LOUDON, N.H. â Christopher Bell got just what he needed on an uncharacteristically hot day at New Hampshire Motor Speedway â a breeze.
Thatâs an apt description of Bellâs victory in the ROXOR 200 NASCAR Xfinity Series race on Saturday. In winning for the fifth time this season and the second time in as many starts at the Magic Mile, Bell led 186 of 200 laps and crossed the finish line 4.068 seconds ahead of runner-up Cole Custer.
The race followed a familiar pattern. After each restart, Bell would pull away steadily as the drivers behind him contested second, third and fourth place. The only time the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota fell out of the lead was a pit stop on Lap 33, when seven other cars stayed on the track.
Bell restarted eighth on Lap 38 and drove up to second place before the first stage ended on Lap 45. Aside from that, the 24-year-old from Norman, Oklahoma, was in full control. When Stage 2 ended, Bell had an advantage of more than six seconds over eventual third-place finisher Justin Allgaier.
âI just had a really good race car,â said Bell, who has a propensity for understatement. âIâm very thankful to be driving these Supras for Joe Gibbs Racing. All of our partners, man, they just provide really fast race cars, and Iâm the lucky guy who gets to drive them.â
Custerâs recent victories on the 1.5-mile speedways at Chicagoland and Kentucky had engendered talk that Custer might be the favorite for the series championship this year. But Bell was reluctant to call his win at New Hampshire a statement victory, no matter how decisive.
âWe knew weâd be good here,â said Bell, who earned his 13th win in 59 Xfinity starts. âWhoever the (championship) favorite is will be decided at Homestead.â
Custerâs car was fast enough to win the pole in qualifying but not strong enough to keep up with Bell on restarts.
âI wasnât driving the car right at the start of the race, so I kind of got behind on adjustments,â said Custer, who lost the lead to Bell on a hotly contested first lap. âI wish weâd had another caution so we could catch up to him.â
Series leader Tyler Reddick ran fourth, followed by Paul Menard and Chase Briscoe. Ryan Truex, Ryan Sieg, Brandon Jones and Noah Gragson completed the top 10.
If Bellâs drive to the checkered flag was a breeze, that was hardly the case for his JGR teammate, Harrison Burton, who got the short end of an on-track spat with Menard, the only full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver in the field.
On Lap 153, Menard hit Burtonâs Toyota in Turn 1 and sent it spinning. With his car damaged, Burton finished 29th. After the race, Burton approached Menard to get an explanation.
âHe hit me twice, and I hit him once,â Menard said. âHe was mad at me for hitting him that one time.â
Burton, however, didnât think Menardâs retaliation was justified.
âWe had a restart there (on Lap 148), the first thing he said he was mad about was I hit him on the restart,â said the 18-year-old Burton. âBut I was on the apron, and he turned down across my nose. He got mad about that, and then I barely touched his door, and I got out of the gas because I didnât want to hit him any harder than I did.
âThen I passed him clean, and he wrecked me. âŚ He didnât really seem to care, and thatâs fine for him. Iâm just going to go out and beat him on the race track. Thatâs all I can do to show these guys that Iâm here to play. Iâm not going to get pushed around anymore.â
The NASCAR Xfinity Seriesâ next race is the U.S. Cellular 250, scheduled next Saturday at Iowa Speedway, where Bell has won the last two races.
Contributing: Staff reports