By: Ashley McCubbin
Going into the weekend, everyone had a certain driver with a name that starts with the letter C pegged as the eventual race winner. Unfortunately, they chose the wrong one in Chase Elliott.
Instead, it was Christopher Bell securing his first career NASCAR Cup Series checkered flag. Often overlooked heading into the road course events, the Joe Gibbs Racing sophomore told News From The Pits pre-season he was looking forward to turning both left and right. After all, he showed speed last season with Leavine Family Racing and scored an Xfinity victory at Road America. However, the strength was overshadowed by a slow pit crew, and poor starting spot resulting in early damage and adversity.
With the ability to start 12th following a 16th-place finish in the Daytona 500, Bell avoided the chaos he normally is swallowed up in and drove his way to the top-five. From there, he ran right alongside favourites Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr., challenging them for positions. Ultimately, he was able to close a three-second gap to Joey Logano in the final six laps and pass him for the win.
Entering his second year in Cup, first season with JGR, he said making the playoffs was a must if he wanted to secure his future in knowing the rotation of drivers to go through the No. 20 Camry. Now only two races into the season, those goals are accomplished meaning he will have time to hone in on his skills ahead of the playoffs, possibly giving him a chance to become a contender.
Of course, Bell’s fresh tires and climb through the field only came as a result of a caution with 11 laps to go for a shower. NASCAR has it written in the rulebook they can throw a rain yellow flag once during an event, and give the team’s an option to put on the Goodyear wet tires if they want. Though given the weather had cleared, and it was only a couple turns wet while the rest of the track was dry, the likelihood of tires being changed was slim to none – with no teams electing for the treaded compound.
While the protocol follows what it is written in the rulebook, it may be time to change it and give the teams an option to decide, especially in a situation where you have partial rain one end of track and none at the other. Road courses are all about strategy as much as making your way around, and the sanctioning body eliminates that by making the decision for the teams.
Given the weather had mostly subsided, it appeared the only reason they threw the caution was due to wanting to have an exciting finish with a late-race restart as Elliott was out to a three-second advantage and cruising away. After all, the other two national series got excitement with their late yellow flags and overtime finishes.
NASCAR got what they wanted, as multiple drivers would find themselves with damage and facing the wrong way afterwards. But trying to create drama only hurts the sport’s credibility, which is already questioned by several with stage and playoff gimmicks (if you will) implemented.
Elliott may certainly have a lot to say about it, considering it was the result of his dominating run being turned upside down. Restarting 10th after pitting for fresh rubber, he was driven off-track while four-wide – made perhaps the save of the season in the process, before going around after trying to pull the crossover on Brad Keselowski. But in theory, it was actually a day where those you expected to shine had problems, as Martin Truex Jr. also went around for a spin, too.
Speaking of Keselowski, he will be one of the drivers praising the last race caution along with Kurt Busch. They both had disastrous days going with mistakes throughout the course in incidents, but electing to stay out and withstand the chaos behind them delivered top-five finishes. One of the reasons they’re both past series champions.