Christopher Bell wins Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway

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Christopher Bell joined NASCAR Cup Series playoff qualifiers Sunday by charging to the front late in the race and winning at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The victory was Bell’s first of the year and made him the 14th seasonal winner. Entering the 318-mile race, Bell was among drivers who were in the 16-driver playoff-possible field based on points. With Sunday’s win, he virtually assured himself of a run at the Cup championship.

Bell passed Chase Elliott, who raced at or near the front most of the day, after several laps of tight racing to take the lead. After passing Elliott, Bell steadily built a two-second lead and won by more than five seconds over Elliott. Following in the top five were Bubba Wallace, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick.

MORE: New Hampshire Cup results, points

Bell, scoring his second career win, came into NHMS with a solid resume. He had won three races in three attempts in Xfinity races at the track and finished second in the Cup race in July last year.

“That one was much needed right there,” Bell told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “It was a hell of a race from my viewpoint. We were all running different lines. That was a blast.”

Truex breezed through the first two stages, winning both, but fell behind after a two-tire pit stop in the final stage and used up most of the race’s closing laps trying to return to the front.

The race featured some fierce racing between Austin Dillon and Brad Keselowski. Dillon moved up the track to hit the driver side of Keselowski’s car, and Keselowski retaliated with a harder hit, almost causing Dillon to lose control. Both continued in the race.

The afternoon also included some very close position racing between Denny Hamlin and Ross Chastain, who have a history of conflict this year.

Truex clearly had the strongest car in the first stage, leading all 70 laps and facing no challenges at the front.

MORE: What drivers said

The race day was a quick one for Alex Bowman, whose career includes no laps led at NHMS. Bowman was the biggest victim of a five-car crash on the race’s sixth lap, sidelining his badly damaged Chevrolet.

Corey LaJoie, who challenged for the win last week at Atlanta, lost control of his car on lap 90, starting a three-car accident. LaJoie’s car was heavily damaged.

Stage 1 winner: Martin Truex Jr.

Stage 2 winner: Martin Truex Jr.

Who had a good race: Christopher Bell, 27, finally reached victory lane for the second time, moving into a playoff spot as the season’s 14th winner. … Brad Keselowski rallied from an on-track encounter with Austin Dillon to finish a solid seventh. … Chase Elliott finished second and has four straight top-two runs.

Who had a bad race: Alex Bowman continued his rough recent ride, becoming involved in a multi-car crash on the sixth lap. The finish (35th) is his third of 30th or worse in the past four races. …  Kyle Busch spun out in heavy traffic twice, regaining control of his car without hitting another car or the wall. … Joey Logano raced at the front but finished 24th.

Next: Pocono Raceway — Sunday, July 24 (3 p.m., ET USA Network)