A perfect mix of intermediate track speed and short track aggressiveness, ISM Raceway delivered with Saturday’s Whelen Trusted to Perform 200 for the NASCAR XFINITY Series.
The young stars of the series would race up front side-by-side for the lead, with their battles lasting multiple laps as drivers traded lanes and approaches towards trying to get to the front. There was even that good short track rubbing at times, with contact in places. The show displayed by Austin Cindric, John Hunter Nemechek, Justin Allgaier, and Christopher Bell in challenging for the victory deserves five stars.
Of course, the biggest star should go to Bell, and that’s not just for being the race’s eventual victor. He hasn’t made this round of the playoffs easy, wrecking on the first lap of the past two races to put himself into a hole entering ISM Raceway – a must-win essentially. On top of that, he failed pre-qualifying inspection three times, resulting in having to start from the rear of the field.
Even being a rookie in the series, he showed poise coming through the field, rather pacing himself versus trying to get everything in the first 10 laps. It may have taken him the entire first stage to get to the top-10, but that was fine as all that mattered on Saturday was the win for him.
He also displayed growth in his battles with Cindric, choosing when to stick his nose in there and back out. The decision to give up on running the outside, and then make his move on the bottom worked on two different occasions and ultimately scored him the victory. The credit extends to the team, though, as they are doing well in managing their young driver, with both crew chief Jason Ratcliff and spotter Tony Hirchman barking orders on the radio when it looked like Bell would cross that edge of control, again.
The manta “names are made here” is used in the XFINITY Series and for good reason. It is supposed to let you know the future drivers of the sport, while giving them space to grow so they can compete with the stars of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Bell’s progression as a driver is following that perfectly, and another solid, well-thought out performance next weekend could produce a championship.
Meanwhile, it was a mistake that proved costly for Allgaier. He won the first two stages, but a slow pit stop combined with contact ultimately saw his championship chances end. After being arguably the strongest driver before the post-season with the regular season title in hand, the playoffs did not go his way from the beginning. In each of the rounds he showed the speed that allowed him to perform well, but incidents would not see him get the finishes. A surprise for a veteran of the series, and proof that sometimes luck does play a role.
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