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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)

Tracking the Trucks: Christopher Bell Schools the Field for Atlanta Redemption

In a Nutshell: Class was in session at Atlanta Motor Speedway Saturday as Christopher Bell taught the field about the power in his Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota. Bell started from the pole, led 99 of the 130 laps and won all three stages en route to his third career win. A spirited effort from Matt Crafton on a pair of late restarts kept things interesting. However, Bell would not be denied. The win was even more meaningful considering how forgettable the 2016 event at Atlanta had been for the No. 4 team. Bell led 42 laps but pounded the turn 4 wall only seven laps from the finish. This year, Bell and the KBM team exorcised their Atlanta demons.

Who Should Have Won: Bell. It would have been a travesty for Bell had anyone else rolled into Victory Lane. Yet, closing the deal has proven to be a bit of a weak spot for the Norman, Oklahoma native. On four occasions in 2016, Bell led double digit laps in an event, however, he only claimed the win in one of those events. So finishing the deal was an absolute necessity, and no one deserved to win the race more than the 22-year-old KBM driver.

Race Rundown: As is usually the case at Atlanta, the action was fast and the pace torrid. Rocketing around the 1.5-mile quad-oval at speeds over 180 mph made for some hair raising moments early and often. KBM rookie Noah Gragson spun on the opening lap and collected Brett Moffitt, although both were able to continue on. Defending race winner John Hunter Nemechek cut a tire and pounded the SAFER barrier, thus ending his evening. Tommy Joe Martins spun his truck in turn 2 but managed to avoid contact. Then Jordan Anderson, with help from Korbin Forrister, slid into the grass on the frontstretch, the splitter dug in and the truck nearly turned over as it sustained significant damage. The truck was his only one, and unless he can get another one, he’ll be done racing for the remainder of the season.

Fortunately, all drivers were unharmed after their respective incidents.

While Bell dominated the laps led, it wasn’t a complete runaway. Team owner Kyle Busch, in his first start of the Camping World Truck Series season, paced the field for 25 circuits. Crafton and Grant Enfinger also took turns at the top of the leaderboard. However, Busch saw his chance to win go by the wayside on a late restart when a cut tire sent him into the wall. Busch lost three laps making repairs on pit road, staggering home in 26th position.

Enfinger and his team gambled during the last caution, opting to forgo tires in favor of track position. But when the race went green with two laps to go, Enfinger was unable to hold off the pack. Austin Dillon had taken two tires during his pit stop and restarted second. Still, he too was dispatched quickly by Bell, Crafton, and many of the other trucks sporting four new Goodyear Eagles. Dillon fell to seventh at the checkered flag, while Enfinger was eighth.

Quick Hits:

  • Alex Bowman continued his recent trend of being impressive every time he straps into a seat. “Bowman the Showman” piloted his GMS Racing Chevrolet to a sixth-place finish.
  • Ross Chastain earned Jeff Bolen and his Bolen Motorsports team their first top 10 finish in only the 23rd start for the small organization.
  • Chase Elliott quietly earned a fifth-place finish in his return to the truck series. Elliott also drove another GMS Racing Chevrolet along with Bowman.
  • While running inside the top 10, Parker Kligerman, piloting the No. 75 Chevrolet for Henderson Motorsports, stopped abruptly on the apron under caution. The broadcast never touched on the reasoning beyond stating how disappointing it was for how well he was running, but Kligerman posted the reason for the problem on Twitter Sunday morning.

Truck Rookie Report
2017 Rookie of the Year Candidates
No. 13 Cody Coughlin
No. 18 Noah Gragson
No. 19 Austin Cindric
No. 29 Chase Briscoe
No. 33 Kaz Grala
No. 49 Wendell Chavous
No. 98 Grant Enfinger

No. of Rookies in the Race: 8 (add Stewart Friesen)

No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: None

Rookie of the Race: Noah Gragson (16th)

A Look At The Points

By virtue of his stage sweep and overall win, Bell heads to Martinsville with a seven point lead. Interestingly enough, Bell is the only driver with top 10 finishes in both of the events thus far in 2017. Tied for second in the standings are Johnny Sauter and Ben Rhodes. Fourth in the rundown is Daytona winner Kaz Grala (-15 points) and fifth is Matt Crafton (-21 points).

News and Notes:

Chase Elliott’s truck failed post-race height inspection and was found to have a loose lugnut in post race inspection. Any potential penalties will likely be announced on Tuesday.

Quotable:

“To come back and be as dominate as we were was really cool for me. It was a dream weekend for me.”  Christopher Bell

“Got down into turn one and there was no air in the tire. That seems to happen to me a lot.”  Kyle Busch

“This place is so much fun. Slipping and sliding and being able to just crack the throttle on restarts like you have an egg underneath your foot. That was some of the greatest racing I’ve seen in a long time.”  Matt Crafton

Up Next: The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series returns to the track on Saturday, April 1 at Martinsville Speedway. Catch all the action in the Alpha Energy Solutions 250 going green at 2:30 pm ET on FS1.

About Frank Velat

Frank Velat has been an avid follower of NASCAR and other motorsports for over 20 years. He brings a blend of passionate fan and objective author to his work. Frank offers unique perspectives that everyone can relate to, remembering the sport's past all the while embracing its future. Follow along with @FrankVelat on Twitter.

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