SALEM, Ind. (April 24, 2016) - Christopher Bell had his hands full in his ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards debut. The Norman, Oklahoma 21-year-old driver survived a bout with the wall, a shove from Justin Haley and a motor down on power to win the eventful Kentuckiana Ford Dealers ARCA 200 Sunday afternoon at Salem Speedway.
“I’m all worn out…that was all she had over the last 10 laps,” said a visibly tired Bell in victory lane. “The top was so dirty up there in three and four…I wasn’t expecting that. I can’t thank Venturini Motorsports and JBL enough for all their support.”
Bell was referring to a line of oil dry in the groove through turns three and four from Sheldon Creed, whose car put fluid down after making heavy contact with the wall, setting the stage for the dramatic conclusion.
“It was all I had over the last few laps…there was no saving it. It was harder than I wanted to run but that’s what we had to do. This one is really special to me. This place is legendary…a lot like Winchester, but rougher.”
Bell, in the No. 66 JBL Toyota, proved himself a contender all day long, leading 91 laps overall, including the final 44 of the 200-lap race.
“Things were pretty smooth the first half over that long green flag run. Then we had a bobble on that first pit stop. I took off and the motor laid down a little. We were okay on long green flag runs so it was fortunate to get that last green flag run to finish the race. These General Tires really hung in there all day and saved us after the motor went away. It was so dirty up there, and we ended up side-by-side…it didn’t stick and we plugged the wall. We just kept digging. This place is so abrasive…there’s so much slipping and sliding going on…I think it benefits us dirt racers.”
On the last restart with just over 40 laps to go, Haley got underneath Bell to challenge for the top-spot. As the two drove side-by-side through the oil dry, Bell’s car slid up and bounced off the wall and Haley drove into the lead. However, Bell regained his composure and drove right back to challenge Haley and reclaimed the lead before Haley led the lap. Once Bell got the lead, Haley gave Bell a sizeable shove up in three and four to try and get back underneath. Both cars got sideways, but Bell hung on and began to drive away, eventually winning by four lengths at the final stripe.
Haley also drove a masterful race, and finished a career-best second in the No. 74 Braun Auto Group Chevrolet.
“This one feels good,” Haley said. “We gave it all we had today. This was a really tough field…to come out of here second says a lot. Love this track. I want to congratulate Christopher on a great race today. Thought we might have been able to get by him at the end. We could get to him…we just needed a little more. Really proud of my guys.”
Dalton Sargeant, in the No. 55 Toyota Racing Development Toyota, fought hard all day and came away with a third place finish in his ARCA Racing Series debut.
“I struggled in the beginning…trying to get familiar with the track and getting used to the tires falling off,” Sargeant said. “But once I began to figure things out, we started to pick up speed. I was hoping for a caution there at the end to battle the leaders…I think we had something for them. But, overall, I’m really happy with our finish. To finish in the top three in our ARCA debut is really cool. I’ve never been anywhere quite like this place. When we come back, we’re going to be really strong.”
Kyle Weatherman finished fourth in the No. 58 St. Charles Glass-Lira Motorsports Ford.
“Wish we would have taken four tires at the end, but all in all, a really good day,” Weatherman said. “There were lots of cars in the wall today…we were one of them. I’m really proud of this Lira Motorsports crew…they fought hard all day and that’s why we went as well as we did. We’ll go to Talladega and see what we have there.”
Blake Jones finished fifth in the No. 22 Cunningham Motorsports Ford, ahead of Tom Hessert in sixth in the No. 25 Renton Coil Spring-Slinger Apparel Toyota. Point leader John Wes Townley finished seventh in the No. 05 Varigon Solutions Chevrolet, the last car on the lead lap.
Local Mitchell, Indiana favorite Chase Briscoe earned his second consecutive Menards Pole presented by Ansell Saturday, and jumped out to an early lead Sunday. Briscoe stretched his lead to a full straightaway before Bell reeled him in to challenge. Bell got by Briscoe to lead the 44th lap before Briscoe took the lead back on lap 75.
Then all the leaders came to pit road for service during the first caution period, and it was Townley who led the way off pit road. However, Townley’s lead was short-lived back under green when Haley quickly drove by. Haley led up just past the halfway point before Brian Keselowski charged to the front and led from laps 102 to 138. Then the second round of pit stops came under caution, giving the lead lap cars the chance to service their machines for the final run to the checkers. All the front-runners pitted with the exception of Keselowski, who chose to stay out. But back under green, Keselowski, on older tires, gave up the lead to Haley who led the next three laps. However, once Bell got by Haley to lead the 157th lap, he would never relinquish it.
Other than four cautions for 35 laps, the race went green for most of the 200-lap distance.
Briscoe was solidly in third near the end of the race when his car slowed dramatically with mechanical issues. His car finally stalled at the entrance to turn three as the leaders were taking the checkered flag. The local fan-favorite ended up 16th, four laps down.
Brandon Lynn, Matt Kurzejewski and Keselowski completed the top-10 finishers respectively.
The ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards is in a tight turnaround for Talladega Superspeedway. The General Tire 200 at Talladega is next on the schedule Friday, April 29. The race is live on FS1, with live timing and scoring and live chat at arcaracing.com.
-ARCA Press Release & Photo