Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Christopher Bell owns New Hampshire Motor Speedway, plain and simple. The 27-year-old from Norman, Oklahoma was the first Sooner to win a NASCAR Cup Series race when he took the checkered flag at the Daytona Road Course early last year.
Now, he can call himself a multi-race winner with the win in the Ambetter 301.
“That one was much needed right there,” Bell said. “Winning Cup races is hard. It just seems like we get so close.”
Bell has a perfect New Hampshire record in the Xfinity Series, going three-for-three in his career. That success carries over to the Cup Series with the win in 2022 and a second-place finish in last year’s race.
Bell was chasing down last year’s winner, Stewart Haas Racing No. 10 Aric Almirola, but the race was cut short by eight laps due to lack of daylight.
Almirola had his fair share of issues while he was running in the top 10. In the middle of the race, Almirola reported that he was only running in third gear. He took the car to the garage and came back on the track 16 laps down.
Almirola finished 31st, leaving the door wide open for a driver like Bell to once again shift the playoff standings like what happened at New Hampshire last year.
It didn’t take much time for the action and drama to appear. On Lap 6, Petty GMS Racing No. 42 Ty Dillion overcorrected on a turn and swerved into Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Alex Bowman, Spire Motorsports No. 77 Josh Bilicki and Live Fast Motorsports No. 78 BJ McLeod, ending all four of their races.
Early wreckers at @NHMS. pic.twitter.com/fZaIidG1bk
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) July 17, 2022
Bowman did not mince words about Dillon, who it was revealed earlier in the week that he would not be returning to Petty GMS next year.
Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota as a whole have dominated New Hampshire across the Xfinity and Cup Series. That dominance carried with five of the six Toyota Camrys finishing in the top 10. The only Toyota outside the top 10, Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Kyle Busch, finished 12th after spinning multiple times on his own.
Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 Martin Truex Jr. looked to be the Toyota to lead them all from the pole. The 2017 Cup Series champion had yet to lead a lap at New Hampshire since moving from Furniture Row Racing to JGR in 2019.
In his first pole with JGR, Truex Jr. led every single lap in Stage 1, beating 23XI Racing No. 23 Bubba Wallace by five seconds.
Wallace started from a career-best fourth place and only improved on that, finishing third.
“I’m proud of myself,” Wallace said. “Proud of everybody at the shop.”
Stage 2 took its sweet time to finish thanks to an abundance of cautions early and late in the stage. Spire Motorsports No. 7 Corey Lajoie had an issue shifting into a turn, causing him to violently turn into Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Harrison Burton and Front Row Motorsports No. 34 Michael McDowell.
Lajoie joined Bilicki as both Spire Chevrolets crashed out of the race.
Even as pit stop strategies began to split, Truex Jr. got past cars who stayed out during cautions.
Team Penske No. 12 Ryan Blaney, Stewart Haas Racing No. 14 Chase Briscoe and Kyle Busch had spins in Stage 2. During the caution for the second Busch spin, Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Austin Dillon and Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing No. 6 Brad Keselowski had a scuffle that gave them both significant damage.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) July 17, 2022
Neither of the driver’s teams was able to explain why the skirmish occurred during the race, leaving NBC Sports to ask the drivers directly.
“I’ll talk to him privately,” Keselowski said. “I don’t need to be a jerk over the media.”
Dillion had no interest in talking to him.
“We’ve gone at it a couple times the last two years,” Dillon said. “One time I hit really hard. I just don’t like the way certain people race me.”
Dillon referred to an incident at Michigan International Speedway in the penultimate regular season race last year where Dillon spun after the end of Stage 2 when making contact with Keselowski.
Keselowski wheeled his way to his best finish this season in seventh while Austin Dillon struggled and ended in 23rd.
Truex Jr. maintained his lead on every restart to win Stage 2 and sweep the stages just as he did at Nashville Superspeedway less than a month ago. He leads all drivers with seven stage wins.
Truex Jr. led 160 of his 172 total laps in the first two stages, but a two-tire stop in the final stage hurt the balance of his car, forcing him to race behind the leaders and in dirty air for the first time. He was at risk of falling out of the top 10 at times but did have the long-run speed to make it back to fourth.
“That’s just Loudon for us,” Truex Jr. said. “Every year we lead a ton of laps and we run really well here and then we find a way to give it away.”
With Bell’s win, Truex Jr. moves to the final bubble spot in the playoffs in 16th. He leads Stewart Haas Racing No. 4 Kevin Harvick by 68 points for the last spot. Harvick finished one spot behind him in fifth.
Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Chase Elliott, winner of two of the last three races including last week at Atlanta Motor Speedway, looked primed for his fourth win of the season when he passed 23XI Racing No. 45 Kurt Busch on Lap 247.
The battle with Busch took a lot off of Elliott’s tires, allowing Bell to patiently wait for the right time to make a race-winning move on Lap 260. He led the remaining 42 laps to win his second career Cup race.
“Christopher did a good job,” Elliott said. “Congrats to those guys. Obviously for us, we’re in a position where guys at this level really should close out the race if you got the lead like that. Just poor effort on my part.”
Bell grew his lead to three seconds over Elliott by the end of the race. Elliott has finished either first or second in four straight races going back to his win at Nashville.
Bell is the 14th different winner in the Cup Series this season, leaving two spots open for non-winners with six races left in the regular season. Blaney sits 105 points above the cutline in 15th and is currently third in the overall points standings behind Elliott and Trackhouse Racing No. 1 Ross Chastain.
The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series will remain in the Northeast region of the United States as it moves to Long Pond, Pennsylvania for the M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 at Pocono Raceway. The green flag is set to drop at 3 p.m. ET and can be watched on USA Network and the NBC Sports App. The race can also be listened to on Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.