Bell, Blaney wonder just what the heck happened at Gateway

MADISON, ILLINOIS - JUNE 02: Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 DEWALT Toyota, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Enjoy Illinois 300 at WWT Raceway on June 02, 2024 in Madison, Illinois. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Perhaps nowhere in North America, and maybe the world, were two people more disappointed than Christopher Bell and Ryan Blaney were Sunday evening.

Both stood on pit road at World Wide Technology Raceway near St. Louis wondering what had just happened.

Bell led the most laps in the 240 laps race, 80, and swept both stages. While Blaney, thanks to smart pit strategy, held the lead in the final laps.

Blaney had inherited that lead when Brad Keselowski pitted from the top spot 30 laps from the finish ending a round of green flag stops and putting Blaney out front. Bell had been close by the entire time and soon the two were fighting side by side to the race win.

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It all ended 18 laps before the finish when Bell reported possible engine issues with his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and slowed.

“I have no idea what happened,” Bell said. “Some sort of motor issue. I’m surprised that I made it to the end. Glad we were able to salvage something out of it.

“You don’t get race cars like that very often. Whenever you do, you need to take advantage of it. Disappointing day.”

That left Blaney with a lead of just over two seconds ahead of his Team Penske teammate Austin Cindric. The trophy seemed to be waiting for Blaney, who hadn’t won since last fall, but as he crossed the line to take the white flag his Ford sputtered then slowed, out of fuel.

Cindric would charge by for the win, while Blaney was left to coast across the line 24th. Blaney said later he had no idea he was low on fuel.

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“Never thought in my mind we were short,” Blaney said. “One of those things. Gosh, proud of the 12 boys. We were fast. Had my work cut out for me holding out of Christopher. That was a fun battle. I don’t know what happened to him.

“Yeah, one lap short, which just stinks. Congrats to the 2 team. They did a good job all day. Props to them. Austin. Proud for Team Penske and Ford.

“Really happy with our showing today. I don’t know what I got to do to get some luck on our side. Gosh, wrecked the last two points races. Thought we had a great shot to win today. Ended up bad.”

Bell at least was able to salvage a top 10 effort, thanks in part of his JGR teammate Martin Truex Jr. who was two laps down after a flat tire earlier forced him in for an unscheduled pit stop under green. Truex pushed Bell in the closing laps, allowing Bell to nurse enough speed from his ailing car to come home seventh.

“That was awesome,” Bell said. “He’s probably saved us a top 10 out of the day. Martin is a standup guy.”

MADISON, ILLINOIS – JUNE 02: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Richmond Water Heaters Ford, (L) congratulates Austin Cindric, driver of the #2 Freightliner Ford, in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Enjoy Illinois 300 at WWT Raceway on June 02, 2024 in Madison, Illinois. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Greg Engle