In what he deemed "a remarkable night," 20-year-old Christopher Bell fulfilled a childhood dream Friday by making his first NASCAR National Series start in the American Ethanol 200 at Iowa Speedway in Newton. The open-wheel dirt standout overwhelming exceeded the expectations he set for himself going into the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event of being able to complete all of the laps and finishing the race with his Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Tundra in one piece. After qualifying 10th, Bell ran inside the top 15 for 189 of the race's 200 laps, recorded an average running position of 7.685 and ended the night with an impressive fifth-place finish.
"It was a remarkable night for me -- really proud of all my Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) guys and I can't thank Toyota Certified Used Vehicles enough for the opportunity," said Bell of his Truck Series debut. "Coming here I just had one expectation and goal and that was just to finish the race. I really didn't know what to expect and to come out with a top-five I'm just thrilled about it. Obviously being in a KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) truck definitely puts on a lot of pressure on you because they're expected to run good and they have really nice trucks. The truck was probably a little bit better than the driver tonight and I think Erik (Jones) proved that. I'm just really thankful to be here and hopefully this will lead to some more opportunities."
The 2013 USAC Midget National champion, who began his pavement-racing career driving Late Models for KBM last September, had never turned a lap in a truck prior to Friday morning. At the halfway mark of the lone Truck Series practice he stood 13th on the leaderboard, but of the course of making a total of 63 laps around the .875-mile oval became increasingly more comfortable with the handling of his Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Tundra. Crew chief Jerry Baxter and his crew put a mock-qualifying setup on Bell's Toyota in the closing minutes of practice and the talented youngster turned a lap of 23.216 seconds at 135.682 mph, which ranked second to KBM teammate Erik Jones overall in the session.
Bell advanced to the final round of Friday afternoon's knockout qualifying session by posting the second- fastest time (23.258 seconds at 136.022 mph) in round one and the sixth-quickest time (23.291 seconds at 135.245 mph) in round two. The Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Tundra got really loose in the final round and after turning a lap of 23.520 seconds at 133.929 mph, the No. 51 team earned the 10th starting position for the race.
When the green flag dropped Friday night, Bell communicated that the handling of his Tundra was "a little snug," but by the time the second caution of the race occurred on lap 24 he had maneuvered his way up to the sixth position. He advanced one more position, to fifth, when the field was slowed for the third time on lap 41. Baxter summoned his young driver down pit road for a four-tire and fuel stop with a chassis adjustment. Due to a combination of a slow stop and other teams electing to replace just two tires, the Oklahoma native returned to the track scored in the 17th position for the ensuing restart on lap 50.
Having made mostly single-truck runs in the morning practice session, Bell had to learn on the fly about the aero dependency of the trucks in traffic over the course of 72-lap green-flag run that ensued. He reported that his Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Tundra was "really good, but aero-tight" as he advanced up to the 10th position at the halfway mark of the 200-lap event. The rookie was running ninth when the field was slowed for the fourth time on lap 121.
On this trip down pit road, the over-the-wall crew redeemed themselves and returned their young driver to the track in the seventh position after the completion of a four-tire and fuel stop. With increasing confidence, Bell advanced two positions to the fifth spot after the race went back green and was turning laps as fast as the leader when the fifth caution of the race occurred on lap 151. Baxter once again summoned his driver to pit road for four fresh Goodyear Racing tires and full tank of fuel.
With teams on varying pit strategies, the No. 51 Toyota returned to the track scored in the eighth spot for the ensuing restart, which came with 36 laps remaining. Bell quickly made his way up to the fourth position, but with 20 laps to go reluctantly surrendered the spot after a multi-lap side-by-side-battle with two-time reigning Truck Series champion Matt Crafton. He settled in behind Crafton the remainder of the way and crossed the finish line in the fifth spot.
"Tonight definitely was a dream come true," Bell proclaimed post race. "As a kid growing up I think pretty much every short track driver in the United States wants to drive in NASCAR. So, whenever I got the call to be able to run a Truck race it was definitely a dream come true and hopefully this fifth-place finish will turn into some other races for me."
Bell's KBM teammate Erik Jones picked up his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win of 2015 and fifth victory in just 26 career starts in NASCAR's third division. Brandon Jones finished 5.860 seconds behind Erik Jones in the runner-up spot. Tyler Reddick crossed the stripe in the third position, Crafton came home fourth and Bell rounded out the top-five finishers. Justin Boston in the KBM No. 54 ROK Mobile Tundra came home 11th.
The ninth race of the 2015 season featured six cautions for a total of 36 laps. There were six lead changes among five drivers.
With nine of 23 races completed, the No. 51 Tundra team sits fourth in the owner's championship standings - 37 tallies behind points the series leading No. 88 team.
Daniel Suarez will be back behind the wheel of the No. 51 ARRIS Tundra when the Truck Series resumes action July 9 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta. Live coverage of the UNOH 225 begins with the NCWTS Setup Show at 7 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.
Bell's next start for KBM will come July 5 in the Pro All Star Series Super Late Model event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.