Christopher Bell punched his ticket to the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs after claiming a late victory in the Ambetter 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday, July 17.
After starting the day on the bubble for the Playoffs, the 27-year-old from Norman, Oklahoma, led the final 42 laps overtaking Chase Elliott for the lead. He pulled away and beat Elliott by more than five seconds to achieve his first victory of the season and became the 14th different competitor to win and secure a spot in the postseason championship in NASCAR’s premier series.
With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, Martin Truex Jr. started in the pole position after posting a winning lap at 127.113 mph in 29.964 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Chase Elliott, winner of last weekend’s Cup event at Atlanta Motor Speedway after he clocked in a fast qualifying lap at 126.922 mph in 30.009 seconds.
When the green flag waved and the race started amid a 20-minute delay due to a brief shower, Truex rocketed forward with an advantage on the outside lane while Bubba Wallace launched an early attack on Elliott for the runner-up spot. As the field returned to the start/finish line, Truex led the first lap followed by Wallace, Elliott, Kurt Busch, William Byron and Kyle Larson as the field jostled early for positions.
Five laps into the event, the first caution flew when Ty Dillon made contact with Justin Haley entering the backstretch, which caused Dillon to get loose. He veered his No. 42 Allegiant Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 back to the right and collided head-on into the outside wall along with Alex Bowman as Josh Bilicki and BJ McLeod also wrecked.
When the race restarted under green on Lap 12, Truex and Wallace dueled for the lead entering the first turn until Truex managed to clear Wallace and retain the lead through the backstretch. Behind, Elliott and Kurt Busch fought for third ahead of Larson, Aric Almirola and Byron as the field fanned out to double lanes.
Through the first 20 scheduled laps, Truex was leading by six-tenths of a second over Wallace followed by Elliott, Kurt Busch and Larson while Almirola, Byron, Kevin Harvick, Christopher Bell and Joey Logano were in the top 10. Brad Keselowski was in 11th ahead of Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Ross Chastain and Tyler Reddick while AJ Allmendinger, Chris Buescher, Kyle Busch, Corey LaJoie and Erik Jones were in the top 20. By then, Daniel Suarez was in 22nd behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chase Briscoe was mired in 24th, rookie Austin Cindric was in 26th ahead of Harrison Burton and Austin Dillon was back in 30th.
By Lap 35, Truex extended his advantage to one-and-a-half seconds over Wallace while Elliott remained in third. Behind, Larson overtook Kurt Busch for fourth place while Byron was back in ninth behind Almirola, Harvick and Bell.
At the Lap 50 mark, Truex stabilized his advantage to one-and-a-half seconds over Wallace while Larson, Elliott and Kurt Busch remained in the top five.
Ten laps later, Truex continued to extend his advantage as he was more than three seconds over both Wallace and Larson, with both dueling for the runner-up spot. Elliott remained in fourth while Harvick emerged into the top five ahead of Kurt Busch. By then, Denny Hamlin was in the top 10 in 10th place while names like Harrison Burton, Austin Dillon, Michael McDowell, Stenhouse and Justin Haley were lapped by the field.
When the first stage concluded on Lap 70, Truex captured his sixth stage victory of the season. Wallace fended off Larson to retain second ahead of Elliott, Harvick, Bell, Kurt Busch, Almirola, Byron and Hamlin. By then, Cole Custer, who was running in 23rd, remained on the lead lap while Harrison Burton was the recipient of the free pass after being scored as the first competitor a lap down in 24th.
Under the stage break, the leaders, led by Truex pitted, and Truex retained the lead followed by Harvick, Larson, Wallace, Bell and Kurt Busch.
The second stage started on Lap 77 as Truex and Harvick occupied the front row. At the start, Truex managed to retain the lead ahead of Harvick, Larson and the field entering the first two turns. Shortly after, however, the caution flew when Kyle Busch spun in the middle of the backstretch, but managed to proceed without sustaining any damage to his No. 18 DeWalt Toyota TRD Camry.
As the race proceeded under green on Lap 83, Truex kept the lead ahead of Larson while Wallace and Harvick raced for third. Behind, three-wide action occurred between Kurt Busch, Almirola and Bell while Elliott was mired in eighth ahead of Joey Logano, Byron and Keselowski.
Six laps later, the caution returned due to a heavy multi-car wreck on the backstretch involving Harrison Burton, Michael McDowell and Corey LaJoie, whose No. 7 Built.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 sustained heavy front-nose damage.
During the caution period, a majority of the field led by Truex pitted while names like Logano, Austin Cindric, Chris Buescher and Harrison Burton remained on the track. Following the pit stops, Elliott pitted for a second time to address loose right-side wheels on his No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
When the race restarted under green on Lap 100, Logano retained the lead followed by Buescher while Cindric and Truex competed for third in front of Harvick, Kurt Busch, Almirola, Larson and Wallace.
Ten laps later, Logano’s No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang was leading by eight-tenths of a second over Truex’s No. 19 Interstate Batteries Toyota TRD Camry while Harvick started to pressure Buescher for third place. Behind, Cindric was in fifth ahead of Wallace, Larson, Kurt Busch, Almirola and Bell while Elliott was up in 11th ahead of Hamlin, Byron, Ross Chastain and Ryan Blaney.
Another 10 laps later, Logano’s advantage decreased to two-tenths of a second over Truex while Buescher, Harvick and Larson remained in the top five. During the following lap, however, Truex reassumed the top spot.
Just past the Lap 135 mark, Truex extended his advantage to more than three seconds over Logano while Larson, Harvick and Cindric were scored in the top five. Behind, Kurt Busch was in sixth while Buescher, Elliott, Wallace and Bell were in the top 10.
Ten laps later, the caution flew when Ryan Blaney spun and backed his No. 12 Menards Ford Mustang into the Turn 4 outside wall. Under caution, the leaders led by Truex pitted as Truex, who opted for four fresh tires, retained the lead amid a flurry of different strategies while Suarez, who opted for two fresh tires, came out in second.
When the event restarted on Lap 151 at the halfway mark, Truex pulled away with the lead followed by Logano as the field fanned out to multiple lanes through the backstretch. With the field still fanned out through Turns 3 and 4, the caution returned when Chase Briscoe spun his No. 14 Mahindra Tractors Ford Mustang in Turn 4.
As the field restarted under green on Lap 156, Truex received another strong start on the outside lane to retain the lead while Harvick, Logano and Kurt Busch challenged for the runner-up spot. Behind, Cindric retained fifth ahead of a hard-charging Elliott while Suarez was being pressured by Larson, Bell, Byron, Chastain and Wallace. By then, Almirola, who won last year’s event at New Hampshire, took his No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang to the garage due to a mechanical issue.
Then on Lap 162, the caution flew again when Kyle Busch, who was battling Suarez for 12th place, got loose and spun entering the frontstretch, which marked his second spin of the day. At the moment of caution, tempers flared between Austin Dillon and Keselowski after both collided and rubbed fenders against one another through the backstretch, with Keselowski claiming that Dillon attempted to wreck him on the backstretch. The contact resulted in Keselowski’s No. 6 Kohler Generators Ford Mustang cutting a left-front tire as he pitted along with Dillon and Kyle Busch.
With the race proceeding under green on Lap 167, Truex gained another strong start on the outside lane to retain the lead ahead of Harvick, Logano and Kurt Busch as the field fanned out through the first two turns. As the field returned to the frontstretch, Elliott launched his attack on Kurt Busch for fourth place while Bell and Larson vied for sixth. With Elliott clearing Busch for the position, he then managed to overtake Logano for third place while Truex continued to lead.
Down to the final 10 laps of the second stage, Truex stabilized his advantage to nine-tenths of a second over Harvick followed by Elliott, Logano and Larson while Chastain started to close in on Kurt Busch for sixth place.
When the second stage concluded on Lap 185, Truex captured his seventh stage victory of the season and the second of the day after being Harvick by four-tenths of a second. Elliott settled in third followed by Logano, Larson, Kurt Busch, Chastain, Byron, Bell and Wallace.
Under the stage break, the leaders led by Truex pitted as he retained the lead. During the pit stops, Cindric had to back his car to his pit stall after the left-front wheel from his No. 2 AutoTrader Ford Mustang came off while exiting his pit stall.
With 109 laps remaining, the final stage started under green as Harrison Burton and Briscoe occupied the front row in front of Truex and Kyle Busch. At the start, Briscoe pulled ahead with the top spot while Truex and Harrison Burton dueled for a lap for the runner-up spot in front of Kyle Busch, Elliott, Harvick, Logano and the field.
Six laps later, Truex muscled his No. 19 Toyota to the outside of Briscoe’s No. 14 Ford to reassume the lead. Another six laps later, the caution returned for an incident involving rookie Todd Gilliland in Turn 4. During the caution period, a majority led by Truex pitted while the rest led by Kurt Busch remained on the track. During the caution period, Harvick, who was exiting his pit stall after completing his service, collided with Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 as Dillon ended up pitting backward. In addition, Harrison Burton was penalized for equipment interference.
With 92 laps remaining, the race proceeded under green as Kurt Busch cleared the field with the lead followed by Logano, Cole Custer and Larson while Truex was mired in eighth behind Byron, Elliott and Harvick.
With less than 75 laps remaining, Kurt Busch remained the leader by four-tenths of a second over Logano as Elliott started to challenge Logano for the runner-up spot. Custer and Bell were in the top five followed by Kyle Busch, Larson, Wallace, Harvick and Truex, who was unable to march his way back to the front.
Fifteen laps later, Kurt Busch stabilized his advantage to three-tenths of a second over Logano before he was overtaken by Elliott shortly after. Bell would also overtake Logano for third place as Logano was trapped behind the lapped car of Cody Ware through the backstretch.
Another six laps later, Elliott overtook Kurt Busch’s No. 45 SiriusXM Toyota TRD Camry for the lead as Bell also moved his No. 20 Rheem Toyota TRD Camry into the runner-up spot.
Then with 41 laps remaining, Bell used the lapped car of Todd Gilliland to his advantage as he trapped Elliott to the outside lane before overtaking him for the lead.
Nearing the final 30 laps, Kurt Busch surrendered third place to pit under green. By then, Bell was leading by nearly a second over Elliott while Bubba Wallace cycled his No. 23 DraftKings Toyota TRD Camry into third place ahead of Harvick and Truex. Another four laps later, Austin Dillon pitted.
Down to the final 20 laps of the event, Bell was leading by nearly two seconds over Elliott while third-place Wallace trailed by nine-and-a-half seconds. Harvick and Truex remained in the top five while Hamlin, Logano, Custer, Byron and Brad Keselowski were scored in the top 10. By then, Kyle Bush was in 11th ahead of Chastain, Suarez, Larson and Briscoe while Cindric, AJ Allmendinger, Buescher and Blaney were all on the lead lap. Kurt Busch was the first competitor a lap down in 20th.
With 10 laps remaining, Bell stabilized his advantage to more than two seconds over Elliott while Wallace, Harvick and Truex remained in the top five.
Down to the final five laps of the event, Bell continued to extend his advantage to more than four seconds over Elliott as third-place Wallace trailed by 11 seconds. Meanwhile, Harvick, racing in his No. 4 Gearwrench Ford Mustang, settled in third while Truex was mired back in fifth. Shortly after, Logano, who was told that he was short on fuel for the finish, pitted under green while Truex caught and overtook Harvick for fourth.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Bell, who lapped Larson’s No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, remained the leader by more than five seconds over Elliott. Despite being mired by lapped traffic in the closing laps, Bell was able to cycle his way back to the frontstretch with a clear race track and claim both his first checkered flag of the 2022 Cup season and a spot in the 2022 Cup Playoffs.
In addition, Bell, who became the third Joe Gibbs Racing competitor to win this season, recorded his second career win in the NASCAR Cup Series and his first since winning his first series victory at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course in February 2021. With Bell becoming the 14th different winner of this season, this marks the first time since 2011 that a Cup season has featured 14 winners through the first 20 scheduled events.
“Man, that one was much needed right there,” Bell, who finished second at New Hampshire one year ago, said on USA Network. “I’ll tell you what. That was a hell of a race from my viewpoint. That was so much fun. Racing with [Kurt Busch], [Logano] and [Elliott]. We were all running different lines. That was a blast. Just so happy. So happy to be here at Joe Gibbs Racing. All of our partners on this No. 20 car. It’s good to get Rheem back in Victory Lane.”
“Man, winning Cup races is hard,” Bell added. “You [fans] are awesome. Thank you for coming out, but it just seems like we’ve been so close and then we’ve fallen off a little bit last week. I was talking to my best friend. I told him I said earlier in the year, I felt like we were right on the verge of winning and in the last couple of weeks, I felt like we were pretty far away. But here we are today.”
Elliott, who led 13 laps in comparison to Bell’s 42, came home in the runner-up spot for his fourth consecutive top-two result while Wallace earned a strong third-place result for his second top-three result of the season.
“Just do a better job again,” Elliott said. “Same conversation as Road America, unfortunately. I felt like just a poor run of execution on my end throughout that last run. Man, I felt like it took me a while to get past Joey [Logano] and [Kurt Busch]. [I] Had to run a little harder than I wanted to and got in front of those guys. Just made a couple of mistakes and couldn’t get much breathing room. Christopher did a good job. Congrats to those guys. I know they stayed close to winning, so that’s cool, but obviously, for us, we were in a position where guys at this level should close out a race if you got a lead like that. Just poor effort on my part.”
“Just proud of the team,” Wallace said. “Proud of myself. Proud of everybody at the shop. They brought a decent DraftKings Toyota Camry TRD. It didn’t handle that great, but it had speed. We knew that. Just the mental preparation and had to set yourself up for a long day, and then we did. I had no idea where we were running there at the end. I knew it was inside the top five, but just tire management there at the end and we were able to capitalize. Just proud of everybody. Happy. It’s been hell the last month and so, good to come out with a top five.”
Truex, who led a race-high 172 laps and claimed the first two stages, could only carve his way to fourth place while Harvick completed the top five.
“Just Loudon, for us,” Truex said. “It’s every year. We lead a ton of laps. We run really well here and then, we find a way to give it away. I’m frustrated for Intestate [Batteries], Toyota, all of our partners. Overall, it was a hell of a run. This place, man, it’s killing me. It’s not like we haven’t been trying to win. We’ve had cars to win. We’ve had some really strong cars and everybody at [Joe Gibbs Racing]’s working really hard. Our short track stuff’s been off and we came here and dominated, and [Bell] winning. Congratulations to him. They were smarter than us at the end. I’m happy for him. I’m just really disappointed for us.”
Finishing in the top 10 on the track were Hamlin, Keselowski, Chastain, Suarez and Kurt Busch, who ended up leading 40 laps.
There were eight lead changes for seven different leaders. The race featured nine cautions for 52 laps.
With six regular season races remaining this season, Chase Elliott continues to lead the regular season standings by 67 points over Ross Chastain and 78 over Ryan Blaney.
Chase Elliott, Ross Chastain, William Byron, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch, Daniel Suarez, Tyler Reddick, Chase Briscoe, Kyle Busch, Alex Bowman, rookie Austin Cindric and Christopher Bell are currently guaranteed spots for the 2022 Cup Series Playoffs based on winning once throughout the regular-season stretch while Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. are above the top-16 cutline based on points. Kevin Harvick trails the top-16 cutline by 68 points, Aric Almirola trails by 129, Erik Jones, trails by 154, Austin Dillon trails by 198, Michael McDowell trails by 204, Justin Haley trails by 228, Bubba Wallace trails by 230, Chris Buescher trails by 239 and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. trails by 286.
1. Christopher Bell, 42 laps led
2. Chase Elliott, 13 laps led
3. Bubba Wallace
4. Martin Truex Jr., 172 laps led, Stage 1 & 2 winner
5. Kevin Harvick
6. Denny Hamlin
7. Brad Keselowski
8. Ross Chastain
9. Daniel Suarez
10. Kurt Busch, 40 laps led
11. William Byron
12. Kyle Busch
13. Austin Cindric
14. Kyle Larson, one lap down
15. Chase Briscoe, one lap down, six laps led
16. AJ Allmendinger, one lap down
17. Chris Buescher, one lap down
18. Ryan Blaney, one lap down
19. Erik Jones, one lap down
20. Justin Haley, one lap down
21. Tyler Reddick, one lap down
22. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., one lap down
23. Austin Dillon, one lap down
24. Joey Logano, one lap down, 25 laps led
25. Todd Gilliland, one lap down
26. Harrison Burton, one lap down, three laps led
27. Cole Custer, one lap down
28. Michael McDowell, two laps down
29. JJ Yeley, two laps down
30. Cody Ware, four laps down
31. Aric Almirola, 19 laps down
32. Corey LaJoie – OUT, Accident
33. Ty Dillon – OUT, Accident
34. Josh Bilicki – OUT, Accident
35. Alex Bowman – OUT, Accident
36. BJ McLeod – OUT, Accident
Next on the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the series’ lone annual visit of the season to Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. The event is scheduled to occur on Sunday, July 24, at 3 p.m. on USA Network.