Christopher Bell salvages Eldora run to close championship gap

Russell LaBounty/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

At any other track on the NASCAR circuit, Christopher Bell’s day likely would’ve been done.

Luckily for Bell, he was at Eldora Speedway.

Bell benefitted from quick repairs from his Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) crew and the comparative lack of aerodynamic effects on the half-mile dirt oval to overcome an early crash, salvage a top 10 and close the gap to championship points leader Johnny Sauter in the Eldora Dirt Derby.

Early Mistake

With three wins on the year and an impressive resume on dirt, Bell came to Eldora as the de-facto favorite to become the first driver with multiple wins at Eldora. While Stewart Friesen stole the show throughout the week – topping a practice session and claiming the Keystone Light Pole – Bell was on the Canadian’s heels with Matt Crafton in a battle for the lead as the race’s opening stage began to wind down.

Then he made a mistake.

Bell was maneuvering through Turn 2 on Lap 35 when he lost control of his No. 4 Toyota, spinning around in front of the field. Kaz Grala plowed into Bell’s side moments later.

Grala’s truck was killed, and Bell’s didn’t look much better.

The March Back

After sustaining heavy right side damage in the crash, Kevin Harvick and others figured Bell’s day to be done. The Oklahoman’s truck was billowing out smoke from the right side, and still had more than 100 laps to traverse to get to the race’s end.

At most tracks, that assumption likely would’ve been accurate. But at Eldora, where speeds are so slow that aerodynamic effects are negligible, Bell’s KBM team elected to march on.

And march Bell did – right through the field.

After his crew executed repair plans strategized by crew chief Rudy Fugle, Bell battled back into contention over the second half of the race – rising into fourth by the end of Stage 2 and taking the lead for the first time on Lap 92. The 22-year-old surrendered the top spot to Friesen on Lap 114, but stayed in contention until the next yellow flag flew a few laps later.

Salvaging the Day

In the end, Bell’s damage appeared to come back to bite him.

At the end of a Lap 120 caution flag Bell reported to his team that he had a flat tire. On the ensuing restart the tire woes proved true, with Bell dropping multiple positions and being forced to pit road shortly thereafter.

With the race for the win over, Bell set about salvaging his day. He took advantage of two late cautions to climb back into the top 10 before ultimately finishing in ninth.

“First off, I got to say I ruined it for my guys man,” Bell said. “They gave me a great Tundra. I really felt like we had the truck to win there, but unfortunately I made a mistake early on that cost us. My guys worked really hard to get us going again and then we got going really good and the truck seemed like it was driving good enough – we had a lot of speed, just miscalculated there on the spin. T

“he lap before I had a lot of grip up in the cushion and it held me really good, so I tried to make speed up there and was just a little bit too low in the slick and spun out. The flat tire really killed us.”

While he didn’t get the victory he wanted, Bell did leave Eldora much closer to the points lead and the five playoff points that come with it. Courtesy of a 23rd-place finish for Sauter after sustaining damage in an early crash, Bell’s salvaged day proved enough to elevate the KBM star to within seven points of Sauter for the top spot in the standings.

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