Christopher Bell holds off Noah Gragson for Xfinity win at Richmond

RICHMOND, VA - APRIL 20: Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 Rheem Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway on April 20, 2018 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

RICHMOND, Va. – In a long green-flag run fraught with spellbinding tension, Christopher Bell held off Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Noah Gragson to win Friday night’s ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway.

Bell spoiled Gragson’s prospects for a victory in his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut, passing his teammate for the lead on Lap 172 of 250 and staying in front—if only just barely—the rest of the way.

Bell crossed the finish line .423 seconds ahead of Gragson, after the driver of the No. 18 Toyota got to the bumper of Bell’s No. 20 in the closing laps.

Virginia native Elliott Sadler ran third and claimed a $100,000 Xfinity Dash 4 Cash bonus, though he remained winless and frustrated at his home track. It was Sadler’s fourth career win under the Dash 4 Cash program.

“I had to work for it,” Bell said of his second career victory, his first of the season and his first at Richmond. “My teammate was really good. I knew throughout both practices that both of our cars were going to be really strong.

“Joe Gibbs Racing has been producing really, really fast Camrys for the last couple weeks, and it’s really shown… All in all, it was enough to stay in front of him at the end.”

During the final 79-lap run, Gragson fell behind by as much as 1.5 seconds, but when Bell hit traffic, Gragson closed in trimming his deficit to a half-second with 20 laps left. At the 18-to-go mark, Gragson turned up the pressure and closed up to Bell’s rear bumper in the final laps but couldn’t get in position to make a clean winning move.

“It’s tough,” Gragson said of his first Xfinity start. “I found a little something in the track, a little speed there at the end of the second stage on old tires, and I kept it in my memory banks till the end, and I told my team, ‘I’ve got something when it’s time to go—just tell me when.’

“And about 18 to go, I told them, ‘I can’t wait any longer; I don’t have any more patience.’ And I ran Christopher down about two or three car lengths.”

Matt Tifft ran fourth in the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, followed by Austin Cindric with a career-best fifth. Bell, Sadler, Tifft and Cindric earned eligibility for the Dash 4 Cash bonus next Saturday at Talladega.

Sadler won the second stage, got the bonus and retained the series lead by 29 points over Bell but said he would trade the cash for a win at Richmond.

“I had a real strong run in that second stage,” Sadler said. “I was just a little bit tighter (handling) than I wanted to be at the end of the race. We can’t hang our heads. We won the Dash 4 Cash, and we’re part of the Dash 4 Cash going to Talladega next week, too.

“But we always want to win at this race track, and it’s a shame to come up short tonight.”

Pole winner Cole Custer ran sixth, followed by Ryan Truex, Jeremy Clements, Ryan Reed and Brandon Jones.

NASCAR Xfinity Series Race Results ToyotaCare 250

Richmond Raceway

Richmond, Virginia

Friday, April 20, 2018

1. (2) Christopher Bell #, Toyota, 250.

2. (11) Noah Gragson(i), Toyota, 250.

3. (8) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 250.

4. (12) Matt Tifft, Chevrolet, 250.

5. (3) Austin Cindric #, Ford, 250.

6. (1) Cole Custer, Ford, 250.

7. (6) Ryan Truex, Chevrolet, 250.

8. (26) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 250.

9. (13) Ryan Reed, Ford, 250.

10. (18) Brandon Jones, Toyota, 250.

11. (10) Tyler Reddick #, Chevrolet, 250.

12. (14) Jeb Burton, Chevrolet, 250.

13. (5) John H. Nemechek, Chevrolet, 250.

14. (7) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 250.

15. (27) JJ Yeley, Chevrolet, 249.

16. (19) Alex Labbe #, Chevrolet, 249.

17. (17) Spencer Gallagher, Chevrolet, 249.

18. (16) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 249.

19. (21) Brandon Brown, Chevrolet, 249.

20. (9) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 249.

21. (24) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 249.

22. (23) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 248.

23. (30) Tommy Joe Martins, Chevrolet, 247.

24. (35) Tony Mrakovich, Ford, 247.

25. (20) Joe Nemechek(i), Chevrolet, 247.

26. (15) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 246.

27. (28) Garrett Smithley, Chevrolet, 246.

28. (34) Spencer Boyd #, Chevrolet, 246.

29. (4) Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, 246.

30. (22) Kaz Grala #, Ford, 245.

31. (38) Vinnie Miller #, Chevrolet, 244.

32. (36) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 244.

33. (37) Josh Bilicki #, Toyota, 244.

34. (33) Chad Finchum #, Toyota, 238.

35. (25) David Starr, Chevrolet, 229.

36. (40) Mike Harmon, Dodge, Clutch, 133.

37. (29) Stephen Leicht, Toyota, Brakes, 128.

38. (39) Timmy Hill, Dodge, Fuel Pump, 107.

39. (31) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, Brakes, 32.

40. (32) Jeff Green, Chevrolet, Electrical, 26.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  93.284 mph.

Time of Race:  2 Hrs, 00 Mins, 36 Secs. Margin of Victory:  0.423 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  5 for 39 laps.

Lead Changes:  9 among 6 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   C. Custer 1-43; C. Bell # 44-68; D. Hemric 69-79; J. Nemechek 80-115; C. Bell # 116-131; E. Sadler 132-154; N. Gragson(i) 155; E. Sadler 156-162; N. Gragson(i) 163-171; C. Bell # 172-250.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  C. Bell # 3 times for 120 laps; C. Custer 1 time for 43 laps; J. Nemechek 1 time for 36 laps; E. Sadler 2 times for 30 laps; D. Hemric 1 time for 11 laps; N. Gragson(i) 2 times for 10 laps.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 21,20,00,3,1,2,9,19,42,22

Stage #2 Top Ten: 1,18,2,20,00,42,19,9,22,11

About Greg Engle 7420 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.