Christopher Bell shrugged off a short-lived brake problem in his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and cruised to a 5.635-second victory in Saturday night’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway.
With his eighth win of the year — a career-best for a single season — Bell locked himself into the Championship 4 Round of the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs, with the title to be decided two weeks hence at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Bell led 101 of 200 laps in winning for the first time at the 1.5-mile track and the 16th time in his career. Bell swept the first and second stages of the event, bringing his total of 2019 stage victories to 20.
“That’s pretty special to win here at Texas,” said Bell, a native off Norman, Oklahoma. “I have a lot of family here. This (checkered) flag right here is for my nephew (Trip). I promised him years ago that if I ever won, I’d give him the flag at Texas.
“I knew we were very competitive, and then I began having brake problems. And then whenever I got those brake problems, I just wasn’t as good. I couldn’t keep the car underneath me and I was really loose. So I had to work a little harder, and that red flag helped me and my brakes came back. We were able to drive away.”
Ross Chastain came home second after taking the lead by staying on the track under caution on Lap 12 while the other top contenders came to pit road for fuel. Chastain, driving the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet he will race full-time next year, held the top spot through two subsequent cautions and led the field to the final restart on Lap 171.
But Bell surged past Chastain on the restart lap and widened his advantage over the final 29 laps.
One of the Xfinity Series’ Big Three took a big hit on Lap 161. Racing behind Chase Briscoe for the seventh position, Tyler Reddick lost control of his No. 2 Chevrolet when Briscoe ran too high in Turn 2 and hit the outside wall.
Reddick’s Chevy bounced off the outside wall, slid across the track and slammed nose-first into the inside SAFER barrier on the backstretch, destroying the radiator and knocking him out of the race. Reddick ended the night third in the Playoff standings, and despite the DNF, he holds a 36-point edge over fifth-place Briscoe heading to next Saturday’s elimination event at ISM Raceway in Phoenix.
“You’re never safe,” Reddick said after leaving the infield care center. “We had a lot better (points) cushion than that… I got us mired back in that mess there (after a restart on Lap 157) and that’s what I deserve, if I can’t be up front with a car like that, that fast.”
Briscoe stayed on the track after the contact with the wall and eventually paid the price. He lost three laps after his tire shredded and finished 22nd, falling 18 points behind sixth-place finisher Justin Allgaier for the final berth in the Championship 4.
“That was just unfortunate,” Briscoe said. “I don’t think we were the car to win by any means, but I think we would have run fifth to eighth area. We just had to stay in that same ballpark where the 7 (Allgaier) was. We were in really good contention to do that, and then I made a mistake running the top and tried to get too much.
“We thought all our tires looked good, but we had a rub and the tire went flat and put us three laps down. Obviously, we have our backs against the wall going into next week but we have really good fast race cars. We’ll go there and try to win the race.”
Playoff driver Austin Cindric finished third but goes to Phoenix seventh in the standings, 31 points behind Allgaier. Brandon Jones, John Hunter Nemechek, Allgaier, Harrison Burton and Cole Custer finished fourth through eighth, respectively.
Custer is second in the Playoff standings, 52 points ahead of Briscoe. Noah Gragson took the biggest hit in the Playoff race, crashing out of the race in 30th place after turning down across the nose of Burton’s Toyota on Lap 149 and oiling the track.
Gragson leaves Texas 57 points below the current cut line needing a victory at Phoenix to advance to the Championship 4