NASCAR’s Christopher Bell, Chase Briscoe top USAC race in DuQuoin

Ross Wece

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

In a field filled with dirt midget newcomers and veterans alike, it was a duo of NASCAR regulars that led the way in USAC’s Junior Knepper 55 at the Southern Illinois Center.

Former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series competitors and dirt graduates Christopher Bell and Chase Briscoe survived Saturday night’s festivities to finish first and second, respectively, in the famed indoor midget race in DuQuoin, Illinois.

Bell made his way around leader Chad Boat with four laps remaining in the 55-lap feature, then fended off a final charge from Briscoe after a late caution to claim his first win in the event, and the second for NASCAR regulars after a victory for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the 2015 edition of the race.

The victory was Bell’s fifth USAC National Midget triumph of the year.

“To be able to win the last race of the year like that is pretty cool,” Bell said afterward.  “I’ve been pretty close and really fast here in the past, but I just haven’t been able to win.

“The team’s always been really good here too, but finally, it all came together tonight.”

Falling just short of his first USAC win behind Bell was Briscoe, who just last month claimed his maiden Camping World Truck Series victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the same race where Bell was crowned series champion.

The Mitchell, Indiana native’s result came at the end of an impressive drive, with Briscoe rallying from the C-Main to contend for the victory after a poor performance in his heat race.

Briscoe won the C-Main to claim a starting position in the back of one of the two 15-lap B-Mains. In his semifinal, the Ford prospect benefitted from attrition and executed a strong outside move on the final set of turns to finish fourth and claim the final non-provisional position in the 21-car feature.

The former Brad Keselowski Racing star drove through the field one last time in the feature, but fell short of passing Bell after restarting third for the final run to the checkered flag.

While he failed to repeat his triumphant run from 2015, Stenhouse managed to do enough to make the feature once again on Saturday – driving his way into the final race with a third-place run in his B-Main. But the Mississippian encountered early issues in the feature, relegating him to a 20th-place result.

Two-time Truck Series champion Matt Crafton was a surprise entrant in the event, joining Bell at Keith Kunz Motorsports to make his dirt midget debut. After a shaky opening hot lap session, the NASCAR veteran was able to adjust to the car and find competitive pace.

But while he was quick to adapt to the new challenge, Crafton was unable to make the feature – finishing 13th in his B-Main after stalling out during an early crash.

NASCAR fans will be able to see Bell and Briscoe – along with Kyle Larson – run dirt once again on January 8-13 when they compete in the Chili Bowl Nationals.

The duo are slated to compete in the XFINITY Series in 2018, with Bell running full-time for Joe Gibbs Racing while Briscoe competes on a part-time basis for Roush Fenway Racing and Biagi-Denbeste Racing.

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