Christopher Bell won his first Xfinity race on Saturday, but was it at a high price? Maybe, if you hear teammate Erik Jones tell it.
Let’s paint the picture. It’s lap 197 of 200, Jones in the lead and in command but Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Bell coming up strong. Bell moves into drafting right behind Jones, then drops to the inside with a slide job and slingshots around Jones.
What happens next has Jones mad and accusing Bell of dirty racing. Bell rides down towards the apron, passes Jones, then moves back up toward the wall in front of Jones. The #20 car slams into the back of Bell, then immediately begins smoking. Bell goes on to win, Jones finished a lap down in 15th…and was not happy.
“It’s not dirt racing,” Jones complained to NBC Sports as reported by NASCAR.com. “He’s not clear. I can’t just stop on the top. I didn’t expect him to drive in on the bottom so hard he wouldn’t be able to hold his lane.
Watching the video, it’s hard to agree with Jones’ assertion that Bell wasn’t clear. The #18 had a good car and a half gap when he moved back to the outside. Not sure how much more space Bell was supposed to have before Jones thought he was clear.
“I never want to wreck anyone, especially my teammate,” Bell said afterward. “I don’t know. My spotter said ‘Clear.’ I drove it in really deep. I felt like I cleared him – I don’t know.”
There are a couple points that bear mentioning, however. When he passed, Bell dropped way down while maneuvering turn 4. Coming out of the turn pushed Bell further to the outside right in front of Jones. And then Bell seemed to drop speed, not by a little but by a lot. So much so that Jones was on top of him in a flash with little time to react.
Now Bell says he was running on old tires by that point and sliding. Maybe that’s why he couldn’t hold his lane better after the pass. It was a great move regardless to take the lead. Bell doesn’t explain, however, the change in speed. And if that’s Jones’ point, he may have one. Still, doesn’t change the outcome.
“It’s my first XFINITY win. I’m sorry that Erik didn’t finish the race, but, man, I’m just stoked,” Bell said. “This thing was awesome. To be able to win in the XFINITY Series is something I dreamed of as a kid.”
Great to see Bell get the first win, but we suspect there will be hard feelings lingering for some time between the teammates.