Early in the 2016 season, something important has been missing for Kyle Busch Motorsports – a victory. Entering this weekend, the most dominant Super Late Model team for the last half-dozen years in the Southeast had yet to find any early season momentum after their Snowball Derby DQ last December and subsequent restructuring of team management. Blown tires, mid-pack runs and a near miss at the Rattler had some asking if the team was missing a step.
But Christopher Bell and Orange County Speedway made for a potent combination to put those questions to rest. Bell dominated the CARS Racing Tour Orange Blossom 300 feature at the Rougemont, North Carolina racetrack and bumped his career victory record at the facility to 3-for-3.
Not that Bell had an easy go of it. On cruise control by the halfway point, Bell’s car began to develop a miss in the engine. Lagging sometimes in straightaway speed, Bell seemed to be getting away with it until Raphael Lessard and Dalton Sargeant broke a long logjam in the battle for second and began to run down Bell. They got there with ten laps to go and Lessard especially hounded Bell all the way to the checkered flag,
Lessard would get a good launch on the high line exiting turn two and try crossing over Bell into turn three. He got alongside Bell two or three times but simply couldn’t make the pass in time to claim the victory.
“My car was really good from the get go,” said Bell after taking a celebratory chug of the sponsor-provided orange juice. “All weekend long it was awesome. I was really disappointed we couldn’t get the pole, but I knew we had a good racecar. As the race went on, at around the lap 75 range, the motor started getting worse and worse. There at the end, my car was still awesome but the motor was cutting out. I knew I was going to have my hands full, so I ran the most protective line I could.
“Luckily, they got racing pretty hard there behind me and when they got to me, they raced me with a lot of respect. It’s easy to turn someone around in these cars. My hat goes off to the guys behind me. I really appreciate them running me clean.”
Lessard was content with a second place run, as he said his confidence is growing in leaps and bounds with each race he gets under his belt with David Gilliland Racing.
“Christopher was very fast,” Lessard said as he rolled into tech, “and I wasn’t able to pass him on the outside. My car was really awesome on the outside, but he was too. Sometimes I would try to go high and then go pass him inside. One time I let him know I’m there, but he was just too good. I’m really proud of my team though because the car was awesome.”
“I don’t want to be too rough racing the guys. The race after they often are able to come back and do the same to you and so I think it’s best to be clean. My crew chief was really helping me too and coaching me the last few laps. He was really good about telling me how to save the tires and how to race the field, so I listened to him a lot.”
Sargeant hung on to finish third in his best run yet with his new Bond Suss-maintained car. Brandon Setzer overcame extreme handling issues early in the race by swapping tires on a pit stop and roaring back to finish fourth while Preston Peltier rounded out the top-five.
As for Bell, he believes this first win for the new KBM team is going to open the floodgates.
“I think we’ve hit on something now. This was a dream machine and hopefully it’ll continue and win us some more races.”
The next CARS Racing Tour event is May 7th at Hickory Motor Speedway (NC).
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— Story & Photos by Tim Quievryn // 51’s Third Turn – thethirdturn.com // @thethirdturn