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‘Never Say Quit’ Attitude Nets Christopher Bell, No. 20 Team Fourth-Place Finish at Iowa

Christopher Bell Iowa Corn 350 fourth place finish Joe Gibbs Racing

Photo Credit: Danny Hansen, LAT Images for Toyota Racing

After climbing from his No. 20 Rheem Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry XSE after a hard-fought fourth-place finish, Christopher Bell looked worn out. Maybe as worn out as the Iowa Speedway track surface in the areas that hadn’t been subject to a fresh coat of pavement.

Bell’s eyes were red due to a mixture of sweat, and possibly a few tears welling up. The driver knew that had he not had a tire failure in Friday’s NASCAR Cup Series practice, which sent him hard into the wall, and forced his team to roll out the backup car, he likely would have been celebrating his third win of the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Instead, he was left searching for the silver lining, which was battling back from adversity on a hot night in Newton, Iowa.


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“It was a lot, and the adversity, it kept coming all day long,” Bell explained.

While he had to start from the rear of the field, despite qualifying 10th in his backup car, Bell felt his car was great in the early portion of the race.

By Lap 40, Bell had climbed from 36th in the running order to inside the top-20 by the end of Stage 1, and in Stage 2, the driver of the No. 20 Toyota continued his charge, and broke inside of the top-10 by Lap 120.

However, with really good long-run speed, Bell and his crew chief Adam Stevens opted to stay out on track longer than the majority of the competition on a green flag pit sequence in the second Stage. The move allowed Bell to lead the race for seven laps, but as other drivers were cranking out fast laps on fresh tires, Bell found himself mired in 17th-place following his pit stop.

A questionable caution, which NASCAR called for Daniel Hemric grazing the wall on Lap 182, led to Bell getting trapped deep in the field, and with him stuck deep in the field, Bell had issues making up ground on fresh tires.

“The start of the race, I felt like we had really good pace, and the car handled well, especially whenever the tires got hot. And then the strategy completely backfired on us in Stage 2, and got us burried,” Bell said. “And whenever I was back in traffic, I really struggled on new tires. I don’t know why that was. I was the slowest car in the field on new tires, and then all of the sudden, they would get hot and I would be one of the fastest cars.”

Bell would flounder between 14th and 18th position for the majority of the remainder of the race, but on the final run of the race, the No. 20 Rheem machine came to life, and Bell began slicing his way methodically through the field.

With 55 laps remaining, Bell would break back inside the top-10 for the first time since he was the leader, 116 laps earlier in the race. And he wouldn’t stop there, Bell would continue to light it up as the Goodyear tires aged on his car.

As the race reached the closing laps, Bell had moved into the fourth position, and was consistently turning laps faster than the race leader Ryan Blaney. He just had too much of a gap to make up to mount any sort of a challenge for the win.

Still, Bell was able to close to within five seconds of the leader by the time the checkered flag was displayed, and after the obstacle-filled weekend, Bell and the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team were rewarded with a fourth-place finish.

Bell said the credit for the run in Sunday’s race rests solely on the shoulders of his team, which stayed until 10:30 PM on Friday night preparing his backup race car following the crash in practice.

“Overall, it was a very great weekend for the Rheem team. To show up and go to the top of the charts in the primary early in practice, have the tire failure, and then come back with a backup car and be very competitive is a lot of effort,” Bell emphasized. “And these guys deserve all of the credit. Because I can’t explain to you guys how hard it was to prepare this backup car in the NASCAR Cup Series garage.”

While Sunday’s Iowa Corn 350 at Iowa Speedway delivered a better-than-expected on-track product, Bell was left frustrated by the partially repaved corners at the 0.875-mile short track. The 29-year-old hopes NASCAR buckles down, and adds additional fresh pavement to the corners, but says that he wishes the repave never occurred at all.

“I mean, they definitely need to repave the rest of the corners, at least. If they don’t want to do the straightaways, that’s fine, but they need to do the entire corners,” Bell said. “I’m hopeful that they do it tomorrow or next week, and then we have a full year to sit on it before we come back. The longer that it sits, the better its going to get. If we would have had a Cup race on the old Iowa, it would have been a barn-burner for sure.”

Even with the partial repave, Iowa Speedway put on a rather solid race, and Bell put in an impressive performance as he heads into possibly his best racetrack — New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Bell won the NASCAR Cup Series event at New Hampshire in 2022, and he finished second in the event in 2021. While he does have two finishes of 28th-or-worse in his four-career NASCAR Cup Series starts at the Magic Mile, Bell is a perfect three-for-three in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at the track, and he scored an additional win there in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

While his native Oklahoma isn’t super close to the ocean, expect Bell to be one of the guys to have a shot at hoisting the lobster at the end of this weekend’s race at New Hampshire.

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