Bell Surges Late For Phoenix Cup Series Score


Christopher Bell celebrates with a burnout at Phoenix Raceway. (Mike Meajhws/LAT for Toyota Racing photo)

AVONDALE, Ariz. — There were so many variables in Christopher Bell’s victory in Sunday’s Shriners Children’s 500 at Phoenix Raceway that it was difficult to pinpoint the determining factor.

First, Toyota introduced a new body style in the NASCAR Cup Series this season. Second, NASCAR debuted a new short-track competition package in Sunday’s race. Third, the Toyotas unloaded for Friday’s 50-minute practice with consistent speed — allowing them to test their long-run prowess.

That combination of items conjured up a decisive victory for Bell at a track where Toyota drivers had led a total of 15 laps in four Next-Gen-era races combined.

Bell and his Camry comrades turned that statistic upside down Sunday, combining to lead 298 of 312 laps. After Denny Hamlin started from the pole, all four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers led significant periods of the race — Hamlin with 68 laps led, Ty Gibbs with 57, Martin Truex Jr. with 55, and Bell with 50.

Tyler Reddick, a 23XI Racing Toyota driver, contributed another 68 laps led as Chevrolet’s three-race winning streak to start the season was snapped.

While some drivers had difficulty in dirty air, Bell’s No. 20 Camry had no trouble passing cars, coming from 20th on a lap-221 restart to claim the lead and beat Ford driver and runner-up Chris Buescher to the finish line by a distant 5.465 seconds.

“Man, this one feels really good,” said Bell, who was eliminated from last year’s Championship 4 race at Phoenix when his brake rotor exploded. “Just a credit to (crew chief) Adam (Stevens), man. Adam, my engineers … all the mechanics on this thing.

“You don't get cars like that very often, as many know,” Bell added. “Just super, super proud. Proud to be on this [No.] 20 team. This Rheem Camry was amazing today. I feel like we have the capability of running races like this a lot. Hopefully, this is the first of many this year.”

The victory was Bell’s first at Phoenix and the seventh of his Cup Series career.

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Divergent pit strategies under the sixth and final caution for Hamlin’s spin in turn two on lap 215 — as he broke loose to the inside of Reddick’s car while fighting for the lead — scrambled the running order, with Truex and eight other drivers staying on track while the rest of the field came to pit road.

With the final 92 laps running caution-free, Truex had to pit for fuel and tires on lap 272, surrendering the lead to Bell, who held it the rest of the way.

After crashing out and finishing 37th last Sunday at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway, Buescher was happy with his solid second-place run.

“I didn’t quite see the 20 (Bell) there at the end, so I know they were lights-out,” Buescher said. “We have some work to do to get to that point. What thrills me is we were by no means perfect on balance, so we have a lot of room to make this thing better, which is awesome.”

Gibbs, who regained track position with a two-tire pit stop on lap 218, came home third in a career-best finish. Brad Keselowski ran fourth, two spots behind his Roush Fenway Keselowski teammate; and reigning Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney came home fifth.

That run by Blaney ended a streak of three straight runner-up finishes at the one-mile track in the Sonoran Desert.

Ross Chastain, who won at Phoenix last November, was sixth. Truex worked his way through the field on fresher tires to finish seventh, while Michael McDowell, Chase Briscoe, and Reddick closed the top 10.

Hamlin finished 11th after his lap-215 spin.

Blaney overtook 14th-place finisher Kyle Larson for the series point lead. He leaves Phoenix 10 markers ahead of Larson and Truex, who are tied for second in the standings.

Of note, Chastain was the only Chevrolet driver to finish in the top 12, while the only non-Toyota driver to lead laps Sunday was Todd Gilliland.

Gilliland ran long in his Front Row Motorsports Ford during a cycle of green-flag pit stops in stage two and held the top spot for 14 circuits.

Reddick won the first stage, and Bell claimed victory in the second stage before winning the race outright.

The NASCAR Cup Series season continues on March 17 with the Food City 500 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. Brad Keselowski won the most recent spring race on the Bristol concrete in 2020.

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