LOUDON, N.H. — Christopher Bell's crew chief tried to give him a little bit of coaching, just some encouragement with about 40 laps left in Sunday's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and a victory and spot in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs at stake.
He was promptly told, well, basically to shush.
"He told me that he had it under control," crew chief Adam Stevens said with a laugh, "and he clearly did."
Bell explained later there were so many laps left in the race, he didn't need a reminder of how far the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Toyota had to go to reach the finish line. And anyway, Bell already knew the way to reach victory lane at his favorite track.
He crashed the 16-driver playoff field and tightened the pressure on the remaining winless drivers by becoming the 14th to win a race this season.
"That one was much needed right there," the 27-year-old Bell said.
He again mastered the track where he won Xfinity Series races in 2018, 2019 and 2021 and was second in the Cup Series race last year. This time he was first by holding off Chase Elliott, the winner a week earlier at Atlanta Motor Speedway and the series' only driver with three victories in 2022.
With six races left in the regular season, it's possible that more than 16 drivers could win a race and the final playoff spot or spots would be decided on points. That's a worry for another day for Bell.
"That car was not very good when it started the race," team owner Joe Gibbs said. "It was middle of the pack. It was struggling. At the end, they got him going in the right direction."
Bell chased down Elliott late and led the final 42 laps. His only other Cup Series win came in the second race of the 2021 season on the road course at Daytona International Speedway.
Elliott finished second in a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and Bubba Wallace was third for 23XI Racing in a Toyota. JGR's Martin Truex Jr. dominated early after starting in pole position but finished fourth, while Stewart-Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick completed the top five with the best finish for a Ford driver.
"We had no idea what we were running there at the end," Wallace said. "I knew it was inside the top five. But just tire management there at the end, and we were able to capitalize. Just proud of everybody. Happy. It's been hell for me the last month, so good to come out with a top five."
Elliott, who had led 13 laps overall when he was caught by Bell, finished first or second for the fourth straight race.
"We were in a position where guys at this level really should close out a race if you've got the lead like that," Elliott said. "Just poor effort on my part."
Bell, who led JGR to its fourth win this season and 12th at New Hampshire, had been one of those drivers who would have had to worry about his playoff chances during the rest of the summer stretch. He entered the weekend in 16th place in the points standings — 19 above the cutline. Bell reeled off five straight top-10 finishes over May and June before he ran into a recent hiccup with only one finish better than 18th over his previous four races.
"If your race car is fast and you have a first-place car, it's pretty easy to get to first as long as you do your job," Bell said. "I had a first-place race car at the end of that race. Basically, the third stage my car was the fastest one out there, especially on the long run. I did my job to maximize that."
JGR, who supplies pit crews to 23XI Racing, swapped team members earlier this month with Wallace's crew.
Bell's biggest concern Sunday was trying to handle the 21-pound lobster awarded to the winner.
"Earlier in the year, I felt like we were right on the verge of winning," Bell said. "In the last couple of weeks, I thought we were pretty far away. Now here we are today."
The Cup Series heads to Pocono Raceway next Sunday for its only stop of the year in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. The track long held two races each year, and Alex Bowman and Kyle Busch won the races in a doubleheader weekend last year.
IndyCar milestone for Dixon
TORONTO — Scott Dixon had been waiting more than a year to join Mario Andretti in second place on IndyCar's career wins list. The only driver ahead of him now is A.J. Foyt.
The six-time series champion snapped a 22-race winless streak when he held off pole-sitter Colton Herta and Felix Rosenqvist on a late restart to win as IndyCar returned to Canada after a three-year hiatus.
Dixon's 52nd career victory came more than 21 years after his first triumph in Pennsylvania — the only one of his career that did not come with Chip Ganassi Racing — and puts the 41-year-old New Zealander in exclusive company. Another victory would move Dixon past Andretti and continue the climb toward Foyt, who holds a record that might never be broken with 67 career wins.
"It's amazing. Honestly, to be close to Mario — every time I'm asked these questions, I'm so thankful we still have A.J. and him in the pits," said Dixon, whose birthday is this Friday. "It's just fantastic. It's huge, man. I feel so lucky to be part of this group."
Herta, who tested for McLaren in Formula 1 early this past week, finished second for Andretti Autosport and Rosenqvist was third for Arrow McLaren SP. Graham Rahal was fourth for Rahal Letterman Racing and Ganassi's Marcus Ericsson finished fifth to further pad his points lead.
"It was a very good day for us," Ericsson said. "We had a good plan, a good strategy. The crew did a great job."
Just not as good as his teammate.
Dixon qualified second and spent the day running up front, despite creative fuel and tire strategies as teams jockeyed for track position early in the race. He was still out front when Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Kirkwood tangled to bring out the final caution and force a restart with 18 laps to go.
Dixon quickly opened a two-second gap on Herta and never relinquished it, cruising to his fourth career win at Toronto. His first win anywhere since May 2021 at Texas Motor Speedway also extended his record streak of at least one IndyCar victory every year since 2004.
It also shoved Dixon into the thick of the points race; a seventh championship would match Foyt for the most in history.
"It was a tough drive, man. I don't know," Dixon said after exiting the car Sunday. "Ended a (winless) streak, which is fantastic. Just so happy for the team. It's been a crazy year."
The season continues with next weekend's twin bill at Iowa Speedway, with one race Saturday and another Sunday.