Christopher Bell Is The 2017 CWTS Champion, Chase Briscoe Wins The Ford EcoBoost 200

Christopher Bell

The tandem burnouts filled the frontstretch at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a thick cloud of smoke, as Chase Briscoe celebrated his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory, and runner-up Christopher Bell exulted in his first NASCAR championship.

In a Ford EcoBoost 200 that ran caution-free except for the planned breaks after the first and second stages, Briscoe, the pole winner, passed Ben Rhodes for the lead on Lap 96 of 134 on Friday night and pulled away to beat Bell to the finish line by 2.887 seconds, after Rhodes ran out of gas on Lap 129.

Two enormously talented open-wheel stars who have made successful transitions to stock car racing, Bell and Briscoe are close friends, but their careers have been following markedly different trajectories as of late.

Briscoe collected the last trophy for Brad Keselowski Racing, which is closing its doors at the end of the season, and he hasn’t announced plans for next year. Bell, on the other hand, will run for the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship next season in top-of-the-line equipment at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Bell gave Kyle Busch Motorsports its second title in three years under a format where the highest finisher among four eligible drivers—in this case Bell, Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton and Austin Cindric–is crowned champion.

“To be able to do this for all of the guys at Kyle Busch Motorsports and to win the championship for a team that deserves the championship, words just can’t describe my feelings right now,” said Bell, who scored a series-high five victories this season.

“To run as good as we have, week in and week out, and not just this year … This whole organization, this whole team has been good for so many years. You just don’t want to be the guy that lets them down, and I’m glad I didn’t let them down tonight.”

Briscoe, who also won the 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year, certainly improved his standing with the win, achieved in his 23rd start in the series.

“This is a long time coming,” said Briscoe who finished one position and nearly 16 seconds ahead of third-place Sauter, the defending series champion. “So proud of all these guys. To know that they’re not going to have a job next year, and we continued to bring really good trucks even though we were outside the playoffs, such a testament to how good these Brad Keselowski guys are.

“I know two years ago I was sleeping on couches, and now to be a winner in NASCAR. I wish we were in the final four. I felt like we could have been, but that’s part of the circumstances.”

By virtue of his third-place finish, Sauter was runner-up for the championship. Cindric, Briscoe’s teammate at BKR, ran fifth, one position ahead of Crafton, a two-time series champion.

Bell started 2017 with a victory in the Chili Bowl Nationals for midget cars, a title the Oklahoma native has coveted since childhood. He ends the year as the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion, a perfect bookend to a banner year for the 22-year-old prodigy.

Check out the unofficial results of the Ford EcoBoost 200.


Austin Cindric Carries Memories Of Departed Heroes With Him To Homestead

Austin Cindric

Austin Cindric was precocious from the beginning of what would become a racing career.

First he had to talk his mother, Megan, and father, Tim, the president of Team Penske, into allowing him to race karts. Then he had to overcome each of the obstacles they intentionally placed before him to make sure he truly wanted it. He overcame each of them in turn.

Cindric, 19, could become a precocious NASCAR champion if he betters the three other championship contenders – Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton and Christopher Bell – in Friday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“He’s an interesting kid. He’s very studied,” Tim Cindric said. “When he was growing up in Bandoleros and Legends and stuff, we wouldn’t let him paint his helmet. The driving suits he had were very generic, not even name-brand stuff. I never felt like he needed to go in there like a Penske kid. He needed to go in there and be a kid.”

He’s a teenager with, as his father describes it “an old soul,” not just in the way he has been able to become rapidly acquainted with — and successful in — a myriad of different race cars including Australian Super Cars, sports cars and the NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series, but in the mature way he approaches a sobering side of the sport.

The reminder is right there for all of the Cindrics to see, in the worn black rubber bracelet he’s worn on his right wrist since October of 2011, the white lettering worn nearly illegible.

“Dan Wheldon passed,” Tim Cindric said of the IndyCar driver who perished in a crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “After I got back from Dan’s funeral – Dan wasn’t somebody Austin really knew, he probably said ‘hello’ to him – at that service they had these little black rubber band things and they just said ‘Remember’ on them. I took it home and threw it on my vanity and Austin said ‘Can I have that?”

“What are you going to do with it?,” Tim Cindric countered.

“I’m going to wear it,” Austin answered.

“You didn’t really know Dan,” Tim Cindric responded again. “And he said ‘Us race drivers, we all understand all this.’ You do? It was a little deep for us. And he said, ‘If anything ever happens to me doing this, you and mom just have to remember, this is what we do.’ And he’s never taken that thing off.”

Austin Cindric describes the decision as “just part of my childhood” but said the moment, involving a driver he said he idolized left a mark.

“At my age, that was the first time that it happened that I could remember,” he said during Championship 4 Media Day at the Loews Miami Beach, “and I was watching the TV, watching the race, watching the championship fight and something like that happens. It’s pretty impactful, but it’s part of the sport, part of what we do and race cars are pretty safe.”

It wasn’t the first time that Cindric had surprised his parents not only with his attitude toward the sport, but a connection he’d made with a late driver he’d never met. The previous instance hit even closer to the Cindric home as it involved Greg Moore, who had signed to drive for Team Penske in 2000 but died at age 24 in an October, 1999 CART crash at Auto Club Speedway.

“Greg Moore’s father, Rick, had sent me Greg’s Marlboro helmet. There were only a couple,” Tim Cindric said. “After he passed away, we’d had some made for the test he was going to do and it sits in my basement. Austin obviously sees it all the time, but Austin didn’t know Greg. He was one when that happened. [Austin] said ‘If I ever get my helmet painted, I’d like to paint it like Greg’s.’ He was ten or eleven at the time.

“I said, ‘Austin, you can’t just paint a helmet like somebody else’s without permission.’ I said, ‘If you really want to pursue that, first of all …., why?’ He says, ‘Well, I think he’s very similar to myself. I think Greg and I would have gotten along really well.’ I said, ‘You never met Greg. What do you know about Greg?’ He said, ‘Well, on the Internet I’ve watched videos, I’ve read his book.’ And he went on to tell me more about Greg than I knew about Greg.”

With “that box checked,” Tim Cindric said, he allowed his son to contact Rick Moore, who enthusiastically agreed, telling helmet design Troy Lee that the boy could have access to any designs he wanted.

“Whatever he wanted, relative to Greg, it was his,” Tim Cindric said. “Rick sent him an autographed Greg Moore hero card from every year Greg drove, which I thought was really cool. Greg used to put a little space ship guy, a little Troy Lee icon thing on the back of his helmet. He sent him a pile of those to put on his dash and on his helmets, so he’s always done that to each of his helmets.”

Cindric’s Brad Keselowski Racing is ceasing operations at the end of the season and the driver has no announced plans for 2018. The Bowmanville winner has a breadth of experience, but said he has “committed” himself to NASCAR. Cindric earned his spot in the final amid controversy at Phoenix Raceway, as he made contact with and spun Ben Rhodes in the waning laps, costing Rhodes a chance to run for a title. Cindric said he attempted to reach Rhodes this week but that his call went directly to voicemail. The pair have raced together since childhood and are friends, he said.

“Obviously, the way I handled it wasn’t the cleanest,” Cindric said, “but you’ve got to move on from something like that.”


Johnny Sauter Outlasts Them All At Phoenix

Johnny Sauter
Three red flags told the story of Friday night’s Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix Raceway.

The third of the three gave defending NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Johnny Sauter the chance he needed to win the race that set the field for next Friday’s championship event at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

When Kyle Busch Motorsports teammates Christopher Bell and Noah Gragson wrecked during an intense side-by-side duel with seven laps left, Sauter inherited the lead for a restart on Lap 149 of 150, and held off John Hunter Nemechek by .668 seconds for his second straight victory, his first at Phoenix, his fourth of the season and the 17th of his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career.

“We didn’t have the best truck,” Sauter said. “We had a great truck on long runs. He (Nemechek) had fresher tires, but I knew if I could have a good Turn 1 (on the restart) and get a good launch off that corner, we’d be OK.”

By the time Sauter pulled away over the final two laps, Bell, the series leader, had clinched a spot in the Championship 4 race. So had two-time series champion Matt Crafton, who finished third in each of the first two stages to wrap up his place in the finale on points.

The second red flag followed a wild crash on the backstretch that started with trucks racing five-wide through the dogleg and wrecking when they ran out of room near the entry to Turn 3.

The first red flag was for agony and ecstasy—agony for Ben Rhodes, who was knocked out of the final four, and ecstasy for Austin Cindric, who advanced in the Playoffs to the Championship 4 and will race for the title in Miami.

After Bell and Crafton already had joined Johnny Sauter in the championship race at Homestead-Miami, the battle for the final spot took a dramatic turn when the No. 50 Chevrolet of Josh Reaume stalled on the track on Lap 122 of 150 to cause the third caution of the night.

Both Cindric and Rhodes came to pit road under the yellow, with Rhodes giving up the third position to make the stop. When the drivers lined up for a restart on Lap 130, Cindric was 11th, right behind Rhodes in ninth.

Cindric got a strong run across the start/finish line and dived to the bottom of the track. Rhodes moved down to block, and contact between the trucks sent Rhodes’ No. 27 Toyota spinning hard into the inside wall, then bouncing up the track into the No. 88 Toyota of Crafton, his ThorSport Racing teammate.

Cindric avoided damage and rolled home in ninth, earning a chance to run for the series title at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 17 in the Ford EcoBoost 200 (on FS1 at 8 p.m. ET).

“Why would he block it?” an incredulous Cindric asked on his radio after the wreck. “Why would he block that?”

Rhodes felt the Cindric’s move was unwarranted.

“He put me in a bad place and trying to do everything I could to keep the spot, but once you file into Turn 1 we were all going to wreck, so I’m not sure that was the right move on his part,” Rhodes said. “I did everything I could to just make sure we were having a good day.

“We were in front of him all day long, and we were going to be into the final four… and I don’t know. It looked like a desperation move to me, because there’s so much racing left to do.”

The exit of the Toyotas of Rhodes, Bell and Gragson gave Nemechek one final chance to stay in the Playoff with a victory. Nemechek restarted second in the outside lane but couldn’t keep up with Sauter through the first two corners.

“Our truck wasn’t that great on the outside all night,” Nemechek said. “Once Johnny got to clean air, there was really nothing I could do.

“That will probably be the most disappointing second-place finish of my career. So close, yet so far.”

Bell and Gragson swapped the lead for the first 145 laps (Bell 90, Gragson 55) before Bell pitted with damage under the final caution and handed the lead to Sauter.

“Honestly, I could see it coming,” said Sauter, who was running third when Gragson lost control, slid into Bell’s Toyota and got T-boned by Justin Haley’s Chevrolet. “I got a good run into Turn 3, and then I saw them spinning.”

And with that spin of the wheel of fortune, Sauter was in Victory Lane, heading to Homestead-Miami with the same sort of momentum that carried him to the championship last year.

Check out the unofficial results of the Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix.


Noah Gragson Captures His First CWTS Victory At Martinsville

Noah Gragson

Blowing around two-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton after a restart with 10 laps left, 19-year-old Noah Gragson scored his first victory in Saturday’s Texas Roadhouse 200 at Martinsville Speedway.

The Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender frustrated Playoff competitors Crafton and Johnny Sauter, who finished second and third behind him. After talking the checkered flag, Gragson parked his No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota near the flag stand and climbed to the top of the frontstretch catchfence in celebration.

After Bayley Currey spun in his No. 50 Chevrolet to bring out the final caution on Lap 182, Crafton, then the race leader, chose the inside lane for the restart on Lap 191. But Gragson got a perfect drive through Turns 1 and 2, pulled ahead of Crafton on the backstretch and cleared him off Turn 4.

The Las Vegas native pulled away to win by 1.486 seconds.

“We got that caution there at the end, and you can’t pass on the outside in Martinsville – and I did it,” Gragson said. “To be racing here in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, it’s a privilege, and all those hours of hard work…

“I knew to myself this morning, I knew I could get it done. I’ve known it this whole year, and I told myself I’m going to get that trophy today, and that’s what we did.”

In a race that saw Playoff driver John Hunter Nemechek crash out after 37 laps because of a brake failure, Gragson held off Sauter during a 38-lap green-flag run that preceded the final caution. Though Sauter tattooed the rear bumper of the rookie throughout the run, Gragson held the position.

“Those last like 40 laps with Johnny Sauter being off my back bumper, he did that earlier to us in the spring, and I wasn’t going to let him pass me again like that,” Gragson said.

That proved decisive, as it put Gragson on the front row for the final restart. Though the bottom at Martinsville historically has been the preferred lane for a restart, Crafton had his doubts as he came to the green flag on Lap 191.

“I told (crew chief) Junior (Joiner) I might be crazy, but I thought the top was going to be the place to go on the restart,” Crafton said. “There was no rubber up there where the right-side tires were. I knew we were going to have our hands full…

“He had a perfect restart there – and I sucked.”

Harrison Burton ran fourth, scoring his first top five in the series 19 days after his 17th birthday. KBM teammate Todd Gilliland was fifth, followed by Stewart Friesen and Kaz Grala. Playoff drivers Christopher Bell, Ben Rhodes and Austin Cindric were eighth, ninth and 10th, respectively.

Crafton won the first 50-lap stage of the race and Sauter the second stage as both drivers chipped away at Bell’s series lead, which stands at three points over Sauter and 15 over Crafton with two races left in the Playoffs Round of 6.

A good points day was little consolation to the driver of the No. 88 Toyota.

“It just sucks to finish second,” Crafton said. “Just salt in the wound.”

Rhodes currently holds the fourth and final Playoff transfer position, with Cindric in fifth 11 points back of Rhodes, and Nemechek in sixth trailing Rhodes by 32 points after his 30th-place finish on Saturday.

Check out the unofficial results of the Texas Roadhouse 200.


Ben Rhodes Takes His Cross Training To The Boxing Ring

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs contender Ben Rhodes isn’t one to confine his aggressive impulses to the race track.

The driver of the No. 27 ThorSport Racing Toyota stays in shape by letting his fists fly in the boxing ring. To Rhodes, it’s a more efficient way of training than spending two hours on a bicycle.

“It’s just something fun to do,” Rhodes said. “It changes up the monotony of training. You get on a bike, and you cycle for two hours, and it’s strung out, it’s very long.”

Boxing, on the other hand, is a quick way to boost the heart rate to levels that approximate what a drivers achieves on the track.

“I enjoy the intensity of it, the practicality of it, right?” Rhodes said. “It’s just fun. I’m a big fan of boxing and UFC. I can’t say I’m a huge football or stick-and-ball sport fan, but I’m a huge fan of boxing and UFC. Any time it’s on TV, you’ll catch me buying the pay-per-view stuff.”

And Rhodes can see similarities between boxing and racing.

“One of the cool things about that sport versus our sport is that it’s what you make of it,” said Rhodes, who fights as a bantamweight (112-118 pounds). “When you’re in the race car, you can be really, really tense, and you can burn yourself out really, really quickly. Or you can be relaxed, and you can have a better frame of mind and approach every corner with a clear head.

“With boxing, you get in the ring, and you can wear yourself out really quickly, or you can relax and kind of let the punches go. It kind of translates well, I guess. It’s just something to give me a little more clarity.”


Chirstopher Bell Is In It To Win It

Christopher Bell
Christopher Bell arrived at Martinsville Speedway on Friday intent on the serious business of trying to win a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship, but his victory in last Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series event at Kansas Speedway was still a prime topic of conversation.

With four laps left in the Kansas Lottery 300, Bell pulled a slide job on Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Erik Jones and steered his No. 18 Toyota up to the wall in front of Jones’ No. 20, which plowed into the back of Bell’s Camry.

Set to drive full-time for JGR next season, Bell went on to win in his fifth start, while Jones nursed his wounded car to a 15th-place finish, one lap down. After the race, Jones was critical of Bell’s “dirt-track” move.

After talking to Jones later , however, Bell believes the hatchet is buried.

“Me and Erik – we’re fine,” Bell said on Friday before practicing his Kyle Busch Motorsports Tundra in preparation for Saturday’s Texas Roadhouse 200 Truck Series race at Martinsville. “I reached out to him after the race. We’re fine. Our relationship is kind of how it was before that. There’s no grudges held, at least that I know of.

“I don’t know. I’m a dirt racer, and he’s not a dirt racer, so maybe that was two backgrounds clashing right there. I executed my move exactly how I wanted to do it, and I felt like I left him multiple options to get a different outcome. That’s kind of where I’m going to leave it.”

It’s not that Bell and Jones were bosom buddies before the race, even though both have advanced through the Toyota development pipeline. When Bell starts his first full-time XFINITY season with JGR next year, Jones will move into the seat of Gibbs’ No. 20 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ride.

“As far as mine and Erik’s relationship, we weren’t really, I guess, friends before,” Bell said. “We didn’t talk every day or anything like that. We were acquaintances, so I think that’s going to continue on.

“I made sure that I reached out to him after the race. I tried to smooth things over as good as I can. We’re all here to win. We’re not here to become buddies.”

The Truck Series leader was second fastest in opening practice on Friday behind two-time champion Matt Crafton, who covered the .526-mile distance in 20.129 seconds (94.073 mph) on his 11th and final lap of the session.


Parker Kligerman Steals One At Talladega

Parker Kligerman
The massive wreck in Turn 1 that gobbled up a pack of trucks in overtime at Talladega Superspeedway spared a part-time driver with one win on his career resume and a lower-budget team fighting for the final spot in the Round of 6 of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ Playoff.

The part-timer, Parker Kligerman, charged to the front past pole winner, series leader and race runner-up Christopher Bell after the final restart and had the lead in Saturday’s Fred’s 250 when trucks started bouncing off each other in Turn 1 on the final lap. That wreck caused a caution that froze the running order and gave Kligerman his first victory since he won at Talladega in 2012.

The real suspense, however, involved John Hunter Nemechek, who steered his already-wrecked truck through two major crashes in the final 25 laps to finish sixth. Nemechek grabbed the final spot in the Round of 6 over Chase Briscoe, who finished 22nd, nine laps down after his team dealt with a valve cover issue early in the race.

“We had a long team meeting last night in the lobby of our hotel, and we sat down and said a prayer that we would make it to the next round,” Nemechek said.

Shortly after the restart of the final stage, it appeared the prayer would not be answered. Nemechek’s No. 8 Chevrolet was damaged heavily in a crash that started when Ben Rhodes turned Clay Greenfield’s Chevrolet in Turn 4 on Lap 54.

Nemechek’s team worked feverishly to repair the damage to the extent possible and kept the No. 8 on the lead lap. With Briscoe locked into a 22nd-place finish, Nemechek had to finish 13th or better after Austin Wayne Self’s spin in Turn 4 caused the sixth caution on Lap 90 and sent the event to overtime. When trucks in the lead pack started wrecking in front of Nemechek after the field took the white flag, spotter Jason Jarrett guided his driver through the melee and gained enough spots to advance comfortably.

For Kligerman, it was a case of right choices at the right time.

“It’s all a blur,” he said. “Each corner you’re making six decisions, and they happened to work. It was just crazy. Every move worked. It’s just sometimes they click. Those last 10 laps, if I went high and separated the back, or if I tried to get the bump and the run, every move just worked. Sometimes they go your way.”

For the first 40 laps, Talladega looked like Johnny Sauter’s personal playground. The defending series champion powered into the lead after the start, pulling GMS Racing teammate Justin Haley with him. Sauter and Haley dropped to the inside lane in front of Bell and ran in lock-step for 20 laps, with Sauter winning the first stage wire-to-wire.

Sauter may have sailed through Stage 1, but calamity struck two other championship contenders. On Lap 8, Briscoe took his No. 29 Brad Keselowski Racing Ford to the garage to repair a fluid leak and lost 10 laps in the process. Briscoe’s issues, however, couldn’t compare with those of Kaz Grala, who started the race from the rear because of a last-minute engine change. After working his way Grala was the victim of a chain-reaction wreck of Turn 4 on Lap 19, also involving the trucks of Cody Coughlin, Chris Fontaine, Rhodes and Ryan Truex.

Grala’s No. 33 Chevy nosed into the outside wall and spun into the infield grass, where the heavily damaged Silverado sat until a wrecker towed it to the garage. Grala retired in 29th place, his Playoff over.

“I’m not quite sure what happened,” Grala said after a mandatory visit to the infield care center. “Everything checked up in front of me. I slowed down. I think I was going to miss it, but the truck behind me (Truex’s Toyota) didn’t get slowed down fast enough and turned us up into the wall and ended our day.

“I think that’s the end of our championship hopes, unfortunately. It’s tough to take, because I think we really came alive this latter part of the season. I think we could have been a contender.”

Playoff Notes: Myatt Snider sustained damage in a Lap 70 wreck but rallied to finish a career-best third… Austin Cindric ran fifth behind Grant Enfinger and secured a spot in the Round of 6, joining Bell, Sauter, Nemechek, Rhodes and Matt Crafton.


Ben Rhodes Wins The CWTS Las Vegas 350

Ben Rhodes
Ben Rhodes took the lead on the final restart and held off Christopher Bell to capture his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career win in Saturday night’s Las Vegas 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Rhodes, who earlier in the season lost what appeared to be a sure victory at Kansas Speedway when a piece of debris punctured his Toyota’s radiator, blocked Bell’s last-gasp effort by going all the way to the track’s apron to take the checkered flag.

Rhodes, who drives for ThorSport Racing, started sixth in the 28-truck field to become the 1.5-mile speedway’s 10th consecutive different winner. He joins Bell to advance to the Round of 6 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs.

“I used every play in my playbook,” said Rhodes of the final laps battle. “I knew if I could keep him close to me, he couldn’t break the (air) bubble.  This is the biggest high of my life.

“So many things have gone wrong and now here I am in Victory Lane.”

Rhodes’ victory came in his 45th series start. His official victory margin over Bell was 0.066 seconds.

Bell, who led three times for 64 laps and dominated much of the 146-lap race in his Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota, blamed himself for coming up short in his quest for a sixth season victory.

“I just didn’t get it done there on the last restart (at Lap 140),” he said. “He’s (Rhodes) been long overdue for that win and he earned it tonight.”

Chase Briscoe finished third in his Brad Keselowski Racing Ford, followed by BKR teammate Austin Cindric, who overcame an early-race accident. Kaz Grala, who started 14th, also battled back from an early incident, was the top-finishing Chevrolet in fifth.

Pole sitter Ryan Truex was unable to lead the opening lap but had put his Toyota in position for a solid top-10 finish. A brush with the wall in the closing laps while battling Briscoe and Grant Enfinger for third sent his Toyota to pit road, where he lost two laps and finished 12th.

Seven different drivers traded the lead 11 times. There were six cautions consuming 32 laps.

Briscoe won the race’s first stage by 1.25 seconds over Johnny Sauter. Sauter clawed his way back to 10th-place finish, a lap behind, after cutting a tire and twice speeding on pit road.

Rhodes claimed Stage 2 by 0.419 seconds over Bell in a preview of the final stage finish.

While both Rhodes and Bell are guaranteed to move into the Round of 6 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs, the final four spots remain up for grabs at Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 14. Crafton is best placed, followed by Sauter and Briscoe while Grala and John H. Nemechek are currently below the cutoff point.


Christopher Bell Starts Off The CWTS Playoffs With A Bang

Christopher Bell

In Christopher Bell’s dominating win in Saturday’s UNOH 175 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the rich got richer!

The top seed in the series Playoffs, Bell won the first two stages of the opening postseason event and took the checkered flag 1.248 seconds ahead of runner-up Ryan Truex to notch his fifth victory of the season.

The win earned Bell automatic advancement into the second round of the Playoffs, gave him an additional seven playoff points to bring his series-leading total to 47 and widened his advantage over the seven drivers chasing him for the title, given that no other Playoff driver finished in the top five at the 1.058-mile track.

With all that said, the victory wasn’t a foregone conclusion for the driver of the No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota. Truex powered into the lead past Ben Rhodes after a restart on Lap 132, following a caution called when Kaz Grala knocked the Ford of Austin Cindric sideways in Turn 4 on Lap 126.

Bell patiently stalked Truex for 28 laps, as Truex positioned his no. 16 Toyota to block the line of the series leader. Finally, on Lap 160 of 175, Bell got a strong run off the second corner and buried his Tundra into Turn 3, shooting past Truex into the lead.

“He was doing a really good job of watching his mirror,” Bell said of Truex’s effort. “I knew it was tough to pass all day, but our truck had been so good, we had been able to do it until we got to him.

“I kept trying to work down, and he kept blocking my air down and down and down. Finally, I got one run where I drove up in (Turns) 1 and 2 and then got a big run into 3.”

In fact, Truex was surprised he was able to keep Bell behind him for 28 laps.

“When you’ve got the best truck in the field behind you, it makes it tougher,” Truex said. “I did everything I could to hold him off. I was trying to take his lane and block and everything – I just didn’t have quite the grip he had.

“I didn’t know how this race would shake out. Every restart, I just gave it my all – a lot of three-wide stuff, probably (ticked) a few people off. But we’re trying to win races, and we’re getting closer.”

Bell, who won for the first time at New Hampshire and the seventh time in his career, leaves the Magic Mile with a whopping 40-point lead over second-place Johnny Sauter, the defending series champion. Sauter finished ninth on Saturday after polesitter Noah Gragson spun in Turn 4 on lap 64 and caved in the right side of Sauter’s No. 21 Chevrolet between the front and rear tires.

With the Playoff field to be trimmed from eight drivers to six at Talladega two races from now, John Hunter Nemechek and Chase Briscoe fell below the cut line. A rear gear failure sidelined Nemechek for 36 laps, and he finished 20th to drop to eighth in the standings.

Briscoe fought handling problems throughout the afternoon and finished 11th, dropping to seventh in points, three behind Grala, who came home 10th.

Non-Playoff drivers Todd Gilliland, Grant Enfinger and Stewart Friesen ran third fourth and fifth, while playoff contenders Matt Crafton, Rhodes and Cindric finished sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively.


Eliminating Errors In The Playoffs Is Key To Success

Johnny Sauter
The pressure of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff produced uncharacteristic errors last Sunday at Chicagoland.

Pit road speeding penalties, loose lug nuts, commitment violations and pit crew snafus thwarted the efforts of those who expect to contend for the championship and those who simply hope to survive the first round.

The eight Playoff drivers in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, who start their championship runs in Saturday’s UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway were playing close attention to the trials and tribulations of the Cup drivers at Chicagoland.

With the last four drivers in the Truck standings separated by four points, those in the most imminent jeopardy of elimination were particularly attuned to the proceedings.

“You can race your way out of this first round a lot more than you can race your way in,” said Austin Cindric, who enters the weekend sixth in the standings. “We only have to beat two other competitors, and I feel like the worst thing you can do is make a mistake, either if it’s on pit road or on the track.

“I think your finishing position is just a critical as your stage points, as we’ve seen throughout the year. Just to be able to run consistently throughout the three (races) of this round I think is going to be the most critical thing you can do.”