lap cautions and destroyed tires was still a prominent theme.
Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell overshot the very first turn in the opening minutes of the race. Coming off his first career win on the superspeedway, McDowell was able to get back into the top-10 for an eighth-place finish. That was after remnants of his shredded tire brought out the first caution of the evening.
Kurt Busch also slid from the lead during the final stage, and Brad Keselowski suffered an early flat tire and contact with multiple drivers that looked like it would do more serious damage. Both drivers (surprisingly) finished with top-five results. Busch finished in fourth and Keselowski finished fifth, clawing back from spins and flat, to ultimately prove that scrapping and strategy are king at NASCAR’s road courses.
NASCAR race results
Martin Truex Jr.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.