Sunday, May 7, 2023

CUP: Kansas track’s treacherous Turn 2 sends Christopher Bell into last-place spin


by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Christopher Bell scored the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Advent Health 400 at the Kansas Speedway when his #20 SiriusXM Toyota crashed after 157 of 267 laps.

The finish, which came in Bell’s 120th series start, was his first of the season and first in a Cup Series race since February 27, 2022 at Fontana, 46 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 34th for the #20, 183rd for Toyota, and the 648th from a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 58th for the #20, the 393rd for Toyota, and the 1,331st from a crash.

Last season, Bell enjoyed a career year defined by clutch performances in the Playoffs. Twice – at both the Charlotte “Roval” and at Martinsville – Bell won a must-win race to advance to the next round, ultimately making the Championship Four. At season’s end, he ranked third, finishing 10th overall in the Phoenix finale. This year, Bell has shown even more consistency. Only three times in the first 11 races did he finish worse than 8th, including a dominant second-half performance in the Bristol Dirt Race, where he took the checkered flag.

Among the 36 Chartered entries who made the trip to Kansas, Bell ranked 6th in opening practice, then ran 7th-fastest in Qualifying Round 1B with a lap of 177.340mph (30.450 seconds), good enough for 12th on the grid for Sunday’s race.

Securing the 36th and final starting spot was Josh Bilicki, whose #78 Zeigler Auto Group Chevrolet spun at the end of practice and made light contact with the wall. Repairs incurred Bilicki a redundant tail-end penalty for the start of Sunday’s race. Also docked were Corey LaJoie for a replaced upper control arm on his #7 FOE Chevrolet and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. for a water gauge issue on his #47 Dillons / Kraft Mac & Cheese Chevrolet. This kept Bilicki in last coming to the stripe, but now with Stenhouse to his inside and LaJoie in front of him.

When the race started, Bilicki was last across the stripe, 2.948 seconds back of the leader. By Lap 6, he was just a couple tenths back of 35th-place J.J. Yeley in the #51 Biohaven Ford when the first caution fell. A battle for the lead led to Kyle Larson spinning his #5 Chevrolet off the nose of Tyler Reddick’s #45 McDonald’s Toyota. Larson avoided damage, though he did drop to last on Lap 7. Yeley retook the spot on Lap 8 before Larson reassumed it on Lap 9. 

Onboard Larson as he passes Bilicki (right) for
position on the Lap 11 restart.

On the Lap 11 restart, Larson let the field pull away, but was back under Bilicki by the entrance to Turn 3 as the #78 slipped back, taking over last at the line. During this run, Bilicki lost right-rear grip, saying his car was very tight and snapping loose. The condition caused him to quickly lose touch with the rest of the field. Tracking the gap from Bilicki to 35th place, the interval grew from 1.145 seconds on Lap 15 to 3.775 on Lap 23. By then, 35th fell to Chase Briscoe, whose #14 Rush Truck Centers / Cummins Ford was also more than a second behind the 34th-place car. Bilicki’s crew didn’t want to make major adjustments until they got a caution, so the #78 held on through the ensuing green-flag run, losing a lap to the leaders by the 29th circuit.

Green-flag stops soon followed, shuffling the running order. On Lap 36, last place went to Aric Almirola in the #10 Smithfield Ford, followed on Lap 38 by William Byron, who incurred a pit road speeding penalty on his #24 Liberty University Chevrolet. Next on Lap 42 came Brennan Poole in the #15 VDL Strong / Ford, who slipped behind then-leader Bell just as Byron raced past to get one of his laps back. Lap 43 saw the spot go to Justin Haley in the #31 Celsius Chevrolet, but Bilicki incurred back-to-back speeding penalties by Lap 46, dropping the #78 to last once more. By Lap 52, the sequence had been completed with Bilicki four laps down in last behind Haley, Poole, and Byron.

Next to find trouble was Chase Briscoe, who after his sluggish start lost a left-front wheel on pit road on Lap 57 and had to back up into his pit stall. Briscoe took over last place on Lap 59, and the crew said he’d “just have to ride it out to the end of the stage.” By Lap 72, Briscoe was between five and six laps down, on or about the same lap as the now 35th-place Bilicki. When Stage 1 finally ended on Lap 81, Byron had bounced off the wall and fallen three laps down on pit road, but remained in 34th ahead of both Bilicki and Briscoe. Saved by the caution was Haley, who cut down a left-front tire and had it changed under yellow.

On Lap 86, Briscoe dropped Bilicki back to last, and the #78’s spotter told him he was running good lap times as he battled the lead-lap car of Michael McDowell. While Bilicki still lacked right-rear grip, he managed to climb past Briscoe on Lap 107 after the #14 came down pit road. Two laps later, the caution fell after Austin Cindric’s #2 Freightliner Ford slammed the Turn 1 wall while running in 19th, ultimately carving the right-front rim off his machine. By Lap 114, Cindric dropped to 34th, four laps down, but like Byron on the previous run was still ahead of both Briscoe and Bilicki. On Lap 118, Briscoe then dropped Bilicki back to last place once more, but on Lap 142, under the caution for Almirola’s spin, Briscoe pitted again and reassumed last place. The positions remained unchanged through the next caution involving Erik Jones, Josh Berry, and Ty Gibbs, who all reached minimum speed on the ensuing Lap 154 restart.

Bell's car gets a tow after his wreck.
By Lap 158, Bell had briefly held the lead during a round of green-flag stops, finished 6th in Stage 1, then remained in contention after contact entering Turn 1 caused damage to his left-front fender. Coming off Turn 2, he was running around the 9th position when he slid into the side of Ross Chastain’s #1 Advent Health Chevrolet. Bell skated down the inside of the track and slammed the inside wall with the nose of his car. Uninjured, Bell tried to get the car rolling, but it wouldn’t go, ending his day. He climbed out, and the car was towed to the garage on Lap 160. On Lap 162, the team put the car on casters as they prepared to load up. On Lap 165, Bell dropped to last behind Briscoe.

Bilicki and Briscoe finished 33rd and 32nd, respectively, both seven laps down to the leader. The two drivers they passed were both eliminated due to crashes on the backstretch. Taking 35th was Kyle Busch, whose #8 Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen Chevrolet crossed the nose of Ryan Preece’s Ford and slapped the inside wall with the driver’s side. In 34th came Ty Gibbs, who was challenging for a Top Five early, but after a late-race spin shredded both front tires, leaving him stranded in the infield grass on pit road. NASCAR wouldn’t allow him to be pushed to his stall, and the car was instead towed to the garage, done for the day.

Bell, Busch, Gibbs, Bilicki, and Briscoe all earned their first bottom-five finishes of 2023 in this race.

*The 157 laps that Bell completed ranks as the fifth-most of Cup Series last-place finishers at Kansas. The record remains held by Josh Bilicki, who completed 250 laps on May 2, 2021.
*This is the first last-place finish for the #20 in a Cup race at Kansas.
*This was the first Cup last-place finish for Toyota since October 16, 2022 at Las Vegas by Bubba Wallace, 15 races ago.
*Bell’s is the seventh consecutive Cup last-place finisher to fall out due to a crash.

36) #20-Christopher Bell / 157 laps / crash / led 3 laps
35) #8-Kyle Busch / 162 laps / crash
34) #54-Ty Gibbs / 176 laps / crash
33) #78-Josh Bilicki / 260 laps / running
32) #14-Chase Briscoe / 260 laps / running

1st) Spire Motorsports (3)
2nd) Live Fast Motorsports, Penske Racing (2)
3rd) Joe Gibbs Racing, Kaulig Racing, Legacy Motor Club, Richard Childress Racing, Rick Ware Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (8)
2nd) Ford (3)
3rd) Toyota (1)


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