Bell pulls out emotional win at Phoenix Raceway

Sports

AVONDALE, Ariz. — Christopher Bell and the rest of Joe Gibbs Racing have been through more than their share of heartbreak in the desert.

Owner Joe Gibbs’ son, the team’s vice chairman, died unexpectedly in Phoenix two years ago. Last fall, a broken brake rotor spoiled Bell’s NASCAR Cup Series championship hopes in the Valley of the Sun.

Winning at Phoenix Raceway will never erase the anguish, but it’s certainly another step in the healing process.

Bell surged into the lead when Martin Truex Jr. was forced to pit and then pulled away for an emotional NASCAR Cup Series win at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday.

“This one feels really good,” Bell said. “You don’t get cars like that very often, as you know. Just super, super proud to be on this 20 car.”

JGR has been through a whirlwind of emotions in Phoenix.

In 2022, hours after Ty Gibbs won an Xfinity season championship for his grandfather’s team, vice chairman Coy Gibbs was found dead in his hotel room. Ty’s father was 49.

Bell and JGR returned to Phoenix Raceway in November as part of the championship four vying for the Cup Series title. Instead of mending emotions, the team left dejected after Bell’s car broke early in the race.

Given another shot, Bell held his emotions in check and the crew gave him the fastest car on a perfect afternoon in the desert that ended with a massive celebration on victory lane.

“It is a little bit cathartic,” Bell’s crew chief Adam Stevens said.

Bell’s win in the No. 20 Toyota also ended Chevrolet’s perfect start to the season after winning the first three races. He is the eighth different winner in eight races at Phoenix Raceway’s mile tri-oval.

Chris Buescher finished second after being wrecking 27 laps into last week’s race in Las Vegas and Ty Gibbs was third for his career-best finish. Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top five.

“We had a rough go last week,” Buescher said. “This was good to get everybody back to prove that we’re in this together and we’re going to win one of these things as a team.”

The Phoenix race marked the debut of NASCAR’s new aerodynamics package for short tracks in hopes of producing more passing on tracks of a mile or less and road courses. Goodyear also produced tires with thicker treads designed to retain heat and increase lap-time falloff.

Starting 13th, Bell took advantage of the changes, overcoming a slow pit stop to charge back to the front. Bell moved into the lead with 40 laps to go when leader Truex had to pit for fuel and tires.

Bell led the final 49 laps for his seventh career Cup Series victory — first since Homestead in October.

“I drove a rocket ship today,” Bell said. “It just took off.”

Truex and his crew made calculated gamble on lap 217, opting to stay out when most of the leaders went into the pits.

The JGR driver stayed in the lead, hoping he would have enough fuel and his tires would hold out long enough to reach the checkered flag. Neither happened and Truex was forced to the pits. He finished seventh.

HAMLIN SPINS

Pole sitter Denny Hamlin took advantage of having the first stall to twice take the lead out of the pits, but ran into trouble with about 100 laps left.

Trying to pass Reddick, Hamlin’s No. 11 car got loose and he spun out, causing a caution that sent most of the cars to the pits. Hamlin dropped to 23rd after a pit stop and finished 11th.

“Just got in too deep and tried not to wreck him,” Hamlin said. “Just ended up wrecking ourselves.”

CINDRIC’S BAD LUCK

Austin Cindric had an early end to his day, a week after a spinout knocked him well back in the pack at Las Vegas.

Cindric completed six laps at Phoenix Raceway before being involved in a wreck with Austin Dillon and Derek Kraus. Dillon and Kraus were able to return to the track, but Cindric’s car was damaged too much.

Cindric finished 29th at Las Vegas and was in contention at the Daytona 500 before getting caught up in a late wreck.

“I felt like I got hit twice,” Cindric said. “I knew the 3 (Dillon) was on the inside, but I thought he would fall back but he came back up. It’s just a product of not qualifying well.”

UP NEXT

The Cup Series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee next weekend.

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