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NASCAR: Christopher Bell wins at Phoenix

AVONDALE, ARIZONA - MARCH 10: Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 Rheem Toyota, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Shriners Children's 500 at Phoenix Raceway on March 10, 2024 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
Christopher Bell cruised to the win at Phoenix in Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series race. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images) (Meg Oliphant via Getty Images)

Christopher Bell drove away from the field after a late pit stop for Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. to claim his first win of 2024 at Phoenix.

The final caution of the 312-lap race came on lap 214 when Denny Hamlin spun while racing Tyler Reddick for the lead. That was the third caution in a 20-lap span, and many drivers took the opportunity to stay out on track to steal some track position.

Truex was one of them. He was third behind Reddick and Hamlin at the time of the caution and inherited the lead by staying out. Bell, meanwhile, was one of the drivers who pitted.

Truex, however, didn’t have enough gas to make it to the end of the race. And as the race ran caution-free to the end, Truex’s hopes of winning dwindled.

As Truex led laps hoping for a caution, Bell drove through the field. Bell had perhaps the fastest car throughout the second half of the race but had to regain some track position after the second stage because of a slow pit stop. As Bell picked off cars one by one, Truex hit pit road with 41 laps to go.

That pit stop gave Bell the lead as he went on to win by approximately six seconds over Chris Buescher. JGR's Ty Gibbs was in third ahead of Brad Keselowski and 2023 Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney.

Joe Gibbs Racing had serious speed

JGR was the fastest team on Sunday and it wasn't even close.

Its four drivers led 231 of the race’s 312 laps. Hamlin led 69 laps, Gibbs led 57, Truex led 55 and Bell led 50.

Truex and Hamlin also rebounded to score decent finishes. Thanks to his tire advantage over the last 40 laps, Truex got the lap back that he lost by pitting under green and drove all the way to seventh before the checkered flag. Hamlin got to 11th by the end of the race after he fell outside the top 20 following his spin.

Bell’s win is the first for a non-Chevy driver in 2024. Chevrolet’s William Byron, Daniel Suarez and Kyle Larson had won each of the first three races of the season.

Joey Logano's bad start to the season

Joey Logano's porous start to 2024 continued on Sunday.

Logano got crashed out of the race on lap 204 after John Hunter Nemechek turned him shortly after a restart.

Logano finished ninth at Las Vegas a week ago but was 32nd in the Daytona 500 and 28th at Atlanta. Both of those finishes were because of crashes too. Logano’s fortunes will undoubtedly turn around. It’d be a lot easier to be pessimistic about his 2024 chances if he was finishing that poorly with a slow car.

NASCAR’s new short track rules

Sunday’s race was the first for NASCAR’s short track rules tweaks. With drivers and teams finding themselves at a serious aerodynamic disadvantage behind other cars at shorter tracks over the past two seasons, NASCAR worked to improve the racing at tracks one mile and shorter ahead of 2024.

Did those changes work? It’s probably too early to tell. Phoenix has no comparable track on the NASCAR schedule and tire differences among drivers in the top 25 led to lots of passing in the final green-flag run.

Drivers did mention (again) how hard it was to pass other cars throughout the race. Though that’s a feature of NASCAR, not a bug.

The car that NASCAR introduced in 2022 is largely made from spec parts. Those spec parts reduce the differences between the cars and the amount of setup changes that teams can make. With teams cars that are largely the same, they’re running similar speeds. And cars that run similar speeds at similar spots on the track are going to find it difficult to pass each other.

Race results

1. Christopher Bell

2. Chris Buescher

3. Ty Gibbs

4. Brad Keselowski

5. Ryan Blakey

6. Ross Chastain

7. Martin Truex Jr.

8. Michael McDowell

9. Chase Briscoe

10. Tyler Reddick

11. Denny Hamlin

12. Noah Gragson

13. Daniel Suarez

14. Kyle Larson

15. Carson Hocevar

16. Bubba Wallace

17. Todd Gilliland

18. William Byron

19. Chase Elliott

20. Alex Bowman

21. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

22. Kyle Busch

23. Ryan Preece

24. Justin Haley

25. John Hunter Nemechek

26. Josh Berry

27. Harrison Burton

28. Daniel Henric

29. Zane Smith

30. Kaz Grala

31. Erik Jones

32. Austin Dillon

33. Corey LaJoie

34. Joey Logano

35. Derek Kraus

36. Austin Cindric