LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — Christopher Bell was the class of the field in the Truck Series during the regular season. With playoff races underway, Bell proved again he’ll be the driver to beat for the championship.
Bell, the top-seeded driver in the playoff field, passed Ryan Truex with 15 laps left and pulled away to win the NASCAR Trucks race on Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Bell earned an automatic spot in the next playoff round. The Kyle Busch Motorsports driver led 73 laps, won his fifth race of the season and was the only playoff driver to finish in the top five.
Truex, who finished second, didn’t have enough in his Toyota to keep pace with Bell.
“I was driving my truck for everything it was worth,” said Truex, younger brother of Cup driver Martin Truex Jr.
Bell knew the No. 4 Toyota was going to be the truck to beat.
“I knew it was tough to pass all day, but our truck had been so good we hadn’t been able to do it until we got to him,” Bell said. “I kept trying to work down and he kept blocking my air down and down and down. Finally, I got one run where I drove up in (turns) one and two and then got a big run into three.”
The 22-year-old Bell was easily the top representative of the Truck playoff field that didn’t have another driver finish in the top five. Playoff drivers held spots six through 11.
Matt Crafton was sixth, followed by Ben Rhodes, Austin Cindric, Johnny Sauter, Kaz Grala and Chase Briscoe. John Hunter Nemechek finished 20th and was the worst finisher among the playoff drivers.
The series heads to Las Vegas next week.
“It’s going to be cool to see these guys to go Vegas and not hold back and give it everything they’ve got,” team owner Kyle Busch said. “We hope to continue that roll going into the future.”
Busch, the 2015 Cup champion, has had the trucks to beat for years in the NASCAR series. KBM has won the Truck Series owner’s championship four straight seasons (2013-2016), and driver Erik Jones won the season championship in 2015. KBM has five owner’s titles since its inception in 2010.
“They’ve been the team to beat for several years now with multiple drivers,” Bell said. “I’m the lucky guy to be in the seat.”
Bell has seven career Truck wins and had his 15th top-10 finish this season.