Bell completes weekend sweep winning historic NASCAR Cup race at New Hampshire

LOUDON, NEW HAMPSHIRE - JUNE 23: Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 Rheem Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Today 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on June 23, 2024 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Neither rain nor dark of night will keep Christopher Bell from victory lane it seems. Bell was able to persevere and survive an overtime finish in one of wildest races in the history of NASCAR Sunday at New Hampshire to complete a weekend sweep after he won the Xfinity race on Saturday.

It was a race with two totally different acts. Act 1 a race with dry conditions, then after a delay of just over two hours, there was Act 2 that had NASCAR finishing the race on wet weather tires.

Bell was center stage in both Acts and star of the show. He led a race high 149 laps and won Stage 1. Then after the delay retook the lead as the field raced on a damp track and held on for his third win of 2024. It was also his seventh overall win in 11 National series starts at New Hampshire for Bell.

“You never know how this thing is going to shake out whenever you change so many things like that and the adverse conditions,” Bell said. “I personally love adverse conditions because you’re always trying to think outside the box.”

Mother Nature gave the sport an opportunity to put on a dazzling display not seen in the history of NASCAR as cars not only raced on wet weather tires but raced competitively.  The ability to adapt was the name of the day and for once the talent of the drivers was on full display.

With the threat of severe weather in the forecast the race start was moved up 30 minutes and wet weather tires ready, but they were never used.  And that caused a bit of controversy late in the race.

For much of the early part of the race it appeared it would be a Joe Gibbs Racing show. Bell took the lead from polesitter Chase Elliott on lap 42 after erasing a lead for Elliott that for a time hovered near 3 seconds.

Bell would go on to win Stage 1. Bell would go on to lead 85 laps in that first part of the race, a total spilt by his JGR teammate Denny Hamlin who grabbed the top spot on lap 145 and went on to win Stage 2 that ended on lap 185.

Four of the races eight cautions came in the final stage as radar showed showers and severe weather creeping closer. Tyler Reddick’s 23XI crew gambled and elected to stay out at the end of Stage 2 while the leaders pitted. Reddick had pitted on lap 156 but held the lead starting on lap 194 and was leading when light rain started falling on lap 218 just after the race’s eighth caution came out for a Kyle Busch spin on lap 217.

NASCAR stopped scoring the field and brought them to pit road putting out the red flag a lap later.  As the drivers climbed from their cars and light rain fell for nearly 30 minutes, drivers, fans, and teams complained that the conditions were perfect for the rain tires.

NASCAR, however, saw a larger cell moving in and opted to wait it out. And in the end that seemed to be the right decision as NASCAR was able to finish the race with wet weather tires.

Once the heavy rain came through NASCAR had their drying equipment work on standing water around the track not to dry the racing surface. Officials told the teams to prepare the cars for wet weather including the tires.

NASCAR also allowed teams to add fuel to the cars, a fortuitous move for Reddick’s team as he was in dire need of fuel, and had the race continued under green much longer prior to the rain, he would have been forced to pit from the lead.

After a delay of just over two hours, and for the first time since they started using them, the race resumed with wet weather tires. In previous instances wet weather tires were used at the start of a race until the track was dry enough to switch to slicks.

While running laps under caution, Busch saw his day come to an end. Busch, who had been struggling all day long saw his Chevrolet suddenly careen into the outside wall coming into Turn 4. He came to a stop and was done for the day.

When the green flew with 60 to go, what resulted was a wild restart that had cars running in the apron of the track all the way up to the wall.

There would be 6 of the 14 cautions on the day during the closing laps during which the field not only raced the twilight but more rain creeping in. Bell, however, would not relinquish the lead and held off the Stewart-Haas Racing duo of Chase Briscoe and Josh Berry on an overtime finish set up when Brad Keselowski went for a solo spin with 2 laps to go.

“You know, whenever we went back out, I was feeling around,” Bell said. “And it felt like the normal Loudon groove was really, really slippery. So I tried to just run down or run up, and Adam put the tune on this thing, and it was turning really good.”

Briscoe held on for second, Berry third, with Kyle Larson and Chris Buescher completing the top five.

“The rain saved us for sure,” Briscoe said. “We were terrible in the dry. We knew typically on the road courses and even the ovals that we’ve ran in the rain we’ve been pretty good truthfully. I didn’t expect to drive up to second, but yeah, really good recovery as far as that Ford.”

While not perfect, NASCAR’s decision to put on the wet weather tires gave fans an entire race with the checkered flag coming less than 30 minutes from sunset at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, which has no lights.

“I thought it was really good truthfully,” Briscoe said. “I think we could have probably started with the track a little bit wetter. The beginning was pretty fun. We were all over the place. Five wide at times and slipping and sliding around.

“It’s been really encouraging I think to see kind of the wet weather progression of how aggressive we’ve been with it, and I think we can continue to do that. Even from a visibility standpoint, it was totally fine with no wipers, anything.

“Yeah, I’m all for rain racing on the ovals and even on the road courses too. Hopefully we can get some more of it.”

Reddick was sixth, Ricky Stenhouse seventh, with John Hunter Nemechek, Martin Truex Jr. and Ross Chastain rounding out the top 10.

Polesitter Elliott was 18th, and Stage 2 winner Hamlin 24th

Ironically Bell’s last win came at Charlotte last month when he won a rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600.

“Hey, guys, this one didn’t get shortened,” Bell told the crowd Sunday night.

The NASCAR Cup series heads to Nashville Superspeedway next Sunday. Ross Chastain is the defending winner.


Photos: NASCAR at New Hampshire Motor Speedway Sunday June 23, 2024

Greg Engle