ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – As Christopher Bell awaits his opportunity to move up in NASCAR, he knows one thing that’ll help get him there: winning.
He’s done plenty of that this year and he continued doing that on Saturday at Road America.
Bell got the jump on A.J. Allmendinger on a restart with two laps to go and cruised to victory in the NASCAR Xfinity Series CTECH Manufacturing 180 for his sixth victory of the season – the 14th of his career in 64 starts – and his first on a road course.
On the final restart, Bell got the jump on Allmendinger and Tyler Reddick followed closely, shuffling Allmendinger back to third. Heading into turn three, Noah Gragson and Allmendinger made contact, sending Allmendinger spinning into the inside grass heading into the right-hand turn. Allmendinger kept it going and rejoined the race. He went on to finish 24th.
Matt DiBenedetto was battling for a top-five finish on the last lap heading into the final corner. But he overshot the corner and crashed into the tire barrier after a trip through the sand. He finished 27th.
Because of the drama behind him, Bell easily pulled away from the field and won by 1.891 seconds.
“The last couple of laps were two of the easiest laps I had just because I had space and I could kind of take it easy,” Bell said. “It was really smooth sailing. It was a lot harder with Allmendinger right behind me because I knew if I was just too easy in one corner he was going to make me pay for it.”
Bell is the 10th different winner in the 10-year history of the Xfinity Series’ run at Road America. Last year’s winner Justin Allgaier had several issues throughout the afternoon, including a left-front tire failure heading into turn one and getting stuck in the sand. He eventually lost a lap, but regained it and rallied for a ninth-place finish.
For several reasons, Bell and his No. 20 team set a goal to win a road course race this season. One of those reasons was to showcase Bell as a complete driver, but also simply, because the team hadn’t done it yet. In addition, Bell recognized the importance and value of not only doing well on road courses, but winning them.
“Everything I’ve been taught is everybody wants a winner,” Bell said. “I’ve always strived at winning races. Everybody wants a winner in their race car.”
In addition to Saturday’s victory, Bell was second at the series’ other two road course events so far this season – Watkins Glen Int’l and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
“We as in the team, Jason and everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing did a really good job this year preparing for the road courses,” Bell said. “They put a lot of homework into it and we have really good race cars right now.”
Bell’s crew chief Jason Ratcliff felt it was important to highlight how important it was for Bell to not only run well during road course events, but win them.
“As long as there is road courses in this sport you need to be good at them, right?” Ratcliff said. “Now there’s one in the playoffs so that’s a big deal and the same for speedway races. You need to be good at that as well.
“If you’re expectations are to be a champion in this sport, then absolutely you must be good at road courses.”
Bell was asked how many more races he can win this season. He replied with 10. All kidding aside, he said he believes he and his team are capable of winning every race, now that includes road courses.
“After talking to some of the higher ups in the NASCAR industry, there’s certain race tracks and style of race tracks that they value results more so than others,” Bell said. “I remember when I first started in NASCAR they said, ‘Road-course racing is something that’s really important because there’s a lot of driver skill involved. It’s very important to be a good road racer.”
Austin Cindric finished second after being 20th during the last restart with two laps to go. He pitted from third during the caution in hopes fresh tires and possible crashes or overtime restarts would catapult him to the front. He nearly did it without crashes or overtimes.
Cindric was also trying to become the first NASCAR Xfinity Series driver to win three straight road-course races since Terry Labonte did it in the then-Busch Series in 1994-96 (all at Watkins Glen Int’l).
Reddick was third and holds a 45-point lead in the regular season standings over Bell. Gragson was fourth and Kaz Grala was fifth.
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