Christopher Bell muscles to first Cup victory of 2024 at Phoenix

Christopher Bell was not to be denied. His fast No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry XSE entry enabled him to rally from restarting towards the middle of the pack during a late-race restart period to leading the final 41 laps en route to a strong victory in the Shriners Children’s 500 at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, March 10. 

The 29-year-old Bell from Norman, Oklahoma, led twice for 50 of 312-scheduled laps in an event where he started 13th and spent the first stage period running within the top 15 before his car came to life during the second stage period, which allowed him to carve his way to the front and claim the second stage victory over Toyota teammate Tyler Reddick.  

Despite losing ground for the lead following a slow pit stop prior to the start of the final stage, Bell, who dodged a series of cautions and on-track incidents during the final stage’s start, pitted along with the majority of the front-runners for fresh tires and fuel during a late caution period with less than 98 laps remaining. During the final restart with 92 laps remaining, Bell used the four fresh tires to his advantage and methodically navigated his way back towards the front. Once teammate Martin Truex Jr. pitted for fresh tires and fuel with 41 laps remaining, the lead was all Bell’s as the Oklahoma native maintained a sizeable gap between himself and Chris Buescher and teammate Ty Gibbs for the remainder of the event, which was enough for him to claim his first NASCAR Cup Series victory of the 2024 season. 

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, March 9, Denny Hamlin claimed his first Cup Series pole position of the 2024 season after posting a pole-winning lap at 132.655 mph in 27.138 seconds. Joining him on the front row was teammate Ty Gibbs, who clocked in the second-fastest qualifying lap at 132.227 mph in 27.226 seconds. 

Prior to the event, rookie Josh Berry dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments and repairs made to his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang Dark Horse entry after he spun and hit the wall during his qualifying attempt. 

When the green flag waved and the event commenced, teammates Hamlin and Ty Gibbs dueled for the lead through the frontstretch and entering the first two turns until Gibbs rocketed his No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota Camry XSE into the lead from the outside lane entering the backstretch. As the field fanned out to as large as four lanes, Gibbs proceeded to lead the first lap while Erik Jones battled and overtook Hamlin for the runner-up spot. 

Through the second to fifth lap marks, Gibbs maintained a steady lead that would grow to half a second over Erik Jones and teammate Hamlin while Tyler Reddick and Chase Elliott followed suit in the top five. Behind, William Byron trailed in sixth ahead of Chase Briscoe and rookie Carson Hocevar while Michael McDowell, Martin Truex Jr. and Noah Gragson battled for ninth place in front of Daniel Suarez and Kyle Larson. 

Then approaching the sixth lap, the event’s first caution flew after Derek Kraus spun sideways on the bottom lane through Turn 2 and back across the track entering the backstretch before he was hit by both Austin Dillon and Austin Cindric, the latter of which would retire from further competition. During the event’s first caution period, some including Kyle Busch pitted while the rest led by Ty Gibbs remained on the track. 

When the event restarted under green on Lap 12, Gibbs muscled ahead of the field to retain the lead on the inside lane while Reddick ignited a three-wide battle on Hamlin and Erik Jones for the runner-up spot. Jones would use the outside lane to fend off both Toyota teammates for second place as Elliott and Byron trailed closely in the top six. In addition, Briscoe and Hocevar battled for seventh place along with McDowell while Gibbs stretched his early advantage by nearly half a second over Jones by the Lap 15 mark. 

Through the first 25 scheduled laps, Gibbs was leading by four-tenths of a second over Jones followed by Hamlin, Reddick and Chase Elliott while William Byron, Michael McDowell, Carson Hocevar, Chase Briscoe and Ryan Blaney followed suit in the top 10. Behind, Martin Truex Jr. was in 11th ahead of Noah Gragson, Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez and Christopher Bell while Brad Keselowski, Bubba Wallace, Ross Chastain, Kyle Busch and John Hunter Nemechek trailed in the top 20. Meanwhile, Josh Berry was mired in 21st ahead of Chris Buescher, Joey Logano, Ryan Preece and Alex Bowman while Todd Gilliland, Corey LaJoie, Harrison Burton, Daniel Hemric and Justin Haley rounded out the top 30. 

Ten laps later, Gibbs stabilized his advantage to seven-tenths of a second over Jones while Hamlin and Reddick trailed by within one-and-a-half seconds. Elliott would trail the top-four competitors by more than two seconds and teammate Byron would trail by more than three seconds as Gibbs maintained the lead by four-tenths of a second over Jones, who was slowly closing in on the leader, by the Lap 40 mark. 

By Lap 50, Gibbs stabilized his advantage to two-tenths of a second over a hard-charging Reddick, who moved into the runner-up spot, followed by Hamlin while Jones fell back to fourth place. In the process, Hendrick Motorsports’ Elliott and Byron remained in fifth and sixth, respectively, as they trailed the lead by more than two seconds while McDowell, Blaney, Briscoe and Truex were running in the top 10 ahead of Larson, Gragson, Hocevar, Suarez and Keselowski. 

Seven laps later, Reddick, who navigated his way around Phoenix’s racing lanes to narrow the gap between himself and Gibbs, drew himself into a side-by-side battle with Gibbs for the lead through the backstretch and the frontstretch. Gibbs would try to fight back from the outside lane, but Reddick used the inside lane to muscle his No. 45 Mobil 1 Toyota Camry XSE ahead with the top spot. 

When the first stage period concluded on Lap 60, Reddick, who capitalized late on his battle with Ty Gibbs, captured his first Cup stage victory of the 2024 season as he also stretched his advantage to six-tenths of a second. Gibbs settled in second followed by Hamlin, Jones and Elliott while Byron, Blaney, McDowell, Briscoe and Truex were scored in the top 10. 

Under the stage break, the lead lap field led by Reddick pitted for service. Following the pit stops, Hamlin emerged as the new race leader after he exited pit road first from the first pit box while Reddick, Byron, Elliott, Gibbs, Blaney, Briscoe, Larson, Keselowski and Jones followed suit in the top 10. Not long after, Larson pitted his No. 5 Valvoline Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for a second time due to a left-rear tire issue while Hocevar also pitted again for a loose wheel. 

The second stage period started on Lap 69 as Hamlin and Reddick occupied the front row. At the start, Hamlin muscled his No. 11 Mavis Brakes Plus Toyota Camry XSE ahead with the lead as the front-runners dived below the frontstretch dog-leg and fanned out entering the first two turns. With Hamlin leading the race, Reddick maintained the runner-up spot while a three-wide action for third place involving Gibbs, Byron and Elliott ensued in front of Blaney. In the process, Keselowski was in seventh ahead of another three-wide battle involving Truex, Briscoe and Jones while Hamlin was leading just past the Lap 70 mark. 

Through the first 80 scheduled laps, Hamlin extended his advantage to a second over Reddick followed by Elliott, Gibbs and Byron while Blaney, Truex, Keselowski, Bell and Gragson trailed in the top 10 ahead of Erik Jones, Suarez, Briscoe, Bowman and McDowell. Hamlin would stretch his lead to more than two seconds over Reddick by the Lap 90 mark while Elliott, Gibbs and Byron remained in the top five. 

At the Lap 100 mark, Hamlin continued to lead by nearly two seconds over Reddick followed by Elliott, Byron and Gibbs while Truex, Bell, Blaney, Keselowski and Gragson were scored in the top 10. Behind, Erik Jones trailed in 11th followed by Suarez, Briscoe, Bowman and McDowell while Buescher, Wallace, Chastain, Preece and Larson were running in the top 20 ahead of Nemechek, Logano, LaJoie, Kyle Busch and Berry. 

Fifteen laps later, Hamlin stabilized his lead to more than a second over Reddick as Elliott and Byron remained in the top four. Meanwhile, Bell carved his No. 20 Rheem Toyota Camry XSE into fifth place followed by teammate Truex while teammate Ty Gibbs dropped to seventh. 

Shortly after, green flag pit stops commenced as Blaney pitted his No. 12 Advance Auto Parts Ford Mustang Dark Horse along with Chastain and Larson. More names like Byron, Bell, Truex, Keselowski, Bowman, Wallace, Buescher, Preece, Logano, LaJoie, Daniel Hemric, Elliott, Gibbs, Briscoe, Nemechek, rookie Zane Smith, Justin Haley and Reddick would pit during the ensuing laps, starting from Lap 116, before Hamlin pitted from the lead on Lap 119. 

Just past the Lap 120 mark and with nearly the entire field having made a pit stop under green, Todd Gilliland, who has yet to pit, was leading ahead of Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Hocevar and Kraus, all of whom have yet to pit, while Hamlin, the first competitor who pitted and who nearly made contact with Suarez while trying to enter his pit stall, trailed in sixth place as he also had Reddick closing in on him for position. 

On Lap 133, Reddick, who overtook Hamlin through the first two turns a lap earlier, used the outside lane to rocket past Gilliland for the race lead. Hamlin would quickly follow suit for the runner-up spot as Byron and Bell trailed in the top five within six seconds. By then, Stenhouse and Hocevar remained on the track in sixth and seventh, respectively, while Kyle Busch was scored a lap down after he pitted under green. 

Just past the Lap 145 mark, Reddick stretched his advantage to nearly a second over Hamlin as Gilliland, who led 14 laps, continued to run on the track in third place ahead of Bell, Byron and Truex. Reddick would maintain his lead by eight-tenths of a second over Hamlin while Bell and Byron overtook Gilliland for third and fourth by Lap 150. 

By the halfway mark on Lap 156, Reddick continued to lead within a second over Hamlin while Bell, Byron and Truex trailed in the top five ahead of Gilliland, Blaney, Elliott, Keselowski and Gragson, all of whom were running in the top 10 and trailing the lead by 14 seconds. Reddick would maintain the lead by eight-tenths of a second over Hamlin while Bell trailed in third place by more than a second as Gilliland pitted under green by the Lap 165 mark. 

By Lap 175, Reddick, who was mired in lapped traffic as he was trying to lap Logano, retained the lead by two-tenths of a second over a hard-charging Bell, who nearly overtook Reddick for the lead entering the first two turns, while third-place Hamlin trailed by nearly a second as Byron and Truex trailed from a distance in the top five. Bell would then capitalize on his charge to overtake Reddick for the lead through the first two turns with four laps remaining to the second stage’s conclusion. 

When the second stage period concluded on Lap 185, Bell captured his first Cup stage victory of the 2024 season. Reddick trailed in second followed by Hamlin, Byron and Truex while Blaney, Elliott, Gragson, Keselowski and Chris Buescher were scored in the top 10. By then, 19 of 36 starters were scored on the lead lap while Ryan Preece, who was running 19th, managed to fend off Logano to emerge as the first competitor scored a lap down and receive the free pass.  

During the stage break, the lead lap field led by Bell returned to pit road for service. Following the pit stops, Hamlin benefitted from having the first pit box towards the exit of pit road for a second time as he exited first followed by Reddick, Byron, Elliott, Blaney and Truex. Amid the pit stops, Harrison Burton was penalized for speeding on pit road. 

With 118 laps remaining, the final stage commenced as Hamlin and Reddick occupied the front row. At the start, the front-runners fanned out and dived through the frontstretch dog-leg as Hamlin maintained the lead in front of a side-by-side battle between Reddick and Byron for the runner-up spot. With the field still fanning out across multiple lanes from the backstretch through the frontstretch, Hamlin maintained the lead in front of Reddick and Byron. The caution, however, would return two laps later after Kyle Busch, who was mired in 25th, got loose through Turn 2 and was bumped by Zane Smith into Kaz Grala before Busch spun his No. 8 zone Premium Nicotine Pouches Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 within the middle of the track through the backstretch.  

During the following restart with 110 laps remaining, the front-runners dived through the frontstretch dog-leg as Reddick overtook Hamlin for the lead. With the field fanning out through the backstretch, Reddick was leading by nearly half a second over Hamlin followed by Blaney, Byron and Truex as Ross Chastain, who was running in the middle of the pack, scraped the outside wall towards the frontstretch, though the event remained under green flag conditions. 

With 107 laps remaining, the caution returned after Logano, who was scored as the first competitor a lap down, received a huge bump by Nemechek entering Turn 1 that sent his No. 22 Hunt Brother’s Pizza Ford Mustang Dark Horse spinning below the apron before he came back across the track and was hit by Corey LaJoie, with Kraus, Zane Smith and Berry also involved as Logano’s long afternoon came to a late end. 

As the event restarted with 100 laps remaining, the leaders dived through the frontstretch dog-leg as Reddick battled and fended off Hamlin to retain the lead. With Hamlin fighting back during the following lap by drawing even with Reddick, Truex joined the tight three-car battle for the lead while Byron maintained fourth place in front of a three-wide battle involving Gragson, Keselowski and Wallace as Blaney and Bell battled for ninth.  

The caution, however, returned with 98 laps remaining after Hamlin, who was battling Reddick for the lead, got loose underneath Reddick entering Turn 1 as he slid into Reddick and spun sideways from the middle to the bottom lane through Turn 2 while the rest of the field scattered to avoid hitting Hamlin. During the caution period, a majority of the front-runners led by Reddick pitted for fresh tires and fuel while the rest led by Truex remained on the track. 

With the event restarting with 92 laps remaining, the field fanned out and dived through the frontstretch dog-leg as Truex maintained the lead in front of the field. During the following lap, Truex was leading by three-tenths of a second over Preece, Gilliland, Chastain and Buescher while Ty Gibbs, who pitted for two fresh tires and a full tank of fuel, carved his way up to seventh place. Amid the tight battles between those who pitted and those who did not, Wallace, who was getting pinned in between Briscoe and Erik Jones while battling for a top-10 spot, got loose and got Jones’ No. 43 Family Dollar Toyota Camry XSE sideways entering Turn 1, which resulted with Jones making contact with the outside wall and plummeting in the leaderboard, though the event remained under green flag conditions. 

Back at the front of the pack, Ty Gibbs continued to use the two fresh tires to his advantage as he carved his way up to third place while Truex continued to lead by two-tenths of a second over Preece with 90 laps remaining. By then, names like Chastain, McDowell, Gilliland, Buescher, Briscoe, Keselowski and Suarez were running in the top 10 while front-runners Reddick, Bell, Blaney, Elliott, Hamlin and Byron were mired in 12th, 13th, 15th, 17th, 18th and 20th, respectively. 

With 75 laps remaining, Truex was leading by two seconds over Preece as Ty Gibbs was trying to close in and overtake Preece for the runner-up spot. Behind, Chastain was running in fourth place ahead of Buescher, Keselowski and McDowell while Bell carved his way up to eighth place with four fresh tires in front of Gilliland and Briscoe. By then, Reddick was mired in 12th while Blaney was in 14th. Meanwhile, Hamlin was in 16th while Wallace was back in 18th.  

Fifteen laps later, Truex, who continued to hold strong on old tires and with questions arising on how much fuel he had to make it to the scheduled distance, was still leading as he stretched his advantage to four seconds over teammate Ty Gibbs, who overtook Preece for the runner-up spot six laps earlier. Behind, Chastain was in fourth while Bell navigated his way into the top five on his four fresh tires. Bell would then overtake both Preece and Chastain to move his strong race car into third place another two laps later as he trailed his teammate by less than six seconds. 

With 50 laps remaining, Truex continued to lead by five seconds over teammate Bell, who overtook teammate Ty Gibbs for the runner-up spot on four fresh tires and with enough fuel for the scheduled distance as he was running faster lap times compared to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates. Behind, Chastain and Buescher were running in the top five ahead of Preece, Keselowski, McDowell and Gilliland while Reddick was able to navigate his way back into the top 10 as he was in 10th followed by Gilliland, Gragson, Blaney, Suarez and Hamlin.  

Nine laps later, Truex surrendered the lead to pit his No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry XSE under green for fresh tires and a full tank of fuel as he ended up a lap down. This allowed teammate Bell to assume the race lead as he was leading by more than two seconds over teammate Ty Gibbs while Chastain, Buescher and Keselowski were scored in the top five. As Preece pitted under green, Truex would manage to overtake teammate Bell to un-lap himself while the latter stretched his advantage by more than four seconds over teammate Gibbs with 30 laps remaining. By then, Reddick was up to eighth place ahead of Blaney and Gragson while Hamlin was in 11th. 

Down to the final 20 laps of the event, Bell stabilized his advantage to more than four seconds over teammate Gibbs while Buescher, Chastain and Keselowski continued to hold strong in the top five. Behind, Reddick moved his Mobil 1 entry up to seventh behind McDowell, Blaney was in eighth ahead of Briscoe and Gragson, Hamlin was still mired in 11th, Larson was in 14th and Byron was mired in 18th behind Truex.  

Five laps later, Bell stretched his lead slightly to five seconds over teammate Gibbs while third-place Buescher trailed by less than six seconds. Bell would extend his lead by another second to six seconds over Buescher, who overtook Gibbs for the runner-up spot, with 10 laps remaining as Keselowski and Chastain battled fiercely for fourth place. 

Down to the final five laps of the event, Bell maintained the lead by more than six seconds over Buescher and teammate Gibbs while Keselowski and Chastain continued to run in the top five ahead of Blaney and McDowell. Behind, Briscoe, Truex and Reddick battled for eighth while Gragson and Hamlin battled for 11th.  

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Bell remained as the leader by more than five seconds over Buescher’s No. 17 BuildSubmarines.com Ford Mustang Dark Horse. With the gap between the leader and the runner-up spot large, Bell was able to navigate his way around the Phoenix circuit smoothly for a final time before he returned to the frontstretch and claimed his first checkered flag of the 2024 Cup Series season. 

With the victory, Bell, who became the fourth winner through the first four events of the 2024 Cup season, captured his seventh Cup Series career victory and his first at Phoenix as he extended his winning streak in the Cup circuit to four consecutive seasons. Bell also registered the first Cup victory of the 2024 season for both Joe Gibbs Racing and the Toyota nameplate while also recording the first official victory for Toyota’s Camry XSE stock car. 

“This one feels really good,” Bell said on the frontstretch on FOX. “A credit to my engineers, my crew chief and all the mechanics on this [No. 20 car]. You don’t get cars like that very often as you know. Just super, super proud to be on this No. 20 car. This Rheem Camry was amazing today. I feel like we have [a] capability of running races like this a lot. Hopefully, this [win] is the first of many this year.” 

Buescher, whose previous best result in the Cup Series is ninth during the first three events on this year’s schedule and who is coming off an early accident last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway due to a loose wheel that resulted in the suspension of two of his crew members, settled in the runner-up spot followed by Ty Gibbs, who led 57 laps and notched a career-best result.  

“[The runner-up finish]’s huge,” Buescher said. “We’ve talked a lot internally. We’ve been able to lead, at any point, on all three races leading up to this. We didn’t quite get there today but certainly, a great finish for our BuildSubs.com Ford Mustang. Really proud of everybody. I know we had a rough go last weekend. This [finish] was good to get everybody back together and prove that we’re in this together. We’re gonna win or lose these things as a team. That was almost a win today.” 

Keselowski came home in fourth place while Blaney edged Chastain to finish fifth. 

Chastain, Truex, McDowell, Briscoe and Reddick finished in the top 10. 

Notably, Hamlin, who led the most laps at 68 along with his 23XI Racing driver Reddick, ended up 11th ahead of Noah Gragson, Larson settled in 14th, Wallace ended up 16th, Byron finished 18th ahead of teammates Elliott and Alex Bowman and Kyle Busch capped off his long afternoon in 22nd. In addition, Carson Hocevar emerged as the highest-finishing rookie candidate in 15th place.  

There were 10 lead changes for six different leaders. The race featured six cautions for 40 laps. In addition, 21 of 36 starters finished on the lead lap. 

Following the fourth event of the 2024 Cup Series season, Ryan Blaney leads the regular-season standings by 10 points over both Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr., 17 over William Byron and 21 over both Tyler Reddick and Ty Gibbs. 

Results. 

1. Christopher Bell, 50 laps led, Stage 2 winner 

2. Chris Buescher 

3. Ty Gibbs, 57 laps led 

4. Brad Keselowski 

5. Ryan Blaney 

6. Ross Chastain 

7. Martin Truex Jr., 55 laps led 

8. Michael McDowell 

9. Chase Briscoe 

10. Tyler Reddick, 68 laps led, Stage 1 winner 

11. Denny Hamlin, 68 laps led 

12. Noah Gragson 

13. Daniel Suarez 

14. Kyle Larson 

15. Carson Hocevar 

16. Bubba Wallace 

17. Todd Gilliland, 14 laps led 

18. William Byron 

19. Chase Elliott 

20. Alex Bowman 

21. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 

22. Kyle Busch, one lap down 

23. Ryan Preece, one lap down 

24. Justin Haley, one lap down 

25. John Hunter Nemechek, one lap down 

26. Josh Berry, two laps down 

27. Harrison Burton, two laps down 

28. Daniel Hemric, two laps down 

29. Zane Smith, three laps down 

30. Kaz Grala, three laps down 

31. Erik Jones, seven laps down 

32. Austin Dillon, eight laps down 

33. Corey LaJoie – OUT, Accident 

34. Joey Logano – OUT, Accident 

35. Derek Kraus – OUT, Accident 

36. Austin Cindric – OUT, Accident 

Next on the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the return of the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. The event is scheduled to occur next Sunday, March 17, at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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