Briscoe ran down Christopher Bell with seven laps to go to win the U.S. Cellular 250. Chad Leistikow, email@example.com
NEWTON, Ia.Â â What looked like a predictable snoozer became an entertaining shootout in the 2019 season finale at Iowa Speedway.
And when the dust (and Speedy Dri) settled, the track’s recent king was dethroned.
Chase Briscoe slid his No. 98 Ford past mighty Christopher Bell with seven laps to go and held on to win the U.S. Cellular 250.
Bell wound up leading 234 laps here, the most in a race in his tremendous career in Newton … but lost.
“That was about as good as it gets. It was really fun,” Briscoe said in the media center after pocketing his first NASCAR Xfinity Series win of 2019. “Battling Christopher took me back; we’ve been racing online against each other for about 10 years. We used to run Iowa all the timeÂ in the Xfinity car and have battles like that.”
It seemed like Briscoe had made a major mistake with 99 laps to go, as he pitted for gas and mistakenlyÂ drove over the team’s air hoseÂ â a penalty that put him on the back end of the lead lap. But he wasn’t panicked; in fact, BriscoeÂ thought other drivers were making the pit-road mistake by taking their last set of tires.
He was right.
“I just felt like 99 laps to go was too early to put our last set on,” crew chief Richard Boswell said. “But I also knew if we didn’t pit for fuel and it went green, we were going to be in trouble. It was a gamble. I thought we had a second-place car all day to Christopher.”
That’s because for most of Saturday afternoon, Bell was on a seemingly effortless march to the checkered flag. But after Michael Annett’s spin with 50 to go, his lead became precarious.
With no more tires in his pits, Bell became a sitting duck to drivers who could attach fresh Goodyear rubber to their stock cars. John Hunter Nemechek was the first to make a charge, but couldn’t power his No. 23 Chevrolet past Bell’s No. 20 Toyota.
Briscoe ultimately overtook them both. The Stewart-Haas Racing driverÂ started fourth on the final restart, with 22 laps left, and used the preferred high line to keep pace with Bell and eventually passed him and pulled away for a 1-second win.Â
“I didn’t know I was going to win, but I knew I was in the best position of anybody other than Bell (on the restart),” Briscoe, 24, said. “I just had to take advantage of it.”
Bell was trying to become just the second three-time Xfinity winner at this track; Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won three in a row inÂ 2011 and 2012.
Bell took second, followed byÂ Nemechek, Noah Gragson and Tyler Reddick.
“To be able to hold (Briscoe)Â off as long as I did and not win the race stings,” said Bell, who had won seven consecutive stages at the track until the finish â but still has four straight top-two finishes here. âItâs kind of damned if you do, damned if you donât.â
During an earlierÂ caution, Bell had become the Xfinity Seriesâ all-time leader in laps led at Iowa Speedway. In just five starts here, Bell has led an astonishing 668Â laps. He surpassed Sam Hornish Jr., who led 506 laps in 11 Iowa starts.
The third name on that laps-led list is Justin Allgaier (449 in 15 starts), who wound up finishing sixth Saturday.
Bellâs challengers were few and far between for the first 80% of the race.
One of his biggest series rivals, Briscoe teammate Cole Custer, was sent to the garage after a disastrous sequence. The driver of the No. 00, running in the top three all day, was flagged for speeding during a final-stage pit stop, then followed it up by crashing into the wall without contact.
Earlier, two other cars with a chance to contend made early exits, namely Team Penskeâs Austin Cindric. The No. 22 Ford crashed in the first stage, resulting in a season’s-worst 36th-place finish for Cindric (who entered fifth in points). Joe Gibbs Racingâs Brandon Jones smacked the wall in Stage 2 and couldnât recover. He finished 33rd, his third DNF in four races.
Annett, an alum of Dowling Catholic High School, said he had around 1,000 supporters in attendance here. His father, Harrold, is the CEO of Des Moines-based TMC Transportation, his No. 1 Chevroletâs sponsor this week. Annett added to the best season of his Xfinity Series career that dates to 2009, finishing 10th (for his 13th top-10 of the year) despite that lap-200 trouble.
Cedar Rapids native Joey Gase finished 19th.
Before the race began, Iowa Speedway made some news in announcing that the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour would make its debut appearance here on July 31, 2020. NASCARâs lone open-wheel series replaces the K&N Pro Series race that his historically taken place on the eve of the Xfinity Seriesâ second Iowa stop. It will mark the furthest west stop ever for the East Coast-based Whelen Modifieds.