Christopher Bell Advances to 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship Round With Phoenix Win
Bell led 94 laps of the Whelen 200 on his way to his seventh win of the season.
Christopher Bell dominated the second half of the Whelen 200 at ISM Raceway near Phoenix on Saturday, leading 94 laps on his way to his seventh win of the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series season. The win also secured Bell’s entry into the championship four for the Nov. 17 season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“The pressure was on, and I’m just so thankful for all my mentors. They’ve done such a good job taking care of me,” Bell said. “It started with my mom and my dad as a kid, and from there, I moved up to Ohio and lived with a guy named Rick Ferkel, and Pete Willoughby and all those guys became such great mentors to me, and they prepared me for moments like this where the pressure is on and everything’s on the line. Just thankful that I pulled through for my team. These guys are the ones that build these GameStop Toyota Camrys that are going to win races, whether I’m in the car or not. It’s my job to make sure that they get the results that they deserve, and I’m just really glad that we get to race for a championship next week.”
Bell started the race in back after an issue getting through pre-qualifying inspection. By the end of the first stage on Lap 45, he was inside the top-10. He was fourth in the running order by the time the second stage ended on Lap 90.
“I knew we were really, really fast, and we showed that yesterday in practice,” Bell said. “This place is very tricky and I started 38th, and I really got stalled out once I got to the top-15, and I quit going forward. I got to like 10th at the end of stage one, and I was stuck. I couldn’t do anything. I came in for a pit stop, gained a couple spots and then, just slowly worked our way forward. Once we got out front, there, it was pretty good and just thankful that yellow flag didn’t come out. The entire last five laps or 10 laps, I was just watching the fence looking for those green lights because I did not want to see another restart.”
Joining Bell in the battle for the 2018 Xfinity Series championship will be Texas Motor Speedway race winner Cole Custer, Daniel Hemric, and Tyler Reddick, who advance on points after finishing second and sixth, respectively, in the Whelen 200.
Bell took the lead with a pass on John Hunter Nemechek on Lap 108 and led the remainder of the 200-lap race.
Justin Allgaier dominated the first half of the race, leading 69 laps and winning both of the initial 45-lap stages. He took the lead from polesitter Nemechek on Lap 21 and led most of the laps until Stage 2 ended, with the exception of a handful of laps under caution when Austin Cindric beat him off pit road after the first stage.
Allgaier wound up a lap down in 24th position at the finish. He struggled after sustaining damage in an incident that brought out the fifth caution of the race on Lap 145. In the closing laps, he reported a brake issue. With his struggles came elimination from the playoffs.
Other drivers eliminated from the playoffs included Matt Tifft, Cindric, and Elliott Sadler. Tifft and Cindric were eliminated despite finishing the race in the third and fourth positions. Sadler was the only playoff driver other than Allgaier to finish outside the top-10 in 11th.
"First of all, I have to thank all of my team for the No. 2 GoGreen Equipment Camaro they gave me today,” Tifft said. “We knew we were going to have to be on offense all day to have a shot to make the championship four, and we definitely did that. We had a great stage one, finishing sixth. Unfortunately, I was just a touch too quick on pit road and got a speeding penalty before stage two, which forced me to start in the back. Our Camaro was really fast though, and that helped me get back into the top-10 prior to the end of that stage's conclusion. We needed a win at that point to advance to the next round, and we had a couple of shots at it. In the end, my Camaro just built a little bit too tight to get it done in the closing laps. I know my team will keep after it though, and we'll go for the win next weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway."
The NASCAR Xfinity Series will wrap-up its 2018 season Nov. 17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The highest finisher of that race among Christopher Bell, Cole Custer, Daniel Hemric, and Tyler Reddick will be crowned the 2018 series champion. Custer is the defending winner of the race and is the only driver among the current Xfinity Series regulars with a win at HMS.