Christopher Bell maneuvers from back of field to win at Kentucky

SPARTA, Kentucky – A spin didn’t stop Christopher Bell from the win in the ALSCO 300 at Kentucky Speedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing rookie was going for the pole in the final round of qualifying and spun out before completing the lap.

Bell was forced to start from the rear of the field but recovered for his first win on the 1.5-mile track and his second of 2018.

“This is really special,” Bell said. “I keep making mistakes. I have to stop doing that to my team. They build really fast race cars and I made another mistake there in qualifying and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get back. But this Camry was good enough that I was able to get back around these guys.

“Hats off to Daniel Hemric. He’s been trying to get an Xfinity win for a long time. He’s been really close.”

Hemric, who passed Kyle Busch on Lap 143 and led eight laps, settled for second.

“I can’t make excuses,” Hemric said. “I should have gotten it done.”

Kyle Busch led a race-high 111 laps before finishing third. Justin Allgaier, Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick, John Hunter Nemechek, Ryan Truex, Paul Menard and Austin Cindric rounded out the top 10.

Busch took the lead from Custer, the pole sitter, after just 14 laps and held a 3.218-second lead when he won Stage 1. Custer finished second followed by Nemechek, Matt Tifft, Cindric, Brandon Jones, Reddick, Allgaier, Hemric and Sadler. Bell moved up to 28th after the first lap and finished 14th in the first stage.

Busch retained the lead following service on pit road. Ty Majeski, who rolled off second, gained 14 positions with a two-tire pit stop. Custer, Nemechek, Cindric, Tifft, Brandon Jones, Menard, Reddick and Sadler completed the top 10 when the race returned to green for Stage 2 on Lap 52.

Majeski’s track position was short-lived after he slid up in to the wall on the restart exiting Turn 2. He dropped to 20th before pitting on Lap 57. Busch set sail with Custer, Cindric, Nemechek and Jones in tow. Reddick moved up to sixth, followed by Allgaier, Bell, Menard and Sadler.

Busch tagged the wall on Lap 64 but Custer couldn’t take advantage of the champion’s rare mistake. Nemechek, however, passed the Custer on Lap 71. He used the low line to take the point from Busch on Lap 80. The rookie driver held the lead by .396 seconds over Busch for his first Xfinity stage win. Custer finished third followed by Cindric, Jones, Allgaier, Bell, Menard and Hemric.

The final stage was rife with cautions. Busch retook the lead on pit road followed by Custer, Nemechek, Cindric, Allgaier and Bell. The third caution occurred when Josh Williams clipped Blake Jones in Turn 4 on Lap 99. Busch retained the lead followed by Custer, Allgaier, Bell, Nemechek, Brandon Jones and Hemric.

Entering Turn 2 on the Lap 104 restart, Nemechek slid into Brandon Jones and the No. 19 hit the wall to trigger the fourth caution. The Joe Gibbs Racing crew was forced to push Jones behind the wall.

“Gosh, one of our really good mile-and-a-half cars here,” said Jones, who finished 36th. “This has got to be a kill or be killed situation on these restarts.”

Busch elected to take the inside lane for the Lap 108 restart with Custer, Bell, Allgaier and Hemric in tow. Reddick, Tifft, Nemechek, Cindric and Menard rounded out the top 10. Bell grabbed second from Custer and closed in behind Busch. Hemric followed for third. Nemechek moved by Custer for fourth on Lap 125.

Majeski’s misfortunes continued on Lap 132 when he spun through the front stretch to ignite the fifth caution. Busch retained the lead coming to the Lap 139 restart. A two-tire stop by the No. 5 JR Motorsports team allowed Michael Annett to move up to second. Nemechek lined up third, but lost power attempting to save fuel. He was forced to pit for a new battery and dropped to 21st, one lap down. Hemric moved up to third followed by Custer, Menard, Allgaier, Cindric, Tifft and Bell.

Annett slapped the wall on the restart. Hemric passed Busch for the lead coming off of Turn 2 on Lap 143. Allgaier moved passed the No. 18 Toyota for second on Lap 145. Tifft slid up into Sadler coming out of Turn 2 to bring out the sixth caution on Lap 146.

Hemric controlled the Lap 151 restart, but Allgaier moved to the lead on the outside coming through Turns 3 and 4. Joey Gase spun in Turn 4 for the seventh caution of the night with 39 laps remaining in the race.

With a push from Bell, Allgaier pulled out to a three-car lead on the Lap 166 restart. Bell moved up to second while Hemric dropped to third. Busch, who dropped to eighth after pitting during the sixth caution, rebounded to fourth followed by Custer.

Allgaier held a .3-second lead over Bell with 20 laps to decide the contest. Bell went low coming to the line on Lap 184 for the lead. Hemric passed Allgaier for second while Busch moved in on the bumper of the No. 7 Chevrolet, eventually taking over third-place.

Bell continued to pull away from Hemric with 10 laps remaining and extended his lead to .848-seconds for his third-career win in the Xfinity Series.

“To be able to come from the back here at Kentucky, it just really shows how good of car we have,” Bell added. “This Rheem Camry was extremely good on the long run. Even on the short run too, I could fire off and have really good restarts, so I’m just thankful that everyone stayed behind me and everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing believes in me, so it’s a dream come true to be racing in the Xfinity Series, let alone standing in Victory Lane one more time.”

Sadler, who finished 12th, leads the NXS standings on a tie-breaker over Hemric.

— NASCAR Wire Service —