HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Though the reasons why may have differed, both Christopher Bell and Justin Allgaier suffered from a lack of the speed necessary to contend for the NASCAR Xfinity Series title on Saturday.
In Bell’s case, the narrative from the Ford EcoBoost 300 was the same one that denied him of a championship shot in the closing laps a year ago. He just couldn’t run as high as he needed to.
“It was oddly familiar. I don’t know, man; I don’t get it. For whatever reason, whenever the tires start falling off here, I just struggle,” noted Bell, who led 40 laps on the night. “I don’t know what we’re missing to get me comfortable so that I can go around here. I’m okay for 10 or 20 (laps), but after that, we just fall apart for some reason.”
With 41 laps to go, Bell ducked to the low line to come down for his final pit stop, but appeared to miss pit road and had to come around a second time to make it down the lane for his last round of service.
Bell cycled out ahead of eventual champion Tyler Reddick and runner-up Cole Custer at lap 165, but was overhauled by both in less than two laps and faded back more than 17 seconds at the checkered flag.
“It was just a miscommunication,” Bell said of the pit road issue. “I don’t know if my spotter didn’t get told what our cue word was, but I told got the cue word to pit and then all of a sudden, I started pitting and he said, not now, not now. But that doesn’t matter when you get beat by 17 seconds. I’m glad that didn’t have an effect on the outcome of the race.
“That second to last run, I don’t know if I just did a better job blocking or what, but we definitely seemed to maintain a little bit better,” Bell added. “Then whenever we pitted, I didn’t know how many laps earlier that we pitted than the other two guys, but I was pretty happy when I drove by them, because I think we only had 30 or so laps to go at that point, and my car had been okay for that distance.
“There just wasn’t much of a chance once they (Reddick and Custer) got up to speed. They just ran me down and drove away.”
In the case of Allgaier, his weekend was rough from the outset.
Allgaier had contact with David Starr during Friday’s lone practice that forced his team to make repairs early on, then qualified outside the top 10 due to a lack of laps before racing his way into the top five.
However, a short-pitting strategy on his final pit stop that didn’t work out, combined with a flat tire inside the final 10 laps that sent him diving back to pit road, scuttled Allgaier’s championship hopes.
After climbing from his car at the end of 300 miles, Allgaier said he simply didn’t have the pace he needed right from the start.
“We just didn’t have the speed we were looking for tonight,” he said. “It was disappointing. I mean, we felt like in practice … the seven laps that we got that our balance was pretty good. We were excited about the race because we felt like the things that we worked on in practice and the things we had worked on in the shop, trying to make better for our program, we had done. Unfortunately in this one, we were just way too loose to really push at the speed that a lot of those guys were running.”
Even amid the disappointment of not being able to heavily contend for his first series title, Allgaier still found reasons to smile after the race.
“Harper, my daughter, came over and she said, ‘I love you, daddy, and I got you something to cheer you up,’ and it was a lug nut. It was a used lug nut even, and it still had the anti‑seize on it, so I ended up with anti‑seize all over my hand, but it did bring a smile for me,” Allgaier said. “Today was a rough day in my job, but from all other standpoints it was a fantastic day. I’m blessed to come and do what I love to do. I get to drive a race car every day for a living, and it’s just a good day.
“Even being 14th, finishing a lap down and being fourth in points, that’s still better than a lot of guys that wish they could be in that same situation,” he added. “How can you be disappointed when there’s plenty of people standing in line waiting to have that same opportunity? So I’m excited for the future.”