Saturday's motors: Bell leads half of Texas race for win and Xfinity title shot

Associated Press
Christopher Bell celebrates his win in a NASCAR Xfinity auto race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Fort Worth, Texas — Christopher Bell keeps leading laps, winning stages and going to Victory Lane. Now he is for sure going to get a chance to race for the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship.

Bell led 101 of the 200 laps, won both stages and crossed the finish line at Texas more than 5 1/2 seconds ahead of Ross Chastain on Saturday night to secure one of the four championship-contending spots for the series finale in two weeks.

“We’re definitely not going to have to think points next weekend,” Bell said.

Last season, Bell didn’t secure a spot in the final four until winning at Phoenix. He gets to go back there next week with a different focus – and a chance to look ahead to the Nov. 16 finale at Homestead.

“Winning the race,” said the 24-year-old Bell, who is already in line to move up to the Cup Series next season.

“The mindset is going to be a lot different going to Phoenix. We will do some prep for Phoenix, do more prep for Homestead,” crew chief Jason Ratcliff said. “We will go to Phoenix and have some fun.”

Bell leads the Xfinity Series with eight wins, 1,874 laps led and 20 stage wins – including both stages at Texas. Cole Custer is second in all of those categories with seven wins, 903 laps led and eight stage wins.

At Texas, Bell led four times, going ahead to stay with 30 laps remaining.

Three championship-contending spots will be up grabs and determined next weekend at Phoenix. Bell entered Texas as the points leader, followed by Custer, defending Xfinity champion Tyler Reddick and Justin Allgaier –and that order was unchanged.

Austin Cindric finished third at Texas, three spots ahead of Allgaier. Custer was eighth, Michael Annett 11th and Chase Briscoe 22nd. Playoff contenders Reddick or Noah Gragson didn’t finish the race because of accidents.

Briscoe got too high up the track on lap 160, and made solid contact with the wall when Reddick was right behind him. While Briscoe was able to drive away, Reddick spun and made hard contact with the inside wall and ended up with a 29th-place finish, one spot ahead of Gragson.

After starting the night fifth and just outside the cutline for the final four, Briscoe managed to keep that spot though his deficit behind fourth increased from two to 18 points. Along with the incident that got Reddick loose, Briscoe had two other significant tire issues.

Briscoe made it back to pit road without bringing out a caution on lap 176 when his right front tire shredded. He got back out and finished three laps behind Bell.

“Obviously we have our backs against the wall going into next week but we have really good fast race cars. We will go there and try to win the race,” Briscoe said.

The only change in the top eight in points was Gragson dropping from seventh to eighth in a switch of spots with Cindric. Annett was just ahead of them in sixth.

Reddick had taken the lead on the restart after an earlier caution caused when Briscoe had a cut right rear tire. Briscoe again was able to keep the car from any signification damage and was still restarted in the top 10. Reddick was fourth when the yellow flag came out, and took only two tires on the stop.

Gragson made contact with Jeb Burton on the front stretch that sent him on as spin through the infield and tore up his splitter with about 50 laps left, bringing out a red flag for an extensive cleanup.

Cup qualifying

Kevin Harvick will start from the pole at Texas Motor Speedway after a qualifying lap of 189.707 mph Saturday night.

Harvick goes into Sunday’s race fifth in points with two races remaining to qualify for one of the three remaining championship-contending spots in the season finale. The driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford won at Texas last fall.

“I think the key to the lap was obviously knowing that you had to be wide open, and kind of did a halfway qualifying run (Friday) and worked most of the day on race runs and making sure we ran enough laps to know where our car was,” Harvick said. “I think the first pit stall is obviously a good stall to have here for pit road time and the things that go with that, and I think it is obviously going to be a track position game like it was last time.”

Erik Jones will start on the front row alongside Harvick.

Joe Gibbs Racing has the top three drivers in points, but Jones is the Toyota team’s only driver not in playoff contention.

“I was definitely surprised. I didn’t think that we’d be that fast. Also didn’t think we would be the best of our JGR cars,” Jones said.

Denny Hamlin, who is second in points, qualified third. Martin Truex Jr., who won last week at Martinsville and is already locked into the final four, qualified 17th.

“Yeah, a good qualifying effort for us,” Hamlin said. “Definitely is going to be better than we’ve been on the mile-and-a-halves.”

Formula One qualifying

Valtteri Bottas grabbed a surprising pole position Saturday for the U.S. Grand Prix, where Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton will start back in fifth as he pursues a sixth career Formula One championship at Austin, Texas.

Bottas set a track record at the Circuit of the Americas with a lap of 1 minute, 32.029 seconds to grab the front position head of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

Bottas is the only driver still alive in the championship chase with Hamilton, but pole position may not be enough to extend the championship. Even if Bottas wins, Hamilton only needs to finish eighth or better to secure the season title.

Hamilton has won the U.S. Grand Prix five times since 2012 but has never started behind the front row.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen qualified third with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc fourth after putting an old engine in the car after a problem in Saturday practice.