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Christopher Bell overcomes spin, battles several Cup drivers for fourth in Xfinity debut

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CONCORD, N.C. — The start of Christopher Bell‘s Xfinity Series career looked pretty bad.

There’s no other way to describe finding yourself facing the wrong direction in the frontstretch grass on Lap 3. Bell landed there after being turned by Ryan Reed exiting Turn 4.

The next 197 laps of Bell’s Xfinity debut at Charlotte Motor Speedway were stellar.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was the only non-Cup Series regular to finish in the top six in the Hisense 4K TV 300.

Bell piloted his No. 18 Toyota to fourth place, in the middle of a group of drivers that included Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick, Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski.

“We had to fight through a lot of adversity there,” Bell said. “We would start passing guys, and we’d have to go back and start at the tail. I’m glad it was 200 laps, because we used every single bit of it. We didn’t have a lot of luck on the restarts at the beginning of the race starting on the bottom, but we got the luck when we needed it at the end.”

Those five Cup drivers – which include two series champions – have 108 combined wins in the Xfinity Series.

At 22, Bell’s NASCAR resume includes three wins and rookie of the year in the Camping World Truck Series. He also won this year’s Chili Bowl Nationals, a prestigious sprint car event.

Before Saturday, his only experience in an Xfinity car was a six-hour test session at Charlotte at the beginning of the month.

The inexperienced Bell had his hands full after Saturday’s accident as he fought his way back from outside the top 20. At the end of the first stage, he was 18th. At the end of Stage 2 on Lap 90, he was 19th

“I really figured I’d be fine when I spun out on the (third) lap as long as the splitter wasn’t torn up when I went through the grass, and thankfully, it wasn’t,” Bell said.”I really thought I could drive up through there faster and easier than what I did. Whenever you catch mediocre cars that you’re faster than and you try to just drive by them, you get caught on the inside and start slipping.

“I would get my tires too hot and that’s all she wrote for that run. If it wasn’t for the pit stops and the outside line restarts, I don’t think I would have got up there.”

Bell said on Thursday his nerves prior to his first start didn’t match those for his first Truck race two years ago at Iowa Speedway. At 20, Bell hopped into a truck for the first time on race weekend.

“Whenever Toyota came to me and said they have some Xfinity races (for me to run), I was pretty excited that they said Charlotte was the first one because Charlotte was one of my favorite racetracks whenever we got to run the Truck race in the daytime,” Bell said. “Then having the test was huge. Being able to just get seat time and just get a feel for it at the test. I don’t think I was very fast at the test. I knew I didn’t have to be the fastest car at the test, all I needed to do was get a feel for it and get some laps and come here this weekend and show speed.”

Bell’s impressive finish came with a blemish. His car was found to be too low in postrace inspection. Penalties could be announced next week.

Bell still is competing full time in the Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports. Through five races, he is second in the 2017 points with one win. Bell will have six more chances to show off his speed in the Xfinity Series this year. His next start is June 24 at Iowa Speedway.

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Tonight’s Xfinity race at Iowa: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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Sam Hornish Jr. looks to return to Iowa Speedway and win the June event for the second consecutive year, but several others, including points leader Elliott Sadler and rookie teammate William Byron, look for their first series win of the year. Justin Allgaier and Ryan Reed seek their second victory of the season.

Here are the particulars for tonight’s Xfinity race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Emily Skor, CEO Growth Energy, will give the command to start engines at 8:37 p.m. Green flag is set for 8:44 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 250 laps (218.75 miles) around the 7/8-mile oval.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 60. Stage 2 ends on Lap 120.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: The Xfinity garage opens at 2:30 p.m. The driver/crew chief meeting is at 7:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 8:10 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Specialist Michelle Monroe, Iowa National Guard 34th Army Band, will perform the Anthem at 8:31 p.m.

TV/RADIO: Fox Sports 1 will broadcast the race. Its coverage begins at 8 p.m. Motor Racing Network’s broadcast on radio and at mrn.com begins at 8 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts 70 degrees at race time with a 1 percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Sam Hornish Jr. led 183 of 250 laps to win this event a year ago. Ty Dillon was second. Brad Keselowski was third. Erik Jones won the most recent Iowa race last July, leading 154 of 250 laps. Ty Dillon was second. Elliott Sadler placed third.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying begins at 6:15 p.m.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Larson want Cup All-Star Race at Iowa Speedway

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NASCAR has been sending its Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series to Iowa Speedway since 2009, but its premier series has never held a race at the .875-mile track in Newton, Iowa.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kyle Larson would like that to change sooner rather than later.

Stenhouse and Larson spoke to the Des Moines Register ahead of this weekend’s NASCAR races at the track.

The Roush Fenway Racing driver and former Iowa winner expressed enthusiasm at Iowa someday hosting the Monster Energy All-Star Race.

“To see how much support that the Iowa Speedway gets from the fans, it’s pretty incredible,” Stenhouse said. “I’d love to get the All-Star race here.”

The exhibition has been held at Charlotte Motor Speedway every year but one since it was introduced in 1985. It was at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 1986.

But with lackluster races and fan turnout in recent years for the event at the 1.5-mile track, support has been growing to possible hold the event at other tracks.

“I would like that better than Charlotte, for sure. … I’d be down for it,” Larson told the newspaper of having the event in Iowa.

Iowa Speedway opened in 2006 and was bought by NASCAR in 2013.

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Saturday’s track schedules at Sonoma and Iowa

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Today we reach the mid-point of this weekend’s busy NASCAR schedule.

The NASCAR Cup Series will have a short day at Sonoma Raceway, with only qualifying on the agenda at 2:45 p.m. ET.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series will have the busier day at Iowa Speedway, with qualifying at 6:15 p.m. ET, followed by the American Ethanol e15 200 at 8:30 p.m. ET. Sam Hornish Jr. is the defending winner of this race, and returns to try and make it two in a row, racing this year for Team Penske.

Here’s today’s schedule (all times are Eastern):

At SONOMA

10 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. Cup garage open

2:45 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, two rounds) (FS1, Performance Racing Network)

At IOWA

2:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

6:15 p.m. – Xfinity qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (Tape delayed at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

7:30 p.m. – Xfinity driver/crew chief meeting

8 p.m. – Xfinity driver introductions

8:30 p.m. – American Ethanol e15 200 Xfinity Series race (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR radio)

Stats, Results for Truck Series race at Iowa Speedway

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John Hunter Nemechek led the final six laps to win the Camping World Truck Series’ M&M’s 200 at Iowa Speedway.

It’s his second win in two weeks.

Nemechek beat out Johnny Sauter, Brandon Jones, Grant Engfinger and Christopher Bell.

Click here for race results.