Bell Completes Daytona Duel Sweep For Toyota

Bell

Christopher Bell celebrates after winning the second Bluegreen Vacations Duel at Daytona Int'l Speedway. (Toyota Racing photo)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It may not have been a full-fledged points victory, but Christopher Bell finally exorcized a few of his superspeedway demons Thursday night in the second Bluegreen Vacations Duel at Daytona Int’l Speedway.

Leading only the final lap, Bell surged to the lead coming off turn two when his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin lost momentum after getting too far out ahead of the lead pack.

After being pushed around the outside of Hamlin by the Fords of Harrison Burton and Austin Cindric, Bell was able to hang on for the win when Cindric ducked to Burton’s inside in a fight for second place.

That allowed Bell to cruise back to the checkered flag, winning by .113 seconds over Cindric for the first Duel qualifying race victory of his NASCAR Cup Series career.

It gave the new Toyota Camry XSE a sweep of the two Bluegreen Vacations Duels Thursday night, after Tyler Reddick topped the first race for 23XI Racing. Toyota’s sweep of the Duels was its first since 2014.

Bell also became the first NASCAR Cup Series driver to notch wins on both the Daytona oval and the track’s 3.56-mile road course configuration. His first Cup Series victory was on the road course in 2021.

“Man, this feels good,” said Bell after climbing from his racecar. “These plate races, man, I don't know what to think of them. Me and [crew chief] Adam Stevens, we have a running joke, and I say these races are 100 percent luck. I know that’s not true, but it seems like we’ve struggled to get to the end of them.

“I know I’ve been a common denominator in a lot of the wrecks, but it feels good to do everything well today and end up in victory lane at the end of it,” Bell added. “I was really nervous on that last restart because I saw pretty much the whole field was lined up on the outside, and we didn’t have many on the inside, but it all worked out. These Toyota’s were super, super fast and John Hunter (Nemechek), myself and Denny (Hamlin) were able to connect and get back up front.

“Once we got clear, the top started coming, and it was just a matter of trying to block their run and pick it up without getting hooked, which thankfully, I did without getting hooked.”

Daytona 500 outside polesitter Michael McDowell, starting from the point of a Duel qualifying race for the first time in his career, led the first six laps with help from a line of Ford Mustang Dark Horses on the bottom of the racetrack.

However, he lost control of the lead pack when a fierce battle between William Byron and Riley Herbst came to the fore, with Byron and Herbst trading the top spot four times between one another over the next eight circuits.

A brief lead by A.J. Allmendinger was short-lived, with Herbst retaking command on lap 17 and holding serve until the Toyota tandem of Bubba Wallace and Christopher Bell drafted to the front and proceeded to stay there. Wallace led the next 21 laps uncontested before green-flag pit stops stirred up the order.

Three groups of cars pitted on subsequent laps, with Wallace leading the first set down on lap 42, McDowell bringing half of the Fords in on lap 43, and Harrison Burton bringing the remaining five cars in for their stops at the end of lap 44.

That led to McDowell regaining control of the field with 15 to go as the pit stops cycled out, with a huge run to the outside and help from Denny Hamlin and Austin Cindric propelling McDowell back to the point just before calamity broke out.

Coming to 12 to go in the tri-oval, a push from Brad Keselowski to Kyle Busch in the outside lane sent Busch into the back of a slowing Byron, after Byron got out of shape and lost a bit of momentum as he came up off the bottom slightly.

The contact sent Byron spinning down into the right-rear of Ryan Blaney, hooking Blaney hard into the outside SAFER Barrier and sparking a fire onboard the No. 12 Team Penske Ford as it skidded to rest.

In all, 11 cars were collected as a multi-car accident broke out, leading to a red-flag period of nearly nine minutes while track workers cleared the carnage. Eliminated at that point were the Fords of Josh Berry, Noah Gragson, Blaney and Herbst, as well as the Chevrolet of Busch – who was swept up in the chaos.

Racing resumed with eight laps left and saw McDowell maintain control of the top spot until lap 55, when the lead pack shuffled at the front after the Toyota trio of Hamlin, Bell, and John Hunter Nemechek moved forward on the bottom lane.

Three-wide action ensued moments later, with McDowell bailing out to the third lane and falling to the rear of the lead pack to preserve his racecar for Sunday’s Great American Race.

That left Hamlin and Bell up front to settle things, and it appeared that the three-time Daytona 500 winner would add a fourth Duel win to his resume at the World Center of Racing before Bell’s late move to steal the victory.

“I probably needed to cover the top there a little bit better,” tipped Hamlin, who crossed the line in third. “It was really a good move by [Bell] to get the momentum. It started to get stirred up behind him there [at the white], and I was trying everything I could to block both lanes, but you just can’t do that here.

“All in all, a really good, solid day. We got some information to learn from and we’ll go race on Sunday.”

Nemechek and Burton filled out the top five at the finish, followed by rookie Zane Smith, Keselowski, Byron, Chase Briscoe, and Justin Haley.

In the battle to make the Daytona 500, young Kaz Grala outraced journeyman B.J. McLeod on the last lap.

Using a draft on the bottom lane and help from fellow non-chartered driver David Ragan – who was already locked into the Daytona 500 by virtue of this qualifying speed – Grala surged forward coming to the finish line and crossed ahead of McLeod by .067 seconds to clinch his third Daytona 500 start.

McLeod, who was running as high as third during the first half of the second Duel, received some damage in the lap-48 crash but soldiered on. Grala was 12th at the finish, while McLeod ended up 14th.

Bell’s Duel victory places him on the outside of row two for Sunday’s 66th Daytona 500, alongside fellow Duel winner Reddick.

NASCAR Cup Series cars return to the track at Daytona Int’l Speedway Friday for the first of two practice sessions prior to the Great American Race. On-track action begins at 5:30 p.m. ET, live on FS1.

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About Jacob Seelman

Jacob Seelman is Motorsports Hotspot’s News Editor and Race Face Digital’s Director of Content, as well as a veteran of more than a decade in the racing industry as a professional, though he’s spent his entire life in the garage and pit area.