He may have missed driver introductions at the start of the evening, but Christopher Bell made sure everyone in the stands knew who he was by the end of the night Saturday at Orange County Speedway (NC).
Sent to the rear of the CARS Super Late Model Tour 150-lap feature for missing the pre-race ceremony, Bell made short work of the field in getting to the lead and then cruised to his 3rd Super Late Model victory of the season. After starting 30th, it took Bell just nine laps to crack the top-ten and 40 laps to find the lead.
The victory also marked “full circle” for Bell, who won his first career Super Late Model feature back at Orange County in October 2014. Since then he’s also won at the World Series in New Smyrna, FL and in the Rattler 250 in Opp, AL for the potent Kyle Busch Motorsports group.
“My goal was to get to the front as quick as I could,” Bell told Speed51.com powered by JEGS moments after spraying his crew with the CARS champagne. “I just wanted to get up there and ride with the leaders. I knew once I got up there I could go my pace. It’s just easier to pass on new tires so I wanted to push as hard as it could go.”
While Bell’s run through the field dominated the storyline in the first half of the race, simply surviving became the critical theme in the second half of the event. Dominique Van Wieringen, who was leading prior to Bell’s pass, had her engine erupt in flames on lap 86 and after that a series of hard crashes and scoring issues slogged the proceedings down where only six laps were made in an hour.
Lucas Jones had the hardest crash during that period. He climbed the turn one wall after having something break on his number-16. Other fast drivers such as John Hunter Nemechek, Harrison Burton, Clay Jones, Stephen Nasse and Quin Houff all ran into trouble past the halfway mark; that thinned the competition Bell had to defeat.
“I didn’t know if I would call it ‘easy’ – nothing’s ever easy – but this car was probably the best I’ve ever had,” said Bell. “Obviously, there were a lot of restarts. But I would just try on the restarts to get a good gap [back to the field] and from there Bond [Suss, crew chief] would read me lap times and let me do my own thing. Hats off to all these guys; they are doing incredible work. I tore up their other car yesterday and then we had a power steering line issue today, but we were just really good overall.”
Bell is understandably pleased with his fast transition to asphalt stock car racing. Yet, just six months into the experiment, Bell is still finding himself learning things as he goes along. Saturday’s race was the first he’s competed in where summer-like conditions created a stuffy cockpit.
“Compared to sprint car racing, it’s not really any more physical. Sprint cars in a lot of ways are more tough to drive. These things [asphalt late models] though are just endurance. It’s a lot hotter in there than in a sprint car. Sprint car drivers, we take for granted that we can run with our visor up to get some air. There’s just no air inside these cars. It’s definitely a different mindset with tires too. I’ve learned so much about how to conserve. I’m still working on that.”
Left to battle for second, Bubba Pollard and Kyle Grissom did just that. While Bell would ultimately finish five seconds ahead, the two Super Late Model veterans thrilled the crowd by going side-by-side for the final twenty laps. Pollard would get the edge at the stripe and he and Kyle Grissom shared a few laughs in the post-race tech line talking about their excellent race.
Pollard’s run came in the Scotty Ellis machine that he’s previously piloted on select occasions. Pollard’s first-time Orange County appearance came about at the last minute.
“Scotty was going to come drive it,” explained Pollard, “But he wasn’t able to make it. So he called me up and told me to go race it and have some fun. But man, it’s going to be really tough to outrun the 51 [Bell] with all their technology and their good group of guys.”
“I really did like the track, but restarts were probably the most difficult. We could just never get going on the bottom line. You had to start on the outside. That helped Christopher and then we caught a couple lucky breaks ourselves to put ourselves in position late.”
Grissom, for his part, said he was very pleased with a third place run seeing as he was racing a backup car. His primary machine was clobbered in a late race wreck last week at Nashville, so the team pulled out their red-and-white backup car out of mothballs. It had not seen a competitive race in the better part of a year.
The CARS Super Late Model Tour, as well as the CARS Late Model Stock Tour, will next see action on May 9th at Hickory Motor Speedway.(powered by 51's Third Turn)
| 1||3||51||Christopher Bell||150||110||running|
| 2||6||83||Bubba Pollard||150||0||running|
| 3||8||31||Kyle Grissom||150||0||running|
| 4||1||57||Cole Timm||150||8||running|
| 5||23||14||Chris Davidson||150||0||running|
| 6||18||6||Brandon Setzer||150||0||running|
| 7||17||2||Trevor Noles||150||0||running|
| 8||26||4||Brandon Lynn||150||0||running|
| 9||12||77||Zane Smith||150||0||running|
| 10||5||47||Chris Fontaine||150||0||running|
| 11||20||25||Stephen Leicht||150||0||running|
| 12||15||00||Lucas Ransone||149||0||running|
| 13||2||17||Quin Houff||149||0||running|
| 14||16||33||Roger Lee Newton||149||0||running|
| 15||22||24||Richard Gould||149||0||running|
| 16||9||8N||John Hunter Nemechek||141||0||running|
| 17||14||51||Stephen Nasse||127||0||out|
| 18||19||12||Harrison Burton||101||0||crash|
| 19||11||67||Clay Jones||101||0||crash|
| 20||7||40||Grant Galloway||92||0||crash|
| 21||10||16||Lucas Jones||92||0||crash|
| 22||4||5V||Dominique Van Wieringen||86||32||engine|
| 23||30||18||Kiel Spaulding||73||0||running|
| 24||21||56||Gus Dean||64||0||out|
| 25||24||2R||Clay Rogers||46||0||out|
| 26||27||66||Steve Wallace||26||0||engine|
| 27||28||29||Matthew Wragg||21||0||out|
| 28||13||71||Nick Robinson||13||0||crash|
| 29||25||54||Matt Craig||1||0||crash|
| 30||29||2L||Robby Lyons||1||0||crash|
— Story and Photos by Tim Quievryn // Speed51.com Southeast Editor // @thethirdturn