By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
NEWTON, Iowa — Sunday didn’t get off to the start that Christopher Bell would have hoped, as his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota didn’t make it through pre-qualifying inspection in time to make a lap in the first round of knockout qualifying at Iowa Speedway. As a result, Bell started the NASCAR XFINITY Series Iowa 250 from the 39th position.
It was only a matter of time before Bell would become a factor in the race, cracking the top-10 by Lap 28 and running sixth by the end of Stage 1 at Lap 60.
Bell would battle side-by-side with race-winner Justin Allgaier throughout the second-half of the race, but was never able to get by the dominant Allgaier, who led 182 of the 250 laps. Bell brought his Toyota to the checkered flag 0.745 seconds behind Allgaier’s No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet.
“We were really close. Our Rheem Camry was strong pretty much all race long on the long run or the short run, it didn’t really matter. I felt like we were better than the 7 (Allgaier) all day and we could never pass him. I just needed a little bit more to pass him on the bottom. It’s pretty hard to pass a car that’s really good like that.”
While Bell had his work cut out for him at the start of the race, the Oklahoma native indicated that not qualifying didn’t affect his race.
“The track is wide enough and you can race good enough. Iowa is definitely a race track that I have circled on the calendar as a place that I have a really good shot to win. We did have a really good shot to win.”
The 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion has two top-fives in three starts in a truck at Iowa. Bell led 152 laps in last June’s XFINITY Series race at the track dubbed “The Fastest Short Track on the Planet,” but finished 16th after being caught up in an accident.
Was Bell satisfied with the second-place result after not making a qualifying lap?
“That’s a great question. I don’t know. Not qualifying didn’t affect us at all. Being able to get out front and just be that lead car that can run that three-quarter mark on the race track is really important. I felt like I was stronger than him (Allgaier) all day. I’m disappointed right now because I felt like we had a car to win and we didn’t win, but second-place is another top-five and we haven’t had very many good runs here.”
The result was the eighth top-five of 2018 for Bell and comes after finishes in the last two events of 36th (Pocono) and 11th (Michigan).
“Hopefully we put on a good show for the fans. I think we were side-by-side for more than half the race. That was a lot of fun.”