Last year, Christopher Bell was leading the Camping World Truck Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway by a sizable margin and just eight laps separating him from his second career NASCAR victory when he blew a tire and tore up his Tundra.
On Saturday, Bell led 99 of 130 laps and held on through a tense finish to win the Active Pest Control 200.
The field was under caution for the eighth time with just a few laps remaining. Bell was up front for the green/white restart, took the inside line and finally got clear of wily Matt Crafton.
“I was just trying to do everything I could to make sure I got a good restart and didn’t get my momentum broken,” Bell said. “These races are really tough to get restarts going because it’s so aero dependent. You can get all sorts of momentum or you can get all sorts of momentum taken away from you.
“That happened to me in the middle of the race. But (crew chief) Rudy (Fugle) and the guys did an awesome job preparing this thing. It was really fast all weekend. It was just a dream machine.”
Bell won the pole, edging out car owner Kyle Busch, and led every lap of the first two stages. He had to climb back to the front after Jordan Anderson hit the wall coming out of Turn 4 on lap 103. He trailed only Crafton and took the high line to get ahead again.
“This place is so much fun, just the slipping and sliding” Crafton said. “That was some of the greatest racing I’ve seen in a long time. Everyone was all over that racetrack and that’s what it’s all about.”
Defending truck series champ Johnny Sauter finished third and Ben Rhodes was fourth.
“It was a very eventful day,” Sauter said. “This has been a tough racetrack for me. I seem to always have trouble. Tonight, we had a miss and I thought, ‘Here we go again.’ But it was a great race.
“I think me and Matt probably showed our experience on that last restart, both timed it perfectly, because I didn’t think the outside lane was the preferred groove, especially on old tires. This place is treacherous. It is fun to race it though. That’s the most fun I’ve had here in a long time.”
Dawsonville native Chase Elliott hung around in the top 10 most of the night and made a push at the end to finish fifth in his first career Atlanta truck race.
Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon, Grant Enfinger, Timothy Peters and Ross Chastain rounded out the top 10.
Kyle Busch led laps 84-108 and then faded to 26th at the end, but was happy to see Bell take the checkered flag.
“It’s a testament to everyone at KBM,” Busch said. “Christopher has now won three years in a row in the truck series, which is really cool. It’s been fun to see the progress and the calmness. Even how crazy Daytona was, to see how he came out of that.
“Then to come here and have the focus to be fast right off the truck. There was never going to be a chance I was going to catch him. It certainly looked good from my vantage point.”
Bell joined the truck series in 2015 and earned his first career pole earlier Saturday.
The 22-year-old won one race in each of his first two seasons, but had 17 top-10 finishes in 2016 and made it to the championship race of the series’ inaugural chase at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
He started 2017 off with another top-10 at Daytona, a year after barrel-rolling across the track and got more redemption at AMS.
“This was definitely a race I had circled ever since we left here last February,” Bell said. “To come back and be as dominant as we were was really cool for me. It was just a dream weekend ever since we unloaded.”
The Atlanta NASCAR Weekend wraps up tomorrow afternoon with the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, with sunny skies and mild temperatures forecast for the entire day.
Tickets for tomorrow’s race are still available and may be purchased by contacting the Atlanta Motor Speedway ticket office at (770) 946-4211, (877) 9-AMS- TIX or logging on to www.atlantamotorspeedway.com.