Saturday’s motors: Christopher Bell races to 5th NASCAR Xfinity win of season
Loudon, N.H. — Christopher Bell moved into a tie for the NASCAR Xfinity Series victory lead with five, dominating Saturday in hot conditions at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Bell led 186 of the 200 laps in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Toyota — only losing the lead when he pitted on Lap 33 — and finished more than four seconds ahead of Cole Custer, the Ford driver who won last weekend at Kentucky Speedway for his fifth victory of the season. Bell has 13 career series victories.
“The race cars win the races. The drivers just kind of are along for the ride,” Bell said, giving credit to crew chief Jason Ratcliff. “Jason keeps giving me great race cars. That’s what the key is.”
As happy as Ratcliff was to see the 24-year-old driver remain humble, he said Bell has had a lot to do within his own success.
“I’ve had a lot of good race cars but couldn’t win races in them without the right guy behind the wheel,” Ratcliff said. “He’s being patient. He’s doing a good job of executing each and every week and building on that. We’ll just see what tomorrow holds, but I think he’s got good things in store for him.”
Custer lost the lead on the first lap after starting from the pole.
“I wasn’t driving the car right at the start of the race, so I kind of got behind on adjustments,” Custer said. “I wish we’d had another caution so we could catch up to him.”
Justin Algaier was third in a Chevrolet. Series points leader Tyler Reddick was fourth in a Chevy, and Paul Menard followed in a Ford.
Harrison Burton was running fifth for JGR until the 154th lap, when he got bumped from behind by Menard and spun out and struck the wall. Burton, the son former NASCAR driver Jeff Burton, was able to get back on the track and finished 29th. He and Menard had a lengthy conversation at their cars after the race.
“He hit me twice, and I hit him once,” Menard said. “He was mad at me for hitting him that one time.”
The 18-year-old Burton didn’t think Menard’s retaliation was justified.
“We had a restart there, the first thing he said he was mad about was I hit him on the restart,” Burton said. “But I was on the apron, and he turned down across my nose. He got mad about that, and then I barely touched his door, and I got out of the gas because I didn’t want to hit him any harder than I did. Then I passed him clean and he wrecked me.”
Newgarden wins in Iowa
IndyCar point leader Josef Newgarden led 245 laps of 300 laps and won the weather-delayed race early Sunday at the Iowa Speedway, his fourth victory of the season.
Newgarden's run resembled his dominant win on Iowa's short oval in 2016. Newgarden led a series-record 282 laps three years ago in Newton.
Five-time champion Scott Dixon gave Newgarden a push after benefiting from a late caution and rallied to finish second. Dixon was joined on the podium by James Hinchcliffe, who won in Iowa a year ago.
Simon Pagenaud was fourth, followed by Spencer Pigot and Alexander Rossi.
Alex Bowman will drive teammate Jimmie Johnson’s spare car Sunday after wrecking his backup in the final practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Bowman, one of five drivers already in backups for the Cup race, struck a wall coming out of a turn in Saturday’s practice. Bowman was already in a backup Chevrolet after blowing the drive train in his main car during qualifying Friday.
“We don’t have an issue. We’ve had a run of bad luck — extremely bad luck,” said Jeff Andrews, vice president of competition for Hendrick Motorsports.
Andrews gave an update in the garage as crews worked to switch Johnson’s car into one for Bowman, and Andrews said the car will be fine for Bowman on Sunday. Bowman won his first career Cup race three weeks ago at Chicago.
“It is pretty rare,” Andrews said of having to replace a backup car the day before a race.
Four other drivers will be in backups Sunday. Denny Hamlin wrecked his main Toyota during practice Friday. Ryan Newman also hit the wall during practice Friday and will run his backup Ford.