Racing at a superspeedway with restrictor plates is like no other form of racing. The drafting, aerodynamics and extreme speed make a 250-mile race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway a mental and physical challenge. Christopher Bell came into the race with a goal of running the entire race and learning as much as he could. The 20-year-old accomplished those goals and in the process was in a position to win the race with less than 10 laps to go until a penalty left him with a 13th-place finish.
Bell started the 94-lap race in 11th place in his JBL Tundra and began learning from the drop of the green flag. He drafted in the outside line running double file in the early part of the race and was up to seventh by lap 21 by staying in line. During a caution he asked spotter Lorin Ranier "how do you actually pass here?" The veteran spotter replied that it's all about momentum, which Bell would learn later in the race.
By lap 55 Bell was able to fall into a single-file line in eighth place and catch his breath from the intensity of running in a pack. The race remained green so competitors began to make green-flag pit stops. Bell had practiced this several times during practice on Friday and executed it very well on lap 73 when he pitted for fuel and right-side tires.
After only two cautions in the first 80 laps, the final 18 included four cautions and a red flag. Bell was ninth with 15 laps to go when the first caution flew on lap 82. He was seventh for the restart and was up to fourth with nine laps to go. Another caution on lap 87 forced yet another restart and Bell pushed his way up to second place behind Brandon Jones. Bell helped Jones to the front, but with three laps to go NASCAR penalized Bell for "locking bumpers" with Jones for too long. He was going to have to serve a drive-through penalty, but as the penalty was issued a multi-truck accident occurred behind him bringing out a red flag.
During the red flag, crew chief Eddie Troconis tried to plead Bell's case with the NASCAR officials, but the penalty was enforced. Due to the caution, NASCAR sent Bell to the back of the field rather than the pass through penalty. He took the green-white-checker restart in 15th place on lap 97, but another accident ended the race under caution. Bell was able to gain two more positions during the brief period of green-flag racing to finish 13th.
"I never expected to be in a position to win at the end," Bell said. "If you would have told me that I would restart fourth and have a chance to win I wouldn't have believed you. It's pretty cool that it worked out that way. My whole goal coming into this race was just being able to finish. Thankfully all my guys did an awesome job. They carried me through the weekend and gave me an awesome, bad fast JBL Tundra.
"The penalty was definitely disappointing, but I'm learning as I go. This was my first-ever restrictor-plate race. If I don't push them like that then you end up getting hung out and not getting up to the front. We'll learn from it and go on to the next one."
Timothy Peters won the race followed by Brandon Jones, Mason Mingus, KBM's Erik Jones and Tyler Reddick rounded out the top five. KBM's Matt Tifft was 23rd after getting caught in an accident late in the race. The No. 54 team remains 12th in the owner's championship point standings.