Christopher Bell could nearly taste victory in last year's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., but instead ended up with a torn up JBL Tundra and a disappointing 26th-place finish after blowing a tire late in the race. He returns to the 1.54-mile quad-oval this year confident that he can bring home Kyle Busch Motorsports' (KBM) its first-ever victory in the Peach State.
Bell finished inside the top three in two of the three practice sessions for last year's 130-lap event and followed it up by qualifying third. He took the lead for the first time on lap seven and remained out front until pitting under green for a tire issue on lap 26. After going a lap down, Bell returned to the lead lap after taking a wave around on lap 37 and then began his march back towards the front of the field.
The Oklahoma native would lead again from lap 92 to 107 before overshooting his pit box under caution and exiting pit road in the fifth position. Bell was able to overcome adversity again and made his way to the front of the field with 14 laps remaining. He had opened up a lead of nearly one second with eight laps remaining when he blew a right-front tire exiting Turn 4 and slammed hard into the outside wall and then back down across the track before coming to rest in the infield grass.
With an eighth-place finish in the 2017 season-opener at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway last week, Bell has now finished inside the top 10 in 15 of his last 17 Truck Series starts dating back to last June, including one win and seven top-five finishes. Over the last 17 races he has recorded an average finish of 6.9, compared to an average finish of 13.6 across his first 14 starts in NASCAR's third division.
Now that the talented youngster has learned how to string together consistent finishes, he knows that next step in his progression as a driver is to win more races. Bell is confident based on last year's near victory at Atlanta, Saturday is a race that he's capable of putting the No. 4 JBL Tundra in victory lane. To do so he'll likely have to outduel boss and mentor Kyle Busch, a four-time winner in the Truck Series at Atlanta, but the 22-year-old is confident that he can seal the deal this time around.