By DOUG ALDEN
The Associated Press
LOUDON, N.H. — Christopher Bell moved into a tie for the NASCAR Xfinity Series victory lead with five, dominating Saturday in hot conditions at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Bell led 186 of the 200 laps in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 Toyota — only losing the lead when he pitted on Lap 33 — and finished more than four seconds ahead of Cole Custer, the Ford driver who won last weekend at Kentucky Speedway for his fifth victory of the season. Bell has 13 career series victories.
“The race cars win the races. The drivers just kind of are along for the ride,” Bell said, giving credit to crew chief Jason Ratcliff. “Jason keeps giving me great race cars. That’s what the key is.”
As happy as Ratcliff was to see the 24-year-old driver remain humble, he said Bell has had a lot to do within his own success.
“I’ve had a lot of good race cars but couldn’t win races in them without the right guy behind the wheel,” Ratcliff said. “He’s being patient. He’s doing a good job of executing each and every week and building on that. We’ll just see what tomorrow holds, but I think he’s got good things in store for him.”
Custer lost the lead on the first lap after starting from the pole.
“I wasn’t driving the car right at the start of the race, so I kind of got behind on adjustments,” Custer said. “I wish we’d had another caution so we could catch up to him.”
Justin Algaier was third in a Chevrolet. Series points leader Tyler Reddick was fourth in a Chevy, and Paul Menard followed in a Ford.
Harrison Burton was running fifth for JGR until the 154th lap, when he got bumped from behind by Menard and spun out and struck the wall. Burton, the son former NASCAR driver Jeff Burton, was able to get back on the track and finished 29th. He and Menard had a lengthy conversation at their cars after the race.
“He hit me twice, and I hit him once,” Menard said. “He was mad at me for hitting him that one time.”
The 18-year-old Burton didn’t think Menard’s retaliation was justified.
“We had a restart there, the first thing he said he was mad about was I hit him on the restart,” Burton said. “But I was on the apron, and he turned down across my nose. He got mad about that, and then I barely touched his door, and I got out of the gas because I didn’t want to hit him any harder than I did. Then I passed him clean and he wrecked me.”