Christopher Bell marches through the field for a win in Phoenix

Denny Hamlin (11), with Ty Gibbs (54) by his side, lead the field at the start of Sunday’s Shriners Children’s 500 NASCAR Cup race at Phoenix Raceway. Photo by David Barks.

Joe Gibbs Racing teammates put on a dominant show

AVONDALE, AZ – Just call him the ‘Comeback Kid’.

Christopher Bell won the Shriners Children’s 500 NASCAR Cup race Sunday afternoon at Phoenix Raceway with a relentless pursuit of the lead.

“I drove a rocket ship today,” said Bell. “I had a great car.”

Christopher Bell crosses the finish line to win the Shriners Children’s 500 Sunday at Phoenix Raceway. Photo by David Barks.

To notch his first win of the season, and seventh of his career, the 29-year-olf from Norman, OK, had to stage comeback, after comeback, after comeback.

“This one feels really good,” said Bell. “(Crew chief) Adam (Stevens) and all the crew made this happen. I feel we have the capability to run a lot like this. I hope this is the first of many (wins) this year.”

He had to beat formidable challenges from RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher, 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick, and his three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates; Ty Gibbs, Martin Truex Jr., and Denny Hamlin.

And he had to keep coming back, from 10th through 13th place, to race his way into the lead.

At the finish line, Bell had more than enough to prove he was that star of the day, topping Buescher by 5.465 seconds with the rest of the field much farther behind.

“I didn’t quite get them today but it was a good finish for my Mustang,” said Buescher. “I knew it was going to be a tough race today but at least I was able to get up to second. We almost got the win.”

Gibbs finished third, followed by RFK’s Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Ross Chastain, Truex, Michael McDowell, Chase Briscoe, and Reddick.

“We kind of got in a hole after a problem on pit road,” said Gibbs. “The car fired off real good then fell off. It was a good win for JGR today, just not for me.”

The race was 312 laps and 300 miles (500 kilometers) over the raceway’s 1-mile oval.

Hamlin started on the pole with Gibbs beside on the front row.

Bell qualified 13th, right behind Truex and Chastain.

Hamlin’s lead lasted until Lap 1, Turn 2 when Gibbs slid by, leading the race’s first 57 laps.

Reddick was on his back bumper most of the way and passed for the lead on Lap 58, racing Gibbs for the Stage 1 win.

Chris Buescher finishes second Sunday inn the NASCAR Cup race at Phoenix Raceway. Photo by David Barks.

Bell, meanwhile, ended where he began… in 13th.

“I didn’t start well and got stuck in traffic and wasn’t able to move forward,” said Bell. “But after the field started separating, I was able to get some clean air and was able to start moving forward.”

He began to make his move in Stage 2.

Hamlin regained the lead after the stage break pit stops, holding onto it this time for the next 55 laps until green flag pit stops began.

Bell finally moved into the top 10 on Lap 79 and was fifth when he hit pit road.

After the pit cycle, Bell was fourth and was posting the fastest laps on the track.

Bell passed Reddick with four laps left in the stage and went on to win Stage 2.

Another slow pit stop sent Bell back to 10th for the start of Stage 3.

Hamlin led at the start of the final stage but was caught by Reddick immediately.

A five-car pileup at the back of the pack at the start of the stage didn’t change the leaders, although it did knock out Joey Logano.

Hamlin’s day was spoiled when he spun out trying to pass for the lead on Lap 215. Hamlin’s car didn’t suffer any damage but it pushed him back in the field where he eventually finished 11th.

Austin Cindric (2), Austin Dillon (3), Kaz Grala (15), Josh Berry (4), Justin Haley (51), Corey Lajoie (7), and Kyle Busch (8) are the back of the pack early in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Race at Phoenix Raceway. Cindric and Dillon were involved in an early crash that knocked Cindric our of the race. Photo by David Barks.

And where was Bell?

Tenth… then ninth… then eighth.

He powered his way up to third, behind Truex and Gibbs, on lap 254, got by Gibbs on 260, and took the lead for the first, and last time on Lap 272.

”I drove through the field once and I didn’t think I could do it again but I got some space and I did,” said Bell. “We don’t want to be a one or two-win team every year. We’re shooting for multiple wins. We want to be racing for a championship when we come back here to Phoenix at the end of the year.”

NASCAR heads East next weekend for short track racing at Bristol Motor Speedway.

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