DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – With a masterful drive over the final eight laps, Christopher Bell chased down Joey Logano and went on to take his first NASCAR Cup Series win Sunday on the Daytona Int’l Speedway road course.
Bell restarted seventh when the O’Reilly Auto Parts 253 went back green for the final time on lap 63 of 70, and methodically picked his way through the field behind the wheel of the No. 20 Rheem Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
The Norman, Okla., native got to third in less than a lap after the restart, but was held up for nearly two laps around the 3.61-mile, 14-turn circuit before finally dispatching Kurt Busch for second coming to five to go.
At that point, Bell had 3.4 seconds to make up if he wanted to catch Logano for the victory, as well as the threat of a tire rub following contact with Busch in the battle for second.
But Bell put his head down, dug deep and put on a drive for the ages. He cut the deficit to a second and a half over the next three laps, then caught Logano exiting the infield section with a lap and a half to go.
The forward drive provided by Bell’s fresher tires – put on during a caution for light rain with 15 laps left – paid dividends through the bus stop chicane, as Bell got alongside Logano coming to the white flag and completed the pass for the win through the frontstretch chicane.
Bell drove away to a 2.119-second margin of victory over the course of the final lap.
“This is definitely one of the highlights of my life so far,” Bell said in victory lane. “I’m just so incredibly thankful to be here at Joe Gibbs Racing with all of our partners – Rheem, DeWalt, Pristine Auction, Toyota, TRD. Thank you to Jack Irving and Tyler Gibbs. You guys believed in me since day one. It feels like I’ve prepared my whole life for this moment to race in the Cup Series, and now to win in the Cup Series.
“Last year was a huge learning curve for me, and I’m very grateful that I got the opportunity to run in Cup, because it definitely prepared me to move for Joe Gibbs Racing and I think we showed that today.”
Admittedly, Bell didn’t think he’d be able to catch Logano once he got past Busch for second place and had more than three seconds to try and make up.
“After we pitted, I liked where we lined up, but then the yellows kept coming and I thought the yellows were hurting me … because I felt like I needed laps to get back up through there,” Bell noted. “Honestly, I didn’t think I was going to get there, but Adam (Stevens, crew chief) up on the pit box kept telling me I was going to get there. I didn’t believe it, but he really struggled coming out of (turn) six one time and allowed me to close the gap.
“I wish my wife was here to celebrate with me, but man … this is awesome.”
Behind Bell and Logano, Denny Hamlin crossed the line third, followed by Busch and Brad Keselowski.
Kevin Harvick, NASCAR Xfinity Series regular A.J. Allmendinger, Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell, Ryan Preece and Alex Bowman filled out the top 10.
Polesitter Chase Elliott dominated the race, leading 44 of the first 57 laps, topping the first stage and appearing to be on his way to a fifth-straight points-paying win in the NASCAR Cup Series.
However, his efforts came unraveled when nine drivers stayed out during the lap-56 caution for weather that shuffled the order of the frontrunners, as well as the strategy for the closing stages.
Elliott was hampered by a slow pit stop, which dropped him to 14th for the ensuing restart with 12 to go, as well as an off-track excursion at turn four when he was run wide by Corey LaJoie.
The defending Cup Series champion got back to fifth with six laps left, but was turned around in turn six by Hamlin while trying to pass Keselowski for fourth place. Elliott ended up with a 21st-place finish.
The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action Feb. 28 at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway with the running of the Dixie Vodka 400. Denny Hamlin is the defending winner of the event.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.