Bell’s dominant day at WWTR undone by engine woes

It was Christopher Bell’s race to lose.

Fresh off his rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600 win, Bell arrived at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway with the strongest car in the field. On a day when others were struggling to pass on the tight, 1.25-mile oval, Bell could roll the bottom and march forward.

The Oklahoman proved dominant from the opening run, rising from fourth to the lead on lap 41 and taking the opening stage. Evolving strategies and a timely cautions made Stage 2 interesting, but Bell again marched forward and rose back to the lead when it counted to score another playoff point.

In the final stage Bell seemed poised to do it again, chasing down Ryan Blaney for the net lead amid the final round of pit stops. Blaney had taken the lead by staying out after Bell and others pitted during the stage breaks. The alternative strategies left Bell with fresher tires and the strongest car as the laps wound down.


Bell chased Blaney down as the race crept under 30 to go. He then set about methodically working his way past the defending champion, diving under the No. 12 repeatedly and even clearing Blaney once before a crossover netted Blaney back the top spot.

The Penske car was holding onto the top spot for dear life, with it seemed only a matter of time before Bell would take the lead and sweep the stages.

When it counted, Bell caught a bad break. He began to slow, then radioed his team with terrible news.

“I’m blowing up,” he said. “I’m blowing up. Game over.”

From there, all he could worry about was survival. He limped around the 1.25-mile oval, minimizing shifts and trying to keep his car alive to the finish.

Along the way Bell got an unlikely assist. Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr., whose day had been undone by a flat tire that left him multiple laps down, caught Bell’s sick No. 20 and slotted in behind him. The 2017 champ started pushing Bell down the straights, helping him limp through the closing laps.

With Truex’s help, Bell made it to the checkered flag in seventh. Damage mitigated.

“That was awesome,” Bell said. “I think [Truex] probably saved us a top 10 out of the day. Martin’s a standup guy.”

Bell ultimately ended up with a positive day. He secured two playoff points and a heavy point total that will help him gain ground in the regular season standings. The two-time Championship 4 qualifier knew it should have been so much more, though.

“I’m glad that we were able to salvage something out of it, but you don’t get race cars like that very often,” Bell said. “Whenever you do, you need to take advantage of them, so that’s a disappointing day.”

Story originally appeared on Racer