Bell sets Xfin­ity rookie record with 6th vic­tory

Sunday Star - - OUTDOORS -

DOVER, DEL. (AP) — Christo­pher Bell has a sec­ond straight NASCAR cham­pi­onship in sight.

Bell won his sixth Xfin­ity Se­ries race this season in the play­off race Satur­day at Dover In­ter­na­tional Speed­way, set­ting the rookie record for vic­to­ries in a season.

He passed three driv­ers for most rookie wins: Greg Bif­fle won five races in 2001, as did Kyle Busch in 2004 and Carl Ed­wards in 2005.

Bell built his record with wins at Ken­tucky, New Hamp­shire, Iowa and twice at Rich­mond and ex­pected to add a few more as he chases a cham­pi­onship.

“We’re in re­ally good shape,” Bell said.

The 2017 Truck Se­ries cham­pion, Bell won the first stage Satur­day and was never in any se­ri­ous trou­ble driv­ing the No. 20 Toy­ota for Joe Gibbs Rac­ing, lead­ing 110 of 200 laps.

“It’s been a ca­reer year for me,” Bell said. “All credit to Joe Gibbs Rac­ing. We have re­ally fast race cars ev­ery time I go to the race­track.”

He was the only driver headed into the race who se­cured a spot in the semi­fi­nal round.

Ross Chas­tain, Ryan Truex, Ryan Reed and Bran­don Jones all failed to ad­vance.

Bell, Justin All­gaier, Daniel Hem­ric, Cole Custer, El­liott Sadler, Tyler Red­dick, Austin Cin­dric and Matt Tifft are still in the run­ning for the cham­pi­onship when the se­ries picks up in two weeks at Kansas.

“I’ll be just as sharp when­ever we get to Kansas as I was to­day,” Bell said.

The play­off driv­ers in the round of eight know there is only one sure way to knock off Bell.

“It would be nice to win a race,” Custer said. “I think we’ll have a shot to do it.”

Custer was sec­ond at Dover, fol­lowed by All­gaier, Ryan Preece and Spencer Gal­lagher.

The 23-year-old Bell this season be­came the first se­ries reg­u­lar with a three­r­ace win­ning streak since Dale Earn­hardt Jr. in 1999. Kyle Busch did it four times be­tween 2008 and 2016, but he was also run­ning full­time in the Cup Se­ries.

“I don’t think it’s any of our cham­pi­onships to lose,” Bell said. “It boils down to the last race. It all boils down to one run at Home­stead who the cham­pion is.”

Bell ran a pair of K&N races and seven Trucks events in 2015, win­ning for the first time on the dirt at El­dora. He showed enough prom­ise to land a full-time truck ride with Kyle Busch Mo­tor­sports in 2016, win­ning just once but fin­ish­ing in the top 10 in 19 of 23 events.

Last season was the first of con­sec­u­tive break­out sea­sons for Bell. He won five times and fin­ished in the top five 15 times, and he clinched the cham­pi­onship by fin­ish­ing sec­ond at Home­stead.

Bell moved up yet again in 2018, land­ing a 23-race Xfin­ity deal with JGR af­ter run­ning just eight times in the se­ries, in­clud­ing a win at Kansas in 2017.

“I think his fu­ture in the sport is big,” crew chief Ja­son Rat­cliff said. “I think it can go as far as he wants it to go.”

AP PHOTO

Christo­pher Bell cel­e­brates in Vic­tory Lane af­ter he won the Xfin­ity se­ries race Satur­day at Dover In­ter­na­tional Speed­way in Dover, Del.

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