By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
Early in the going during Friday night’s M&M’s 200 at Iowa, Christopher Bell looked almost untouchable in the lead, but when pit strategy didn’t go their way at about the midpoint in the race, the two-time race winner in 2017 had his work cut out for him to be able to get back to the front and re-establish his dominance.
However, things didn’t quite go to plan for Bell, as he only managed to make it back to fifth place by the time the checkered flag flew.
“Our Toyota Tundra was really good out front,” said Bell. “We had really good long run speed. Pretty good short run speed. I felt like once we got buried back in traffic there, we’d be able to just pick them off once the tires started wearing out, but it just gripped up. That was a super fun race though. That was awesome. The top came in. I ran my first K&N race here at Iowa and it was one of the most fun races I’ve had in a stock car because we got all the way to the fence and we were darn near there tonight. So, that was a lot of fun. Bummer that it didn’t work out, but I still had a blast out there.”
Bell would start alongside his Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate Noah Gragson on the front row and though his younger teammate got the jump early, Bell moved into the lead on lap 17 and easily separated himself from the rest of the field, leading through the conclusion of the first stage.
On the restart for the second stage, Bell once again asserted his dominance over the field, leading through the second caution of the night at lap 109, which would throw a wrench into the plans of his No. 4 team. Under the caution, the majority of the field would elect to come down pit road for service, while Bell stayed out on track with his older tires and 11 laps left in Stage 2.
With the field having the advantage of fresh tires, Bell held his ground as best he could once the race went back green, but was only able to stay in front of a hard charging Johnny Sauter until lap 115, when Sauter finally took over the lead after Bell had been at the top of the leaderboard for 99 laps.
Sauter would go on to win the second stage, while Bell came down pit road to make his stop, dropping him deep in the field for the start of the final 80 lap stage.
Slowly, but surely, Bell sliced his way through the field as the laps wound down, eventually breaking into the top-10 and then the top-five before the final caution of the night came out at lap 187. Bell would join the rest of the field on pit road for new tires under that caution, as they set up for a seven lap dash to the finish.
Bell would drop out of the top-10 momentarily in the final laps, but powered his way right back into the top-five, bringing his Toyota home in fifth when all was said and done.
Even without the win, Bell still has two other wins on the season and currently sits second in points, 42 markers behind Sauter in the standings heading to the next race at Kentucky, which will take place in two weeks’ time.
Bell will also be racing in Saturday night’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Iowa.
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