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Christopher Bell dominates for Truck Series win at Atlanta

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It was a Bell-ringing day in Saturday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Active Pest Control 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Pole-sitter Christopher Bell won the first two stages of the event, then regained the lead late after a caution to claim his third career Truck win in 32 starts.

Following a late caution brought out by an Austin Cindric spin, Bell had a great restart with two laps left, holding off a strong charge by former Truck Series champion Matt Crafton.

“This thing was really fast all weekend,” Bell told FS1 in victory lane. “It was a dream machine. It was really, really good.”

Added Crafton, “We had a shot. At the end of the day that was what it all about. It was close.”

MORE: Results of Active Pest Control 200 Truck Series Race At Atlanta

MORE: Bell Takes Over Camping World Truck Series Points Lead After Atlanta Win

Bell dominated the first two stages, leading the first 83 laps. When the third stage began, teammate and team owner Kyle Busch gained the lead coming off pit road, with Bell alongside on the front row.

Busch seemed headed to the win, but he fell back and then cut a tire, making contact with the outside wall and ending his chances at the checkered flag. He finished 26th.

Bell ultimately led 99 laps in the 130-lap event.

Crafton finished second, followed by Johnny Sauter, Ben Rhodes and Chase Elliott. Sixth through 10th were Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon, Grant Enfinger, Timothy Peters and Ross Chastain.

Prior to the Truck race, Busch won the Xfinity Series’ Rinnai 250 earlier in the afternoon and was seeking a three-race sweep, including Sunday’s featured Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 NASCAR Cup race. He still can go 2 for 3.

STAGE 1 (Laps 1-40) WINNER: Christopher Bell.

STAGE 2 (Laps 41-80) WINNER: Christopher Bell.

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: It was a good day for Truck Series regulars, who claimed the top four spots and six of the first nine spots. … Chase Elliott, who made only his second Truck Series start since 2013, finished fifth.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Last year’s race winner, John Hunter Nemechek, was knocked out of the race when a right-side tire blew out and sent him into the wall on Lap 79. Nemechek finished 28th. … After avoiding a crash on the first lap and improving from 17th to ninth over the next 25 laps, NASCAR On NBC analyst Parker Kligerman lost power in his truck under caution on Lap 28. He coasted to a stop on the back straightaway. He was unable to get restarted and finished 31st in the 32-truck field.

NOTABLE: Surprising Daytona winner Kaz Grala finished 15th. … Japanese driver Akinori Ogata, making his sixth career Truck start and first of 2017, was involved in a late Stage 2 incident that ended his day with a 30th place finish.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Please, please do not repave this racetrack. This is, by far, the coolest racetrack that we race on.” – Runner-up Matt Crafton on FS1 (AMS will begin repaving the entire track following Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race).

WHAT’S NEXT: The Truck Series is off for the next four weeks. The next race is April 1 at Martinsville Speedway.

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Atlanta Motor Speedway to delay repave at least a year

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The cries of drivers have been heard. Atlanta Motor Speedway will not repave its track as previously scheduled. Instead, track officials will evaluate the surface following the 2018 race there.

Speedway Motorsports Inc., which owns the track, had planned to have the track surface repaved beginning in late March. It would have been the first repave there since 1997.

Engineers examined the track after the March 5 race to determine if the track surface could last another year with modest repairs. Track officials also consulted with Goodyear and others.

“There’s no question that the surface is worn out, but probably the most powerful lobby this side of Washington, D.C., was the biggest influence,” Ed Clark, president of Atlanta Motor Speedway, told NBC Sports of the drivers. “They kind of put the pressure on. I understand.”

After winning there, Brad Keselowski made his pitch not to repave the track.

“Drivers hate repaves,” he said. “We want to see the surfaces last as long as they can.  But the reality is nothing lasts forever, and this surface has made it a really, really long time, 20 years, I think, this season, and they should be really proud of that.

“My hope is they can get another year or two out of it, and I understand if they can’t, and you have to kind of leave it to their expertise and so forth.”

Clark said that work will need to be done to the track before next year’s race.

“The worst part is down the frontstretch in front of the grandstands,” Clark told NBC Sports. “There’s a lot of issues there. We’re actually going to have to cut a few areas and patch … to make it last through 2018. We consulted with Goodyear on that. They don’t think, as long as it is on the straightaway, it is a big issue from a tire standpoint.”

Clark said that the track surface will be sealed in October and should have the patching done before then.

“Let them go ahead and slip and slide one more time in 2018,” Clark said.

Clark said that while anything can change, he doesn’t foresee being talked out of a repave job too many more times.

“You have to see how the weekend goes and what happens,” Clark told NBC Sports. “We had to patch some places after the Saturday events this year, small places. Hey, if we could go two more, great. All you’ve got to do is walk out there and look at it. It is absolutely worn out. But if the drivers say, hey our choice is to race on this surface as it is.

“There comes a point (when a repave is needed). We do have a few drainage issues we do need to correct, some other things when the time comes. Right now, we’re going to get through 2018 and evaluate and see if that is the time or when is it.”

Clark said that when the track is repaved, Goodyear has expressed interest in having two test sessions to determine the proper tire for that 1.5-mile track instead of the customary one because of the track’s challenging surface.

Clark warns that with the excitement of Tuesday’s news, the day is still coming when the track will have to be repaved.

“I can’t see this going two more seasons, maybe only one,” Clark said.

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NASCAR America — My Home Track: 50 States In 50 Shows — Arkansas

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, we continued our series of My Home Track: 50 States in 50 Shows as our trucks rolled into Arkansas!

We visited two short tracks in the state that produced President Bill Clinton and Basketball Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen.

Plus we talked to NASCAR Hall of Famer and Arkansas native Mark Martin about racing in his home state.

NASCAR America: Is there cause for concern with Jimmie Johnson’s performance thus far?

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It’s no secret that Jimmie Johnson is off to a slow start in 2017.

The defending and seven-time NASCAR Cup champion has a starting average of 21.8 and a finishing average of 18.8 in the first five races of this season.

He has just one top-10 finish (ninth at Phoenix), along with 34th at Daytona, 19th at Atlanta, 11th at Las Vegas and 21st Sunday at Fontana.

And let’s not forget he’s 17th in the NASCAR Cup standings heading to one of his strongest tracks, Martinsville Speedway, this Sunday.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, we discussed this: After such a slow start to the season, is there a cause for concern over Johnson’s performance?

NASCAR America: Mark Martin is definitely a Kyle Larson fan

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On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin shared his experience of racing in his home state of Arkansas, as well as the excitement he feels watching  Kyle Larson compete in the Cup series.