Christopher Bell would prefer not to ‘waste another year’ of ‘prime’

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Whether he is racing in the Cup or Xfinity Series next year, Christopher Bell would be “thrilled either way,” but the Joe Gibbs Racing driver thinks he’s ready for NASCAR’s biggest stage after 27 starts and five wins in Xfinity.

“I don’t feel like I need another year of Xfinity,” Bell said in a Wednesday teleconference.

The defending Camping World Truck Series champion made his comments hours after team owner Joe Gibbs told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio “we have to keep him,” and that Bell is “scheduled” for another season in Xfinity.

Gibbs said Bell’s future is “kind of up in the air right now. We’re kind of set next year. We want to keep him in Xfinity next year.”

But Bell is confident in what his future has in store for him.

“I think the best way for me to win at the Cup level is to get there and start trying at it,” Bell said. “I feel like I’m different than the guys that have been coming up here over the last couple years, and everyone is saying that they’re moving guys up too quick, and the difference is that I’m 23 years old, I’m not 18, 19 or even 20 years old.

“I’ve got a lot of racing experience, and right now I feel like I’m in my prime as a race car driver. If the opportunity comes to go Cup racing next year, I definitely don’t want to waste another year in my prime, so to speak, of not learning and not getting that experience of Cup racing.”

As of now, all four of JGR’s Cup rides are filled for next year and Furniture Row Racing, where Erik Jones was teammates with Martin Truex Jr. in 2017, is now a one-car team seeking additional sponsorship for Truex in 2019.

That leaves the possibility of a second ride there less likely. Truex is a free agent after this season but indicated last month at Kentucky that “I don’t plan on doing anything different” for next season.

Regardless, Bell said he has “every intention of staying” with JGR and Toyota, adding he’d “probably be running either the All‑Star sprint cars or maybe the (World of) Outlaws” if Toyota hadn’t added him to its driver development program in 2015.

“Even if the Cup deal doesn’t work out for next year, which it looks like it’s not going to, I’m still going to be sitting in a really fast race car at a level in motorsports where I never really dreamed I’d be at,” Bell said.

In his rookie season, Bell leads the Xfinity points standings after 19 races and is coming off winning three consecutive races. He will try to make it four straight Saturday at Watkins Glen International (3 p.m. ET on NBC). The last series regular to win four in a row was Sam Ard in 1983.

All of Bell’s five Xfintiy wins to date have occurred on ovals.

Bell will get just his fourth chance to compete on a road course in a national NASCAR series this weekend.

“Going for four in a row would obviously be huge, but obviously it’s going to be a tall order to win four in a row going to a road course that I’ve never been before with guys that are racing that have a ton of experience there,” Bell said. “I’m not going to be heartbroken if I don’t win four in a row, but I will be heartbroken if I don’t win five races this year.  So that’s the only stat that matters to me are those race wins.”

Bell has two concerns heading to WGI, the first of three road courses in four races. The first is shifting.

“I don’t know if I’ve had a road course weekend where I haven’t blown a motor yet by missing a downshift or missing an upshift and accidentally downshifting,” Bell said. “So that’s the No. 1 goal is to get through the weekend without blowing a motor.

“It’s just so opposite of everything that I’ve done in my past, but I’ve really enjoyed the road races that I’ve done, especially at Canada. I feel like I’ve been fairly competitive up there.”

In two Truck Series starts at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, Bell has finishes of fifth and 26th (engine).

“The only thing that’s hindering my confidence right now is just the fact that I was so awful at Road America last year,” Bell said of the race where he started fourth and finished 19th. “That’s the only reason that I don’t feel like I could compete for the win this week.”

Points are another concern for Bell on the road course.

“(Justin) Allgaier is an excellent road racer,” Bell observed. “Daniel Hemric does a really good job on the road courses.  So there’s a lot of guys that I’m in a really tight points battle with that are really good road racers, and unfortunately for me, I don’t have that star by my name that says I’m a really good road racer.”

Bell has a 16-point lead over second-ranked Elliott Sadler. Hemric is fourth (-23 points) and Allgaier is fifth (-52).

Said Bell: “So luckily with the stages, I feel like the guys that are competing for wins will pit before the stage ends, and that’ll open up some stage points for us if I’m not up to speed and I’m not competing for the win.”

Longtime crew chief Nick Harrison dies at 37, team announces

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LOUDON, N.H. — Kaulig Racing announced Sunday morning that veteran crew chief Nick Harrison died. He was 37.

Harrison was the crew chief for Justin Haley‘s No. 11 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series and had called the car’s 13th-place finish Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

In a statement attributed to team owner Matt Kaulig and president Chris Rice, the team said in a tweet that “It is with heavy hearts that we announce the passing of Nick Harrison, our beloved crew chief of the No. 11 car at Kaulig Racing. Please keep Nick’s family in your thoughts and prayers at this time.”

No cause of death or information on services was immediately available. A Kaulig Racing spokesperson said “further details would be provided as they come.”

NASCAR released a statement on Harrison’s death: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of longtime crew chief Nick Harrison, and offer our thoughts, prayers and support to his family, friends and Kaulig Racing colleagues.”

According to Racing-Reference.info, Harrison made his debut as an Xfinity crew chief in 2006. He was a crew chief for 184 Xfinity races (including 17 with Haley this year) and had five victories, his first with Kurt Busch in 2012 at Daytona International Speedway with James Finch’s Phoenix Racing.

He also worked 120 races as a crew chief in the Cup Series, including full seasons in 2011-12 with Phoenix Racing’s No. 51 Chevrolet. He guided Busch to a third place June 24, 2012 at Sonoma Raceway, marking Harrison’s best finish as a Cup crew chief.

Harrison also won three times in the Xfinity Series with Austin Dillon and once with Paul Menard. He also won with Dillon in the Aug. 2, 2014 truck race at Pocono Raceway, one of three truck races for Harrison as a crew chief.

During a career with several teams including Phoenix, Richard Childress Racing and Kaulig, Harrison worked with more than a dozen Cup and Xfinity drivers. The roster included Bobby Labonte, Bill Elliott, Boris Said, A.J. Allmendinger, Micahel McDowell, Regan Smith, Ryan Truex, Landon Cassill, Jamie McMurray, Ty Dillon, Jeremy Clements, Brandon Jones, Ben Kennedy and Brendan Gaughan.

Today’s Cup race at New Hampshire: Start time, lineup and more

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After a harrowing series of practice sessions for some teams at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, NASCAR’s premier series is scheduled for 301 laps Sunday at the Magic Mile.

Five drivers — Alex Bowman, William Byron, Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin — will start from the rear in backup cars after crashes the past two days.

Brad Keselowski will start first after capturing his first pole position since October 2017.

Here’s all the info for today’s event:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The green flag is scheduled for 3:15 p.m.

PRERACE: The garage will open at 9:30 a.m. The driver/crew chief meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Driver introductions will begin at 2:30 p.m. The national anthem will be performed by Whitney Doucet at 3:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 301 laps (318.46 miles) around the 1.058-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 75. Stage 2 ends on Lap 150

TV/RADIO: Prerace coverage will begin at 1:30 p.m. with NASCAR America on NBCSN, followed by  Countdown to Green at 2:30 on NBCSN and the race broadcast at 3 on NBCSN. Performance Racing Network will broadcast the race. PRN’s coverage begins at 2 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry PRN’s broadcast, which is also available at goprn.com.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for mostly cloudy skies with a high of 90 degrees and a 24% chance of scattered thunderstorms for the start of the race. 

LAST TIME: Kevin Harvick bumped Kyle Busch from the lead on Lap 295 of 301. Aric Almirola finished third. 

TO THE REAR: Alex Bowman, William Byron, Kyle Larson, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin will drop to the back because they are in backup cars.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.

Harrison Burton, Paul Menard exchange words after trading hits

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LOUDON, N.H. – There’s a 20-year gap between Paul Menard and Harrison Burton and seemingly just as wide a gulf in how they viewed their incident Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Burton, 18, finished 29th in the Xfinity Series race after being wrecked by Menard, 38, with 45 laps remaining.

Parking his No. 18 Toyota after completing 169 of 200 laps, Burton waited for more than 20 minutes until the race ended and then strode purposefully from the entrance of the Xfinity garage to the pits and confronted Menard for a terse but civil conversation.

“I wanted to get across to him that I got wrecked for no reason,” said Burton, who competes full-time in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series and was making the third start of his Xfinity career and the first on a track at least a mile in length. “I barely touched him. There’s barely a mark on his door. I don’t know if he’s heard of NASCAR before, but this isn’t F1 where if you touch someone, there’s a 5-second penalty.

“I barely touched him, and I got wrecked. He says that I got into him on the restart. I’m on the apron, and he comes down across my nose and then gets mad about it. When he watches the film, I think he’ll see that. I think that we just worked our butts off and didn’t get the result we deserve. We’ll just come back and race harder and beat him next time.”

Menard said he was justified to tap Burton in the left rear and spin the Joe Gibbs Racing driver into the Turn 1 wall.

“He ran into me a couple of times,” said the driver of the No. 12 Ford for Team Penske. “So I voiced my displeasure. He’s a young kid. He’s got a long time in this sport. He’s got to figure that stuff out pretty early. As he races more in Xfinity, and especially if he gets to the Cup level, they don’t put up with that stuff. I felt it was my place to tell him that’s not cool.

“A lot of these kids are good clean racers. He kind of stood out from the crowd. He had a fast enough car he could have been clean. I hate tearing up race cars. I didn’t really want to tear up his race car, that’s for sure. But sometimes enough is enough.”

Menard singled out Chase Briscoe and Noah Gragson, both in their early to mid-20s, for having raced him cleaner than Burton.

“Some of these kids are really fun to race with, and some of them just don’t get it,” said Menard, a veteran of 14 seasons in the Cup series who was teamed with Burton’s father (and NASCAR on NBC analyst), Jeff, for three seasons at Richard Childress Racing. “So I think you have to cut that shit out at an early age.”

“Some of these kids have a lot of talent and don’t have to run into you to try to pass you. Harrison, I’ve never met the kid before. I know his dad really well. I’ve got a lot of respect for Jeff. Really good man. But the kid ran into me a couple of times, and that was enough of that.”

Though he had the chance to air his grievances, Burton was skeptical it would make any difference with how Menard would race him in the future.

“He doesn’t care,” Burton said. “He doesn’t care about anyone else but himself. But I’m going to just go out and beat him on the racetrack like I was going to today. I was driving away from him. I was gone.

“We were going to beat him on the racetrack, and that’s all you can do is just beat people on the racetrack and show them you’re going to outwork them. I’m fired up and ready to go for the next one.”

Results, points after Xfinity race at New Hampshire

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Christopher Bell led 186 of 200 laps on his way to winning Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Bell beat Cole Custer to claim his fifth of the year.

The top five was completed by Justin Allgaier, Tyler Reddick and Paul Menard.

Click here for the race results.

Points

Tyler Reddick continues to lead the standings despite having two few wins than Bell and Custer.

He has a 56-point lead over Bell and 76-point advantage over Custer in third.

The top five is completed by Justin Allgaier (-146 points) and Austin Cindric (-163 points).

Click here for the full standings.