Christopher Bell had no equal on Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver swept all three stages of the Rinnai 250, leading 142 of 163 laps in securing a convincing victory in the second race of the NASCAR Xfinity Series season. Bell – considered one of the series’ foremost championship contenders – wasted little time in asserting his dominance.
Despite starting third, Bell roared to the lead on Lap 1 of Saturday’s event. He paced the field for much of the afternoon and appeared to have victory in hand before a late caution flag saw the lead cars head to pit road, change tires and gear up for a three-lap assault.
Jeffrey Earnhardt – Bell’s teammate at JGR – lined up on the outside of the front row beside Bell for the final restart, but Bell had the preferred inside line. Bell had the momentum as well, as he rocketed away on the restart and held off a charge from runner-up Cole Custer to score his first win of the season.
Justin Allgaier’s Chevrolet finished third with Brandon Jones and defending series champion Tyler Reddick completing the top five. Earnhardt was sixth with Ryan Preece seventh, Justin Haley eighth, Noah Gragson ninth and Austin Cindric 10th.
Atlanta Motor Speedway’s Saturday twin bill concludes with the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Ultimate Tailgating 200.
Sunday’s forecast for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 features plenty of sun and clear skies for the second race of the Monster Energy Cup Series season on Atlanta’s challenging, high-speed 1.5-mile quad oval.
CHRISTOPHER BELL, No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (RACE WINNER): “All day long, I knew that my weakness was late in the runs. I had a really strong run from the green flag to basically the last 10 laps, when I’d really start struggling really bad. When the 2 car (Reddick) started gaining on me a little bit (before the last caution), I felt like I could make time if I moved up to the top at the end of a run. I was just about to move up to the top to make up a little bit of speed to hold off the 2 car (before the yellow came out). Late in the runs, the competition was really good. The 2 car, the 00 (Custer) were both really strong. That had me a little bit nervous and obviously on a late-race restart, you’re kind of a sitting duck, right? I knew I was going to have my hands full if the yellow didn’t come out and I was going to have my hands full on the restart if the yellow did come out.”
COLE CUSTER, No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford (RUNNER-UP): “That was a fun race. I thought the end was pretty good. I thought I was going to maybe have it there for a second, but I didn’t have enough there. Bell kind of took my line on the last lap, but it’s a great start. … We got a new crew chief (Mike Shiplett) and it was huge for us to start off the year strong. We’re going to be a threat all year.”
About the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 weekend
The Atlanta NASCAR Weekend builds to a spectacular crescendo with the main event of the three-race showcase: the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday.
Tickets for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 can be purchased by contacting Atlanta Motor Speedway at (770) 946-4211, (877) 9-AMS-TIX or by visiting www.atlantamotorspeedway.com.