MACON, Ill. — Christopher Bell seized the opportunity of a rare weekend off for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series to go to work at Macon Speedway, using a late slide job to charge past Tyler Courtney and win with the USAC National Midget Series on Saturday night.
Bell was mired outside the top-five for much of the feature, but methodically picked his way forward, making the winning pass coming to five laps to go and never looking back from there.
“At the beginning of the race, I started on the inside of row three and felt like I could get a really good jump using the bottom of (turns) one and two,” Bell said. “I got to third pretty quickly, and then I just stayed down there too long. I stayed down there and guys started driving by me up top. Next thing I know, I’m back to sixth. I was sixth for a while and couldn’t really get anything going.”
“On the (lap 14) restart, everybody piled in on the bottom and I was able to rip around them and get to third,” Bell explains. “From that point, I knew I was pretty good. I just had to bide my time and wait for the guys in front of me to make mistakes.”
Off the initial start, Courtney battled for the lead with Spencer Bayston, but on lap eight, a wild sequence was kicked into gear when Courtney and Bayston briefly became entangled exiting the second turn.
That allowed series point leader Brady Bacon to sneak by both briefly to lead the lap, before Courtney gathered his bearings and got Bacon back for the lead between turns one and two.
Entering turn three, Bayston made a bid for second. However, both he and Bacon had made separate reservations for one at the same table. Bayston and Bacon banged nerf bars together and Bacon got the worst end of the deal, losing momentum and freefalling three spots to fifth.
A caution two laps before halfway for the stopped car of Nick Knepper altered the course of Bell’s race, as opportunity knocked on his doorstep and allowed him to start moving forward.
While Bell was picking cars off, Courtney was doing what he needed to by opening up a full-straightaway lead, but a caution on lap 20 for the spinning Jake Neuman allowed Bell to close again and make his bid for the win.
With seven to go, Bell attacked and Courtney countered. A lap later, Courtney attacked and Bell countered with enough sliders to make a full meal out of.
Courtney made one last-ditch effort with three laps remaining, using a turn one slider on Bell, but once again, Bell answered the call and ducked back under Courtney to yank the lead back into his possession.
From there, Bell gapped Courtney for his 18th career USAC National Midget win, while the latter eventually gave up the second spot to Bayston in the end.
Of note, after a seven-race drought to begin the season, Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports has now won its third series race in a row with three different drivers.
“Sunshine (Courtney) was really fast out front by himself,” Bell said. “We got the yellow and that got him out of his rhythm. He started making mistakes and I was able to get to him. Then, it became a chess game of who could slide each other the best and break each other’s momentum. I felt like he broke my momentum and I broke his momentum.”
Bayston grabbed second, but nearly had a shot at the win on the final lap thanks to a misstep by Bell in Turns 3 and 4.
“I got behind Christopher with about three laps to go,” Bayston said. “I tried to get away from everyone behind us and was waiting, waiting, waiting. Christopher kind of stumbled in (turns) three and four coming to the white flag. In turn, it caused all of us behind him to screw up and he was able to get away. That kind of scrapped the whole plan I had set for those final two laps.”
Courtney completed the podium in third after leading 23 laps, notching his fifth-straight top-five finish, followed by Clauson-Marshall Racing teammates Justin Grant and Shane Golobic.
Full race results can be viewed on the next page…