Christopher Bell fended off teammate Noah Gragson to break through and win his first Xfinity race of the year Friday night at Richmond Raceway.
Bell led the final 79 laps around the .75-mile track to score his second career win. He had finished in the top five in four of the first seven races this season.
“That was pretty special there, buddy,” Bell told Fox Sports 1. “Had to work for it. My teammate was really good and I knew throughout both practices that both of our cars were going to be really strong. Joe Gibbs Racing has been producing really, really fast Camrys for last couple of weeks and it’s really shown.”
Gragson placed second in his first career Xfinity start. He bounced back from an uncontrolled tire penalty early in the race.
He hounded Bell for much of the last 15 laps, but could never pull even with him.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Gragson told FS1 of his first series start at the short track. “I found a little something in the track, a little speed there at the end of the second stage on old tires. I kept it in my memory bank until the end and I told me team, ‘I got something, when it’s time to go tell me when.’ About 18 to go, I told them, ‘Can’t wait any longer, I don’t have any more patience.”
Gragson, who drives full-time in the Camping World Truck Series, led 10 laps.
WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Austin Cindric earned his first career top five after starting from the rear for an unapproved adjustment … Matt Tifft earned his fourth career top five … Ryan Truex placed seventh to give Kaulig Racing its fourth top 10 of the year. It earned five last year … Jeremy Clements placed eighth, earning his first top 10 since he won at Road America in August.
WHO HAD A BAD RACE: After winning Stage 1, Daniel Hemric lost his right front tire with three laps to go in Stage 2, but made it to the end. He finished 29th, four laps down … Justin Allgaier spun after ramming into the back of Spencer Gallagher with 86 laps to go. Chase Briscoe was also received damage in the incident. Allgaier finished 14th. Briscoe placed 26th.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “My wife’s already spent it.” – Elliott Sadler to FS1 after winning the Dash 4 Cash bonus.
WHAT’S NEXT: Sparks Energy 300 at Talladega Superspeedway at 3 p.m. ET on April 28 on Fox.
BRISTOL, Tenn. – Elliott Sadler remains the points leader. Sadler holds the lead after his seventh consecutive top-10 finish. He is the only driver in the series to place in the top 10 in each race this year.
Daniel Hemric is six points behind Sadler but faces the potential of additional penalties after his car failed inspection at Bristol. NASCAR stated that Hemric’s car had a “mechanical measurement” violation. NASCAR announced after the race that Hemric would lose his spot to compete for the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus next week at Richmond.
Ryan Preece took the lead with 10 laps to go and earned his first Xfinity win of the season and second of his career. He was followed by Justin Allgaier, Daniel Hemric, Elliott Sadler and Spencer Gallagher.
Preece wasn’t eligible for next week’s Dash 4 Cash race because he’s not entered in the event.
Christopher Bell’s chances for the Dash 4 Cash ended after a hard hit just before the halfway point in the 300-lap race. Vinnie Miller and Cody Ware crashed, and Bell’s car went into a slide when he applied the brakes and slammed Miller’s car.
Stage 1 winner: Christopher Bell
Stage 2 winner: Ryan Preece
Who had a good race: Anybody who made it through with all the cautions. … Shane Lee was impressive in his Xfinity debut, driving for Richard Childress Racing. He was headed for a top-10 finish before he got into the wall with less than 20 laps left. Still, he had a strong run and performed well throughout the race. He placed 14th. … Justin Allgaier’s runner-up finish marked his fourth top–three finish in the last five races. … Elliott Sadler is the only driver to finish in the top 10 in all seven races this season. … Ross Chastain finished ninth for his third top-10 finish of the year. He had two top 10s all last season. … Alex Labbe placed a career-best 11th.
Who had a bad race: Matt Tifft finished a season-worst 35th after he was involved in two incidents. It ended his streak of 15 consecutive top-20 finishes, dating to last season. … Kaz Grala was eliminated in an early crash and finished a season-worst 38th. … John Hunter Nemechek was running third when he had a tire go down and had to pit under green with 30 laps to go, ending his chances for a win. He finished 13th.
Notable: Spencer Gallagher, making his 47th series start, earned his first career top-five finish by placing fifth.
Quote of the day: “That’s the second time this weekend that I’ve crashed from guys going seconds off the pace. Can’t slow down whenever they spin out, and it’s frustrating,’’ Christopher Bell after being eliminated by a crash.
Next: The series races at Richmond at 7 p.m. ET on April 20.
There were multiple accidents in the session. Tony Mrakovich, making his Xfinity debut, crashed for the second time today. Bell and Ross Chastain sustained damage trying to avoid him. Neither will go to a backup car.
For the next four weeks, the Xfinity Series will give four different sets of drivers a chance at the money, the glory and the fun with the return of the Dash 4 Cash program.
Each week, beginning this Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway, four drivers will compete for $100,000. The competition continues at Richmond Raceway, Talladega Superspeedway and Dover International Speedway.
Whoever finishes highest among the four drivers each week wins the money. That driver and the three drivers placing behind him advance to the next Dash 4 Cash round.
For these four races, Cup Series drivers are not permitted to compete.
That means the money, the glory, the fun – and the race wins – will only be enjoyed by Xfinity drivers. Through six races, Xfinity regulars have won once, in the season-opener at Daytona.
Hemric, in his second full-time year with Richard Childress Racing, is the only of the four who participated in the Dash 4 Cash last year and won money. The 27-year-old driver won $100,000 at Bristol when it was the second stop among the Dash 4 Cash races.
“As young as we are we get to run for a hundred grand, there’s not a lot of people (who) can say that,” Hemric said after the Texas race. “Having the opportunity to taste that last year and experience that was really something that we definitely enjoyed and hopefully we can do that again next week.”
Hemric enters Bristol with two consecutive top fives, including placing third at Texas. His first two Xfinity starts at Bristol resulted in a top five and a top 10.
Custer, 20, is also in his second full-time season and was part of the Dash 4 Cash last year at Bristol. Custer wrecked out of that race and finished 10th in the August Bristol race.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver enters the weekend coming off his first top five of the year, placing fourth in Texas.
“I think at the start of the year we had some speed, we just had some bad luck with things going wrong and getting in wrecks,” Custer said after the race. “As it went, we’ve cleaned ourselves up a little bit and haven’t had the bad luck. We’ve had fast cars, so I think we just have to get a little bit better and I think just have a really smooth and everything go right race and I think hopefully we can put that together next week.”
The other half of the four drivers are made up of Joe Gibbs Racing’s Bell and Preece.
Bell is in his first full-time season in Xfinity and Preece is competing part-time after a four-race tryout last season.
Preece has two starts at Bristol that came in 2015 when he competed with JD Motorsports in his only full-time Xfinity season.
“I think I’m pretty grateful for just having the opportunity,” Preece said. “Did I think this (would be possible) last January in 2017? Absolutely not. I fully intended on pretty much settling and racing modifieds for the rest of my life. When Carl Edwards retired and everything kind of shifted, I was like, ‘OK, there’s an opportunity here. I need to try and take advantage of this’ and it got me to those two races and I think you’ve seen how things have kind of taken off from there.”
Preece, 27, earned one win and four top fives in all of his starts with JGR last year. That resulted in 10 more races this season for the Connecticut native.
“Every time I show up to the race track, I’m almost treating it like it’s my last, even though I know I have 10 races right now,” Preece said. “Each one of these races could determine my future. That’s pretty much how I show up and that’s how I’m going to race.”
Preece said winning the $100,000 would help him finish building a race car.
Preece is well aware of the backgrounds of his Dash 4 Cash competitors entering the first short track race of the season.
“Daniel and I, he’s from late models, I actually raced Daniel in modifieds growing up quite a while ago,” Preece said. “So we’re kind of from the same old deal on the East Coast and then you got Bell, he’s a midget driver from out west and then you got Cole who is (from the) K&N (Pro Series) and all that. We’re all from the short tracks.”
How will these kindred spirits race each other for the money, the glory and the fun without those pesky Cup drivers getting in the way?
According to Bell, who has four top fives through six races, just like they would at “any rental go-kart track.”
“We’re going to run just as hard as we would for a Cup win,” Bell said. “We’re race car drivers. It doesn’t really matter what we’re racing for, we’re going to go give it our all no matter what.”
Hemric said it’s “very humbling” knowing where his competitors come from.
“It’s just a nature of something that we’ve all been passionate about and love to do since a time we could remember,” Hemric said. “I think we all know each other’s stories pretty well. It’s pretty special to share a moment like that next week with these guys and look forward to battling to the end with them.”