Defensive champion Christopher Bell captures New Hampshire pole in NASCAR race

LOUDON, New Hampshire. Christopher Bell’s impressive résumé, having competed in three Cup Series races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, has received another boost.

Bell will defend his title by taking pole position in Sunday’s (2:30 p.m.) Crayon 301 race among 26 riders at the Magic Mile.

Bell, driver of the No. 20 Toyota Camry Rheem-WATTS for Joe Gibbs Racing, took his first NHMS pole and fifth overall during Saturday’s qualifying runs on a hard-to-handle and unforgiving circuit.

“I was really surprised at how hard it was to drive the cars in training and qualifying,” said Bell. “Everyone slid and slid and I think this race will be different from what we saw last year.”

Bell topped the list with a top lap speed of 124.781 mph. and time 30.524. Bell will start the race alongside Joe Gibbs teammate Martin Truex Jr., who posted a time of 1:24.752. Lane two will be 2021 champion Arik Almirola (124.707) and two-time champion Joey Logano (124.589).

“Today’s qualification was definitely about not screwing up,” Bell said. “It was a very different qualification because most of the time you can make the most of your car, but today you had to keep your focus on it.”

Last year, Bell took the second Cup Series win of his career in New Hampshire and qualified for the NASCAR playoffs. In 2021, he finished second behind Almirola. Bell has won three Xfinity races here and one of two Truck Series races. Bell and Kyle Busch are the only drivers to have won Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series races at NHMS.

Bell is fourth in the drivers’ rankings with 591 points in 19 starts with one win, five top-five finishes and 10 in the top-10. The only win came at Bristol Motor Speedway on 9 April and secured a place in the upcoming Cup. playoff series. With a playoff lead, Bell’s goal is to finish the regular season in first place.

“A year has passed and you are focused on those three or four cars that are fighting for points,” Bell said. “One mistake or a bad stage and you can lose a lot of points very quickly.

“There are a lot of cars that we’re trying to keep up with and trying to overtake, and we have to stay on top.”

homecoming hero

Reigning Cup Series champion Logano of Middletown, Connecticut began his rise to the top of the NASCAR pecking order as a driver’s apprentice on small backwater New England circuits.

Logano will start his 25th Cup Series at NHMS when he climbs inside the Shell/Pennzoil Ford No. 22 for Team Penske. Logano has had phenomenal success at NHMS with two wins, eight top 5 finishes and 13 top 10 finishes.

“This place has left more memories for me than any other track I visit,” said Logano. “Coming here as a kid, watching races, I saw my first Cup Series race here.

“Here I started my first cup race, got my first cup win here and won here a couple more times. So it was a really special place for me and there are so many family members and friends here.”

Logano became the youngest driver to win a Sprint Cup series race when he took the checkered flag in a Lenox 301 at NHMS on June 28, 2009 for the Joe Gibbs races. Logano took his second Magic Mile victory on September 21, 2014, his first season with Team Penske.

Logano is in 10th place in the individual standings with 518 points, one win, five top 5 finishes and nine top 10 finishes with an average finish of 15,265.

Farewell to Harvick

Kevin Harvick has been the dominant driver in NHMS this century and will make his 40th and final Magic Mike start inside the No. 4 Busch Lite Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Harvick and Geoff Burton share the record with four Cup Series wins at NHMS. He has 14 top 5s, 23 top 10s with one pole and a staggering 11,377 laps. He was the most consistent driver with an average start of 12.7 and an average finish of 12.2. He earned $3,966,023 in the tax state.

“Over the years this has been a great place to race,” said Harvick. “I feel like four wins should equal 10, but I feel it in a lot of places.

“I have seen (NHMS) go through several different transitions in terms of track layout. It was fun to come here and we have a lot of fans here.”

Lane Victory

JH Nemecek took the lead after the restart with two extra laps left to win the Xfinity Series Ambetter Health 200. Nemecek is the operator of the No. 20 Persil Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing.

The race was disjointed, with 10 cautions and a last lap trailing the leaders. Nemecek led 137 laps, securing his fourth Xfinity victory of the season and 199th all-time victory for Joe Gibbs Racing. Pole holder Chandler Smith was second and Austin Hill was third.

“I had good launches on restarts,” Nemechek said. “I tried everything I knew how to do on restarts as best I could. The bottom lane was playing games for sure.”

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