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Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 Rheem/WATTS Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 17, 2022 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

New Hampshire presents another unlikely winner

what happened?

On a day dominated by Toyota, Christopher Bell finally broke through and won the 301 Ampeter at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday (July 17).

Bale continues to show his strength on the track. He has won three times in the many NASCAR Xfinity Series races he has competed in there. He was also runner-up in last year’s event, finishing second to Eric Almerola in a short dark race.

This win is also the second NASCAR Cup Series career win for Bale in his nearly three-year endeavour. He first came on the Daytona International Highway Course in 2021.

Chase Elliott continues his hot streak with second place, his fourth result in the last four races. Behind him, Bubba Wallace went home in third place, followed by Martin Truex Jr. , the dominant car today (plus stage one and two winners). Kevin Harvick finished fifth to collect a much-needed top five in a season where his average result was his worst since 2014.

how did that happen?

Bale had a relatively quiet day until the final stage, when his crew made a nice stop and pushed him into the top five for most of the second half of the race. However, it wasn’t his favorite as that last phase began.

That honor went to Truex, who drove all 70 laps on his way to winning the first stage before backing that up with a second stage victory. The 19th seed driver was the favorite to win on his home circuit once the third stage turned green, but one call changed everything.

The two-frame call turned out to be faulty, and upon restart, Truex was set to display three. As has been the case this season, the once-dominant car didn’t handle the traffic well, and Truex spent the rest of the race fighting for a shot he’d never gotten before. Finishing fourth was his third best of five this season and his first since finishing fifth at the Talladega Superspeedway 10 races ago.

With Truex out of the fray, the door opened for drivers who took four tires like Bell, Elliott and Wallace to cash in. Incited by drivers who didn’t stop under caution, Elliott ran in front, but Bell was there. With 42 laps left, Bell took the lead from Elliott and held on until the checkered flag took over five seconds.

Who stopped out?

While a playoff round might be out of the question at this point, it doesn’t stop Brad Keselowski from fighting for a good performance.

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Team #6 was on an early round with Austin Dillon after the latter was annoyed with how he raced Kiselowski. After being warned about Kyle Busch’s spin, Dillon ran to Keselowski’s door to express his displeasure, to which Keselowski responded by way of Dillon’s door all the way down the back and nearly to turn No. 3 under caution.

Keselowski later ran a run with Ross Chastain (then again, who hasn’t at this point?) and pushed him low on the track past the start and finish line. But when the dust settled, it was a top-10 for Kiselowski, whose season has been anything but bad luck since his 100-point body modification penalty after his first race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Who fell flat?

Alex Bowman left New England as quickly as he got there.

After just four laps into the race, the connection between Justin Haley and Tye Dillon sent the latter’s head to the outer wall, gathering innocent bystanders Bowman, BJ McLeod and Josh Bellecki.

Bowman expressed his frustration with the driver of car number 42 on his radio.

It’s definitely not the day anyone would want. Crashing less than 10 per cent of the road in the race leaves teams feeling like it was a waste of time and resources on a trip to the track. Bowman, while he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, might wish he had come back for that race.

What did this race prove?

16 possible winners. Very possible. More possible than ever.

I know, I know, it’s discussed every year at the start of the season. But when we get to the middle of the year, it’s usually determined that it won’t happen. But with six races left, there are still many drivers who may or should have won now and have not (ex: Truex, Harvick, Ryan Blaney, to name a few). 2022 is the first year since qualifying expanded from 12 to 16 no one can get their way or the driver who wins doesn’t make it to qualifying because we’re going to pass 16 winners.

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Bale’s victory also shows that no driver does not win safely in qualifying, regardless of his position in the regular season standings. Blaney and Truex play third and fourth, for example, but are the only drivers currently in the qualifying on points. Two more winners and out, despite being the top five in the standings.

It just goes to show how important the “win and you’re in” format is, especially in situations like this year.

New Hampshire looked like the first race of the next generation car on a flat track where passing was possible, as drivers had to rely more on handling than speed to get them to zip through the 1,058-mile track. One of the big weaknesses of the next generation car was flat track racing, which was a lot of the “follow the guy in front of you and stick to pit strategy” type of racing, but New Hampshire didn’t seem to follow that pattern.

Did NASCAR do anything different from the last flat track the series (Road America) went on? While it was one festival of manufacturer dominance, there were still fights around the track, including a great one between Elliott, Bill and even Kurt Busch at some point near the end of the race.

The tires were gone and the drivers were trying really hard not to collapse at the end because grip was virtually nonexistent on the track for anyone once Bill took the checkered flag.

It is a step in the right direction for NASCAR in its regions to be improved with the next generation car.

Better than last time?

This year, NASCAR has done much better judging the rain in the area. Instead of doing what you did in 2021 and starting the race despite the weather, wait and let the rain pass before the event starts.

Darkness wasn’t an issue this year, so a full 301 laps were completed. That’s something that I’m sure Bale is happy with, because he probably feels he could have passed Almerola for the win last year had the last eight laps not been cut short by darkness.

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But both races had a driver who was about to crash out of qualifying take the lead late in the race and take a big win to lock himself in.

While the 2021 and 2022 races mirror each other in many ways, the 2022 race flow was better all around.

Paint scheme for racing

Well, Toyota drivers may have confused all their watchers this week.

There were several paint schemes inside the Toyota camp run by different drivers than usual in Loudoun. Kyle Busch carried Bell’s DeWalt colors while his brother Kurt wore the black and blue colors of SiriusXM, another Bell sponsor.

But the best of them has to be the electric green of the Interstate Binders, bus-driven…sorry, Truex.

This scheme is great when Kyle Busch runs it, but seeing it on a car other than the #18 makes it very unique.

Well done, Toyota graphic designers. Now please, for the sake of your watcher, don’t do something on a large scale like this project ever again.

What’s Next?

The mountains are calling.

The NASCAR Cup Series heads to the Pocono Raceway for its only visit to Long Pond. Qualification begins at approximately 3:20 p.m. ET on Saturday, July 23 before M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 coverage begins on Sunday, July 24 at 3 p.m. ET on the USA Network.

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