It’s not Kyle Busch driving the No. 54 anymore, but that wasn’t stopping Joe Gibbs Racing from dominating with that car as Christopher Bell led 151 of the 200 laps en route to victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The win marks the eighth for the No. 54 car with seven of those coming in the last nine Xfinity races.
“I just love being here with Joe Gibbs Racing,” Bell said.
Bell is now a winner of the last three Xfinity races at the “Magic Mile.”
He will compete in Sunday’s Cup race and will have a leg up on the competition with no practice.
“This is a really big advantage,” Bell said on the importance of racing Saturday.
A lengthy break on the horizon up the ante at New Hampshire Saturday afternoon as multi-groove racing showed its best side as NASCAR chose to go without the PJ1 traction compound that was laid down last season for the Cup Series race.
The opening laps saw Kaulig Racing pace the field with Jeb Burton and AJ Allmendinger leading a majority of the first stage.
Due to drivers being able to use three defined lines in the corners, the field was able to close the gap on the leaders and there were times where the racing was reminiscent of a Daytona or Talladega with multiple cars bunched together in a battle for the lead.
Following a lap 20 competition caution, a multi-car incident occurred prior to the start/finish line as the field went through the accordion effect on the restart. Cars ran over each other and Riley Herbst ended up spinning out and hit the inside retaining wall. Meanwhile, Brandon Jones and Sam Mayer suffered heavy nose damage that ended both of their days.
The wreck had major playoff implications as Herbst entered Saturday 54 points below the cutline. The No. 98 team had no choice, but to run the rest of the race out.
Kaulig continued out front until the last lap of stage one as Christopher Bell, piloting the No. 53 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, cleared Allmendinger for the lead and a caution came out for an incident between Kyle Weatherman and Tommy Joe Martins.
“What a f**king jackass,” Martins said. “What are we racing for, 15th on lap 40?”
Stage two played out calm as Bell ran away from the field and led every lap until the stage break at lap 90.
Outside of a Patrick Emerling caution on lap 148, Bell cleared himself of the field and outclassed everyone in the final 100 laps to secure the victory.
During the final stage, Allmendinger and Noah Gragson fought hard for position and made contact a few times throughout. However, with around 50 laps to go, Allmendinger sent Gragson into the wall entering turn three and caused Gragson to hit the outside wall, collecting heavy right-rear damage.
Both drivers wound up finishing outside the top 10.
He fought hard to get around Bell, but it wasn’t enough as Justin Allgaier brought it home second for his fourth top-five finish in six races.
Daniel Hemric finished third in a nice recovery after getting wrecked at Atlanta last weekend.
Josh Berry finished eighth after filling in for an injured Michael Annett in the No. 1 car for JR Motorsports.
Brandon Gdovic brought the Sam Hunt Racing No. 26 Toyota in 16th, which is Gdovic’s best run for the team on a non-superspeedway track this season.
The Olympic break is now in effect for the Xfinity Series and they will return in three weeks at Watkins Glen International Aug. 7.
Unofficial race results: