HAMPTON, Ga. – Christopher Bell unquestionably had the dominant truck in Saturday’s Active Pest Control 200, but, in the end, the driver of the No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Tundra had to work hard for the third NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory of his career.
In the nightcap of a NASCAR doubleheader at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bell held off fellow Tundra driver Matt Crafton in a two-lap shootout to the finish for his first win of the 2017 season.
Austin Cindric’s spin on Lap 124 of 130 brought out the eighth and final caution of the race and set up the final two-lap dash. Bell restarted on the inside on Lap 129, with Crafton in the outside lane. Crafton held his own through the first two corners, but Bell pulled ahead on the backstretch and finally cleared Crafton’s No. 88 Toyota off Turn 4.
One lap later, Bell crossed the finish line .447 seconds ahead of Crafton, with defending series champion Johnny Sauter trailing the lead pair in third place. Ben Rhodes ran fourth, followed by Chase Elliott and Grand Enfinger, who tangled with Cindric to cause the final caution.
“I was just trying to do everything I could to get the best restart I could,” Bell said. “I didn’t want to get my momentum broken. These Truck races are really tough to get restarts going, because it’s so aero-dependent.
“You can get all sorts of momentum or you can get all sorts of momentum taken away from you. That happened to me there in the middle section of the race.”
But the truck was there when it counted.
“It was just a dream machine. It was really, really good.”
Clearly, that was an understatement. Bell edged his team owner for the pole position in Saturday morning’s qualifying session and proceeded to lead the first 83 laps, claiming both the first and second 40-lap stage wins in the process.
In fact, Bell was so dominant in the second stage that crossed the stripe 8.030 seconds ahead of Busch, who nevertheless took the lead with an excellent pit stop, putting Bell in the outside lane for the start of Stage 3 on Lap 88.
Bell subsequently fell back to fifth in the running order, but after two cautions, he restarted from the inside lane on the third row on lap 113 and one lap later passed Crafton for the lead.
Busch, who won the NASCAR XFINITY Series race earlier in the day, fell back with a cut tire on the Lap 113 restart and finished 26th, but he could take solace from the quality of Bell’s effort – not to mention the progress the 22-year-old has made since Busch signed the open-wheel star to a full-time ride last year.
“We’re still trying to get the Sprint Car out of him,” Busch quipped after the race. “This kid grows up running 30-lap features, and after 30 laps his tires are worn out.”
On Saturday, however, Bell decisively overcame the “Days of Thunder” mentality Busch described, and with the race win and two stage victories, came away with all seven available playoff points in the process.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race – Active Pest Control 200
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Saturday, March 04, 2017
1. (1) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 130.
2. (7) Matt Crafton, Toyota, 130.
3. (6) Johnny Sauter, Chevrolet, 130.
4. (15) Ben Rhodes, Toyota, 130.
5. (9) Chase Elliott(i), Chevrolet, 130.
6. (5) Alex Bowman(i), Chevrolet, 130.
7. (18) Austin Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 130.
8. (14) Grant Enfinger #, Toyota, 130.
9. (8) Timothy Peters, Toyota, 130.
10. (24) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 130.
11. (13) Brett Moffitt, Toyota, 130.
12. (23) Regan Smith, Ford, 130.
13. (21) Ryan Truex, Toyota, 130.
14. (10) Noah Gragson #, Toyota, 130.
15. (12) Kaz Grala #, Chevrolet, 130.
16. (16) Cody Coughlin #, Toyota, 130.
17. (25) TJ Bell, Chevrolet, 130.
18. (27) Austin Hill, Ford, 130.
19. (20) Stewart Friesen #, Chevrolet, 130.
20. (30) Wendell Chavous, Chevrolet, 130.
21. (3) Austin Cindric #, Ford, 129.
22. (17) Korbin Forrister, Toyota, 128.
23. (26) Tommy Joe Martins, Chevrolet, 128.
24. (22) Joe Nemechek, Chevrolet, 128.
25. (4) Chase Briscoe #, Ford, 127.
26. (2) Kyle Busch(i), Toyota, 127.
27. (31) Mike Harmon(i), Chevrolet, 124.
28. (28) Jordan Anderson, Chevrolet, Accident, 102.
29. (11) John H Nemechek, Chevrolet, Accident, 79.
30. (32) Akinori Ogata, Chevrolet, Oil Leak, 51.
31. (19) Parker Kligerman, Toyota, Fuel Pump, 28.
32. (29) Todd Peck, Chevrolet, Overheating, 2.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 108.477 mph.
Time of Race: 01 Hrs, 50 Mins, 44 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.446 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 8 for 38 laps.
Lead Changes: 6 among 4 drivers.
Lap Leaders: C. Bell 1-83; K. Busch(i) 84-108; G. Enfinger # 109-112; M. Crafton 113; C. Bell 114-127; M. Crafton 128; C. Bell 129-130.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): C. Bell 3 times for 99 laps; K. Busch(i) 1 time for 25 laps; G. Enfinger # 1 time for 4 laps; M. Crafton 2 times for 2 laps.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 4,51,88,27,19,21,8,29,98,99
Stage #2 Top Ten: 4,51,27,17,88,21,24,23,66,7