By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – The clear favorite heading into the championship race on Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway was Christopher Bell. The Norman, Oklahoma native had a stellar rookie campaign in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, winning seven times to break the rookie record for wins in a season (previously five, set by Greg Biffle – 2001, Kyle Busch – 2004 and Carl Edwards – 2005).
Bell qualified second in the No. 20 GameStop Transformers Toyota and was scored in the sixth position at the end of Stage 1 and the third position at the end of Stage 2. Bell came down pit road to the attention of his Joe Gibbs Racing crew at Lap 141 of 200 for fresh Goodyear rubber. As green flag pit stops cycled through the field, Bell passed Reddick for the lead on Lap 154 but lost it back to Reddick within 10 laps.
Reddick ran the high line lap after lap and continued to pull away from his fellow Championship 4 competitors, beating Cole Custer to the checkered flag by 6.902 seconds for the race win and the Xfinity Series championship.
“Not the night we wanted. That’s for sure,” said Bell, who led a series-high 759 laps during the 2018 season. “But overall, the season was excellent. We had really fast Camrys week in and week out.
“Unfortunately tonight, I wasn’t good enough. Hats off to everyone on this team 20 for Joe Gibbs Racing and everyone at the shop. Thank you for building fast race cars. Congratulations to Tyler Reddick. He did a great job and went out to attack all night. It paid off for him.”
Bell tried his best to run the clearly faster top lane, but smacked the wall at Lap 181 and had to pit under green flag conditions with a flat right-rear tire on Lap 190. The result was an 11th-place finish in the race and a fourth-place result in the championship standings behind Reddick, Custer and Daniel Hemric.
“We just weren’t good enough. That’s the bottom line. Ultimately, we needed a yellow once we got out front to put more tires on and then maybe – maybe we would have been able to hang on there through the short-run. I’m proud of everyone on this team. They worked really hard. We won a lot this year, so that’s really special. If we want to win a championship, we need to get a little bit better here next year.”
Bell will return to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2019 and look to add an Xfinity Series championship to his 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title.
“Coming back next year, maybe I need to come back with a different mentality (at Homestead) instead of trying to take it easy and not run the top in practice or the race. Maybe I go out there and do it. Get used to it. That’s what Reddick did this week. It paid for him.
“We got some room there to improve on our car and I can look at driver data going back for next year. Try to get myself better here but bottom line, it wasn’t our night.”