Christopher Bell opened up the 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs with a victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon last week and appeared to be on his way to adding another victory Saturday night at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway until a late-race caution set up a seven-lap shootout to the finish.
Date: Sept. 30, 2017
Event: Las Vegas 350 (Race 18 of 23, Round of 8 Race 2 of 3)
Series: NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS)
Location: Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway (1. 5-mile tri-oval)
Format: Three Stages; 35 laps / 35 laps / 76 laps
Start/Finish: 4th / 2nd (Running, completed 146 of 146 laps)
Winner: Ben Rhodes of ThorSport Racing (Toyota)
Bell chose the outside lane for the restart and was put three-wide as the field went through Turns 1 and 2. He ended up getting shuffled back to fourth spot with five laps remaining, but as the racing intensified and two of the trucks in front of him traded paint and slowed their momentum, Bell moved up the runner-up position. The DC Solar Tundra tucked in the tracks of Ben Rhodes Tundra with four laps remaining waiting for an opportunity to make a pass for the lead. Rhodes ran right along the white line on the inside of the track with Bell a truck length higher but tucked on his bumper for the final three laps.
On the final lap, Rhodes slipped up the track coming off Turn 4 and Bell was able to maneuver to the inside of him as they raced down the frontstretch to take the checkered flag. Rhodes moved down to block Bell’s momentum, nearly putting him into the infield grass, and was able to cross the stripe .066 seconds ahead of him when they crossed the start-finish line.
Stage One Recap:
- Bell started the 146-lap event from the fourth position and remained there after a caution slowed the field on lap one. The Oklahoma native gained one spot on the lap-six restart and as the race went into a long green-flag run maintained the third spot for the remainder of Stage One.
Stage Two Recap:
- Bell communicated to crew chief Rudy Fugle that his DC Solar Tundra was “a touch snug” before hitting pit road for four fresh tires, a full tank of fuel and a minor trackbar adjustment. Speedy work by the over-the-wall crew gained Bell one position on pit road and elevated him into the runner-up position when Stage Two went green on lap 41.
- The 22-year-old had a strong restart and had just vaulted past Chase Briscoe into Turn when a seven-truck accident ensued from fourth place on back.
- The DC Solar Tundra held serve when the field went back green on lap 47 and remained out front when the field was slowed for the fourth time on lap 57.
- Rhodes was able to clear Bell into Turn 1 and took the lead with nine laps remaining in the stage. Bell tucked in behind Rhodes and in the closing laps of the stage made several attempts to maneuver around him but was unsuccessful.
Final Stage Recap:
- Bell communicated to Fugle that the handling of his DC Solar Tundra was very good, but passing was at a premium. When pit road opened he brought his Toyota to the attention of his over-the-wall crew, who administered a four-tire and fuel stop.
- With a handful of teams choosing not to pit under caution, Bell was scored in the sixth position when the Final Stage went green on lap 77.
- On lap 83 he maneuvered his way into the runner-up position and four laps later he worked his way around his Kyle Busch Motorsports’ teammate Noah Gragson to regain the race lead.
- Once in the lead, Bell began to set sail on the field. With 25 laps remaining the driver of the No. 4 DC Solar Tundra was over four seconds ahead of second place when teams began making their final scheduled stop of the night.
- Bell hit pit road for four fresh tires and a full tank of fuel with 22 laps remaining and returned to the track scored in the second spot behind John Hunter Nemechek, who hadn’t hit pit road yet.
- With Nemechek needing pit for fuel and Ryan Truex over three seconds behind Bell in the third spot, it appeared the No. 4 team was in a great position to pick up their sixth win of 2017.
- With 14 laps remaining Austin Wayne Self hit the wall and brought out the sixth and final caution of the event. Just as the caution flew, Nemechek ran out of fuel and was forced to pit road before it opened, leaving Bell at the head of the field for the final restart with seven laps remaining.
- The DC Solar Tundra fell back to fourth on the lap-139 restart, but marched back to the runner-up position with four laps remaining. Despite a hard-fought attempt to take the lead on the final lap, Bell ended the night with a runner-up finish.
CHRISTOPHER BELL, driver of the No. 4 DC Solar Tundra for Kyle Busch Motorsports:
How strong was your Tundra in the race?
“Our DC Solar Tundra was excellent. These trucks are so aero sensitive, it’s a lot of who does the best job of restarting and who has the best push. I just didn’t get it done on the final restart and it was frustrating. I’m happy for Ben (Rhodes), that was a cool win for him. He’s been long overdue for a win, and that was cool to race him that hard. I’m just upset for myself and bummed for my team, they did an excellent job. They did their part, brought a really fast Tundra that was capable of winning.”
Las Vegas 350 Recap:
- Rhodes collected the first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory of his career. Bell finished .066 seconds behind Rhodes in the runner-up position. Chase Briscoe finished third, while Austin Cindric and Kaz Grala rounded out the top-five finishers.
- The race featured six cautions for a total of 32 laps. There were 11 lead changes among seven drivers. Bell led three times for a race-high 64 laps and continues to lead the Truck Series with 730 laps led on the season.
How Bell’s KBM Teammates Fared:
- Noah Gragson, driver of the No. 18 Toyota, finished 13th
- Myatt Snider, driver of the No. 51 Toyota, finished 28th
NCWTS Driver Championship Standings:
With his win last week at New Hampshire, Bell earned an automatic berth into the Round of 6 that begins Oct. 28 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. The driver of the No. 4 Tundra will enter the Round of 6 with at least 47 playoff points.
Bell will be behind the wheel of the No. 4 Toyota Tundra when the Truck Series resumes action on Oct. 14 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Live coverage of the Fred’s 250 begins with the Setup Show at 12:30 p.m. ET on FOX.