VENTURA, Calif. — In a Thanksgiving battle for the ages, Christopher Bell fended off countless attacks from fellow NASCAR star Kyle Larson to capture the win in Thursday night’s 77th annual Turkey Night Grand Prix at Ventura Raceway.
Though Bell led a combined 85 of 98 laps, his apparent dominance at the high-banked fifth-mile was nothing close to that on a four-lap sprint to the checkered flag, as he traded the lead four times with Larson in the closing dash to the finish before pulling away on the final lap.
The spinning cars of Holly Shelton and Brady Bacon set up the scramble, with Bell leading when the green flag flew but Larson throwing the first in a series of several massive slide jobs going down into turn one, as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series veteran looked to wrest command away from the recently-crowned NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion.
Bell crossed back underneath Larson exiting turn two, but Larson tried another slider entering turn three that Bell was able to foil as well, crossing the stripe with three to go in front but with barely any room to breathe.
The same sequence repeated itself on the following lap, as Larson slid Bell on entry to the corners and Bell crossed back in front to reclaim the lead before finally starting to pull away as the two-to-go signal was shown to the frontrunners.
At that point, Larson fell back into the clutches of a charging Shane Golobic, while Bell snuck home to the victory by two car lengths.
“Oh my god, that was so much fun,” Bell said in victory lane. “I told Kyle that if he would’ve beat me, I would’ve been … maybe not just as happy, but still happy because it was just that much fun. That race was one of the most fun races I’ve run in a long time.”
Though Bell and Larson may have made their dance on dirt look effortless, the eventual winner said it was anything but easy.
“The track was so technical,” said Bell. “It was all about hitting your marks and minimizing mistakes because you weren’t going to make a mistake-free lap tonight. You just had to make sure when you made a mistake that you could recover from it.”
“Once I got going on those green flag runs, I could get my momentum built up and make good, competitive laps. But after the yellow flags, it was tough to pick your rhythm back up. I knew I was a sitting duck leading on the restarts. On the final one, Kyle got one last bomb on me and I was able to get him back.”
After earning the pole during qualifying earlier in the night, Larson led the field to green for the 98-lap main event and darted out to the early lead, while Bell slotted into second behind his Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports teammate on the bottom groove of the track.
But it was an early caution on lap five, for a stopped Frankie Guerrini, that afforded Bell his chance to pounce.
Bell went searching behind Larson when the green waved over a lap 10 restart, finding a rhythm in the high groove and seizing it as he went after the lead. The Norman, Okla. native finally got to the point on lap 13, sweeping around Larson’s outside coming off turn four to edge him at the line before completing the pass at the end of the frontstretch.
Opening up a quick one second gap over the field, Bell comfortably cruised out front until a spin by his teammate Ryan Robinson in turns one and two brought the yellow lights back on and set Larson up on his tail tank for the first time.
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