DOVER, Del. – Christopher Bell became the winningest rookie in NASCAR Xfinity Series history on Saturday afternoon after capturing his sixth victory of the season at Dover Int’l Speedway.
Saturday’s Bar Harbor 200 was also an elimination race in the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs and four drivers watched their dreams of a championship end. Those drivers were Ross Chastain, Ryan Truex, Brandon Jones and Ryan Reed.
Bell had the dominant car throughout Saturday’s race. He led a race-high 110 of 200 laps and won the first stage with ease, but had to battle back from a bad pit stop between the second and third stages that forced him to restart ninth.
After the start of the final stage Bell went right to work, picking his way up through the field. He returned to the race lead with 68 laps left after dispatching Cole Custer with ease down the fronstretch and into turn one.
The caution flag waved with 39 laps left when Josh Bilicki bounced off the wall after cutting down a tire, setting up the final round of pit stops. Opting for a two-tire strategy, Jones got off pit road first ahead of Bell with Custer and Spencer Gallagher in row two.
Racing resumed with 29 laps left and Bell easily regained the lead from Jones while Custer moved into second. Deeper in the field Chastain and Matt Tifft were locked in a battle for what would be the final spot in the second round of the playoffs.
Tifft was attempting to get around Chase Briscoe on the inside when Chastain got to Tifft’s bumper and gave him a tap. Tifft drifted up the track and clipped Briscoe’s Ford, sending Briscoe into the wall for a caution flag. The incident allowed Chastain to pass both drivers, but he was still a few points shy of a spot in the second round in the playoffs.
With 17 laps left Bell brought the field back to the green flag and he easily pulled away again, but all eyes were on Chastain and Tifft as the battle continued for the final spot in the second round of the playoffs.
At one point Chastain drew even with Tifft on points, which would have given the position in round two of the playoffs to Chastain based on a tiebreaker. That only lasted a few laps as Tifft managed to gain a few positions and give himself a three-point buffer over Chastain.
At the front of the field Bell easily held on to earn his record-breaking sixth NASCAR Xfinity Series victory as a rookie over Custer, Justin Allgaier, Ryan Preece and Gallagher.
“To be able to have the season we had, it’s been a career year for me. It’s all credit to everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing and my crew chief Jason Ratcliff,” said Bell in victory lane. “Everyone that works at the shop to put these Camry’s together. We have really fast cars every time we go to the track. All of our partners deserve it. Today we had Rheem on the car, other weeks we’ve had Ruud and GameStop. Everyone that makes this happen, I am thankful to be a part of it and drive for them.”
While Bell was celebrating in victory lane, Tifft was enjoying his own small celebration after besting Chastain by three points for the final spot in the second round of the playoffs. Tifft finished 15th while Chastain finished 13th.
“It was very intense, especially the last part of the race,” Tifft said. “Just getting ourselves back in the hornets nest between fifth and 20th place back there is going to be a mess. I got underneath the 60 car (Briscoe) and I don’t know, I guess he (Chastain) was going to drive through us. Luckily I was able to save it.
“We got out of it and we’re able to focus on the next round.”
Chastain, who earned his first Xfinity Series victory this year while driving for Chip Ganassi at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, said he did everything he could to try and keep his championship hopes alive.
“It was too many mistakes on my part,” Chastain admitted. “I sped on pit road there (during the final pit stop) just trying to roll up on those guys and be the best we could. So that got us behind and then just playing catchup from there.
“We had the car looking at it now to do it.”
The second round of the Xfinity Series playoffs are now set, with Bell leading Hemric, Allgaier, Custer, Elliott Sadler, Tyler Reddick, Tifft and Austin Cindric.
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