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.