Date: May 17, 2020
Event: The Real Heroes 400 (Round 5 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Cup Series
Location: Darlington Raceway (1.366-mile egg-shaped oval)
Format: 293 laps (Stages 90 laps / 95 laps / 108 laps)
Start / Finish: 28th/24th (Running, Completed 293 of 293 laps)
Point Standings: 32nd
Race Winner: Kevin Harvick
Stage 1 Winner: William Byron
Stage 2 Winner: Brad Keselowski
Stage 1 Recap (Laps 1-90)
- NASCAR returned to racing at Darlington Raceway following at 73-day break while the world battled COVID-19. In true NASCAR fashion, the first race back was dedicated to honoring the heroes working the front line of the Coronavirus pandemic. The race entitlement was "The Real Heroes 400" and each car carried the name of one of the heroes. Bell's name on the No. 95 was J.T. Corbitt, a respiratory therapist out of Austin, Texas.
- The NASCAR Series showed up at Darlington Raceway to race, there were no practice sessions or qualifying for the Series. The starting lineup was determined with a combination of the point standings from the first four races and a random draw. The result lined Bell up 28th to start 293 laps at Darlington in his No. 95 Rheem Toyota Camry.
- There was a competition caution on lap 30 that froze the field and allowed everyone to pit for any necessary adjustments since there were no practice sessions.
- Bell worked his way up to 22nd by the competition caution on lap 30 and his Rheem Camry was loose laterally off turn two. Bell pitted for four tires, fuel and adjustments to tighten up the handling.
- Bell continued to work his way forward and by the end of stage one was up to 18th. The No. 95 still needed more rear grip, so at the stage break Bell pitted for four tires, fuel and another chassis adjustment.
Stage 2 Recap (Laps 91-185)
- Bell started 19th and finished 26th in stage two.
- The loose handling continued for Bell over stage two. Despite two pit stops for adjustments the No. 95 Rheem Camry was running the loosest it had been all day on lap 154.
- A few laps later while solidly running in the top-15, Bell spun coming off turn four and made light contact with the inside wall with the left-front of his Rheem Camry.
- The spin brought out the caution and a chance to pit for Bell on lap 175.
- Green flag racing resumed on lap 177 with Bell in 29th. With just a few laps remaining in stage two Bell was able to make up a little ground to take the green-white-checkered 26th to close out the stage.
- Bell pitted at the stage break for four tires, fuel and the team addressed the splitter to make sure the car was set for the final stage at Darlington.
Stage 3 Recap (Laps 186-293)
- Bell started stage three 25th and crossed the finish line 24th.
- The Rheem Camry started the final stage tight but continued to migrate to the loose side as the final stage went on.
- The No. 95 crew continued to make adjustments when there were opportunities to pit, but the car continued to migrate to looser.
- Despite the spin in stage two, Bell remained on the lead lap for the entire 293 laps, ultimately crossing the finish line 24th in his No. 95 Rheem Camry in his first NASCAR Cup Series start at Darlington Raceway.
Christopher Bell, driver of the No. 95 Rheem Toyota Camry
What stood out most to you about today?
"Yeah, it was definitely very different vibes today. Just no atmosphere. Very few mechanics, and obviously all the drivers and no fans. There was no atmosphere around prerace, but when the green flag dropped nothing much was different. I felt like it went really smooth. Everyone took it easy at the start of the race. We got some laps underneath of us. I hope it was a good show, because I had a lot of fun today."
Talk about the run today.
"We were going really good there. We got up inside the top 15. I was really happy with that. Then, I just made a mistake, and spun there off of four. Luckily, it didn't hurt the car too bad and we were still able to finish on the lead lap. I definitely think it's something to build off of. It was a great learning experience for me – my first Cup race at Darlington. I think we will definitely have something to build off of going back in a couple days."
Do you think some gains can be made for Wednesday?
"It's nice to be able to get some races in here. We haven't been racing in a while, so now we can get back in the swing of things and start to get some laps. Especially for me being a rookie – get some experience in the car. Today was a great learning, and we can build off of it and hopefully come back a little stronger for the next one."
Up Next: The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Darlington Raceway on Wednesday, May 20th for the Toyota 500. The race will be broadcast at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.