FORT WORTH, Texas – A year ago, Christopher Bell needed some last-gasp heroics to lock himself into the Championship 4 in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, but this time around there was only domination.
Bell steamrolled through Saturday night’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway, sweeping all three stages and leading a race-high 101 of 200 laps for his eighth win of the season.
More importantly, the victory locked Bell into the quartet of drivers guaranteed to race for a series title in two weeks at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway.
It was a night where Bell dominated the box score, but it wasn’t until a restart with 30 laps to go that he regained control of the race from Ross Chastain, who stayed out under caution at lap 142 in an effort to stretch his fuel to the finish and steal a victory from the full-time series competitors at the front.
A final caution for a crash involving Tyler Reddick on the backstretch with 40 laps left gave Bell a chance to strike back, however, and when the green flag waved for the final time at lap 171 Bell was there for the taking.
He roared around the outside, left Chastain in the dust and drove away to a commanding 5.561-second victory in the end, a statement run ahead of the Homestead finale as Bell chases his first series title.
Perhaps even more impressive was the fact that Bell battled brake problems through the second half of the event, leading to questions and concerns at times as to whether he would be able to get back to the sharp end of the field.
“I knew we were really competitive; our car and the (No.) 2 (Reddick) were really, really similar early on,” noted Bell. “And then I started having brake problems and whenever I got those brake problems, I just wasn’t as good. I couldn’t keep the car underneath me and I got really loose, so I had to work a little bit harder. But then that red flag (at lap 153) helped me and my brakes came back.
“From there, Jason (Ratcliffe, crew chief) got this thing tuned up and we were able to drive away.”
Saturday night’s victory was also Bell’s first at the facility he calls his “NASCAR home track,” considering that none of the sanctioning body’s top three series race in Bell’s native Oklahoma.
“God, that was pretty special to get one here in Texas,” Bell said. “I’ve got a lot of family over there in the background and I’ve been given these (checkered flags) out, but this one right here is going to my nephew (Trip). I promised him years ago that if I ever had one I’d be able to get him the flag in Texas.
“So this one is, like I said, really special to win it at home.”
Chastain finished second despite his gamble to stay on-track, with playoff hopeful Austin Cindric completing the podium but now among those needing a win next week during the Round of 8 finale to move into the championship race.
Brandon Jones and John Hunter Nemechek crossed fourth and fifth, respectively, followed by Justin Allgaier, Harrison Burton, Cole Custer, Jeb Burton and Ryan Sieg.
The semifinal round of the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs concludes Nov. 9 at ISM Raceway in Arizona, where Bell is the defending race winner.