Christopher Bell opens Truck playoffs by winning at New Hampshire

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LOUDON, New Hampshire — Christopher Bell passed Ryan Truex for the lead with 16 laps left and went on to win the opening NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoff race Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The victory is the fifth of the season for Bell, the regular-season champion, and advances him to the second round. Bell, who started second, also won both stages Saturday.

“Now we can be more aggressive at Vegas and especially at Talladega and try to win the race,” Bell said of the next two races in the opening round of the playoffs.

MORE: Race results

MORE: Points report 

Truex finished second to tie his career-best finish. Todd Gilliland placed a career-best third, overcoming a penalty for running over pit equipment early in the 175-lap race. Grant Enfinger was fourth. Stewart Friesen completed the top five. Four of the top five spots were taken by non-playoff drivers.

Defending series champion Johnny Sauter finished ninth. He was running seventh when he was struck in the passenger side door by a spinning Noah Gragson on Lap 64 and fought the truck’s handling after that.

“From there, it was try to fix it as best we could,” Sauter said. “Tailpipes were missing. You can’t compete at that level with that kind of damage. We’re just lucky it wasn’t something major. It could have been a spindle or a right front suspension.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Christopher Bell

STAGE 2 WINNER: Christopher Bell

HOW CHRISTOPHER BELL WON: He simply had the best truck. After battling Ryan Truex for the lead late, Bell pulled away for the easy win.

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Runner-up Ryan Truex scored his fifth top-five finish in the last six races. … Todd Gilliland, making his fourth career series start, finished a career-best third. … Grant Enfinger placed fourth to record his second consecutive top-five finish. … After Christopher Bell, Matt Crafton was the next highest-finishing playoff driver. Crafton placed sixth.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: John Hunter Nemechek started 14th (worst among playoff drivers) and went to the garage on Lap 44 for a gear change. He lost more than 30 laps for repairs and finished 20th. … Pole-sitter Noah Gragson led 40 laps before spinning and suffering damage when he hit Johnny Sauter’s truck. Gragson finished 15th in the 29-truck field.

NOTABLE: This marked the first time in the last six Truck races at New Hampshire that the pole winner didn’t win the race.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “It’s an honor to drive for you guys,’’ Christopher Bell told his Kyle Busch Motorsports team on the radio.

NEXT: Saturday, Sept. 30 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1)

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