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Bell crashes playoff field with win at New Hampshire

Christopher Bell held off Chase Elliott to win at The Magic Mile on Sunday.

LOUDON, N.H. — Another driver has etched his name as a winner in the 2022 NASCAR season, creating even further uncertainty as the cutline for the playoffs approaches.

Christopher Bell led the last 40 laps of the Ambetter 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to capture his 2nd NASCAR Cup Series win and become the 14th different winner this season. 

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Bell took the lead from Kurt Busch on Lap 260 after a hard fight with Chase Elliott for 2nd during the last green flag run of the race. After taking over the top spot, Bell drove away from the field and never relinquished his position.

"That was a blast. I'm so happy to be here," said Bell after his win to the NBC crew. "Winning cup races is hard. It seems like we've been so close [to winning]."

Credit: AP
Christopher Bell holds up a giant lobster while celebrating after winning a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Sunday, July 17, 2022, in Loudon, N.H. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Bell's win comes at the expense of Martin Truex Jr., who led a race-high 173 laps before being shuffled to the middle of the pack after a pit stop during the race's last caution. 

Truex earned his first pole since 2018, and the first for him during his time at Joe Gibbs Racing, and quickly emerged as a favorite throughout the day as he won Stage 1 and Stage 2.

He remained around the top spot until a caution on Lap 206 led to Truex and four other drivers taking only two tires while most of the lead lap field took four tires. The imbalance quickly shuffled back Truex, who is still looking for his first win in 2022.

Truex ended up fourth. Elliott finished second, Bubba Wallace finished third, and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five in fifth.

A number of on-track incidents made for an eventful day at The Magic Mile. 

On Lap 5, Ty Dillon made contact with Justin Haley, causing the former to collide with Alex Bowman, BJ McLeod, and Alex Bilicki. The wreck ended each of those drivers' races, save for Haley.

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A crash on Lap 89 took Corey LaJoie out of the race as he spun and collected a number of cars in the process.

Spins from Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, and Chase Briscoe created cautions at different periods of the day as well.

Perhaps the most notable incident came on Lap 164 while the race was already under caution.

While the field slowed down after a Kyle Busch spin, Austin Dillon bumped Brad Keselowski in a show of displeasure for the way he was racing him. 

Keselowski responded by ramming Dillon's car as far to the inside of the track as he could.

Following the incident, Keselowski's team, RFK Racing, made a teasing remark regarding Dillon's reality show Life in the Fast Lane.

Dillon's problems continued throughout the day as he was spun on pit road on Lap 206. He finished 23rd. Keselowski finished 7th.

Bell's win places him 14th in the NASCAR playoff standings. With six races remaining, only two of the 16 playoff spots are occupied by drivers who have not won a race this year. 

Blaney, who has garnered the third most points this year, sits 105 points to the good, meanwhile, Truex is 68 points ahead of the first driver outside the playoff grid, Kevin Harvick.

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So far, 14 drivers have won a race this year. It's the most variety NASCAR has had in the win column at this point in the season since 2011. Since NASCAR's playoff system began in 2014, only one time has there been 14 winners by the start of the playoffs: 2017.

If at least two more drivers win races before the season's 26th race at Daytona in August, it could create an unprecedented event where every driver in the playoffs has a race win and possibly someone who has won a race could miss out.

NASCAR's next race is at the Pocono International Raceway for the M&M's Fan Appreciation 400 on Sunday, July 24.

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