HAMPTON, Ga. – Christopher Bell became the first driver to sweep a race in NASCAR’s stage-based format on Saturday evening, topping all three stages of the Active Pest Control 200 to notch his third-career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory.
Bell led 99 of 130 laps from the pole before parking his No. 4 JBL Toyota Tundra in victory lane, avenging his near-miss from one year ago at Atlanta when he blew a tire in the final laps and pounded the outside wall in turn four.
This time there was no such heartache, as Bell’s truck was consistently the fastest on the race track all day long. He ultimately held off former series champions Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter on a green-white-checkered finish, sparked after Austin Cindric spun with six laps to go.
“I was just trying to do everything I could to make sure I got a good restart and not break my momentum. These trucks are really tough to get going on restarts, because they’re so areo dependent. You can get all sorts of momentum or you can have all that momentum taken away from you.”
Bell was a victim of losing that momentum on a restart with 43 to go, when he spun the tires on the outside lane and had to rally from seventh.
“That momentum thing bit us there in the middle section of the race, but to be able to come back and be as dominant as we were was really cool for me. I’ve had this race circled on my calendar ever since we left here a year ago. Rudy and the guys did an awesome job preparing this thing; it was really fast all weekend. We just had a dream machine. It was really, really good.”
A largely calm first two-thirds saw Bell lead the first 83 laps in succession and win both stages one and two, but a slightly slower pit stop under the second stage break saw Kyle Busch leapfrog Bell on pit road and come out with the lead ahead of the start of the final stage.
Racing resumed with 43 laps remaining and Bell struggled to get up to speed after spinning the tires. He rebounded quickly into the top five, but another caution with 37 to go — for a spin by Tommy Joe Martins off turn two — bunched the field back up again.
However, the true chaos came after a caution for Jordan Anderson’s crash on the frontstretch at lap 105, which sent all the frontrunners down pit road for their final set of tires and led to a restart with 18 to go that saw Grant Enfinger stay out on old tires to lead the race and Austin Dillon line up on the outside after taking only two tires.
A slow restart led to Crafton pouncing on Enfinger’s inside to take the lead, but Bell came calling the next time by to seize control of the race for good.
Cindric’s spin and the ensuing green-white-checkered restart saw Crafton beat Bell to the line on the outside and lead lap 128 of 130, but the two-time series champion couldn’t quite maintain the momentum on the outside to clear Bell for the lead and the win.
“I could hear him (Bell) down there spinning the tires, and I thought to myself, ’Just keep spinning them Chris’ … but we had a shot and at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about,” Crafton said. “To have a shot at them on that last restart is all we can ask for, and it was close. We just lacked on short run speed. The (No.) 4 truck definitely had us (beat) on that.”
Crafton was also among the drivers lamenting the pending repave of Atlanta’s weathered surface.
“If anybody is listening, Atlanta Motor Speedway … and I think we need to start a driver’s council — please, please do not repave this race track,” he added. “This is by far the coolest race track that we race on, just because you can move everywhere … on the yellow line in the middle of the racetrack, against the fence … it doesn’t matter. It was great racing and that’s what it’s all about. When you have good old asphalt like that and you put on a great show for everybody, it’s a great day.”
Sauter came home third ahead of Ben Rhodes and Chase Elliott, whose truck failed post-race inspection for being too low and also had one loose lug nut during the post-race pit road check.
Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon, Enfinger, Timothy Peters and Ross Chastain completed the top 10.
Following a four week break, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will return to action on April 1 for the Alpha Energy Solutions 250 from Martinsville Speedway.
Full race results can be viewed on the next page…