CBell Rides New Package to Win, Playoffs and Racing Lead Change Charts

Still playing catch-up on this season’s Racing Lead Changes as finding the right words is much like passing with the new aero package at our most recent race-still a struggle.

Unless you are Christopher Bell, of course.

Make no mistake, I’m no Christopher Bell.

The Cup Series closed out this year’s West Coast Swing at the one mile Phoenix Raceway. Fresh off of December testing there seeking improvement to the GEN 7’s struggling Short Track Package, fans were eager to see what the changes brought to the racing product. Coupled with the unanswered questions of could anyone break Chevy’s stranglehold on Victory Lane, would Toyota find the front and could Phoenix add its name to the growing list of good finishes.

312 laps later, we knew many answers. 

Chevy’s stranglehold on the Winners Circle (3 for 4 in GEN 7 era) was shattered as not only could they not compete for the win but failed to lead a single lap and placed only one Bowtie, Ross Chastain in the Top 10.  Toyota found the front in a big way, not only winning the race but leading all but 14 Laps.  If Todd Gilliland hadn’t been on a contrary pit strategy to inherit the lead, Toyota would have pitched a shutout.  As far as good close finishes-that streak ended at the base of Rattlesnake Hill as Christopher Bell’s first win of the season produced the largest Margin of Victory in the GEN 7 era-not just for the track but for all tracks.

NASCAR declared the package an incremental improvement, noting that its Loop Data had recorded a record number of Green Flag Passes.  This metric was used in an attempt to prove that passing and thus racing was better with the New Package, even though breaking records in this category isn’t always worth mentioning as we saw last week.

CBelll started the race in Lucky 13 and was one of the few drivers who made the New Package work for him.  His car would run wherever he needed it to, which allowed him to find clean air in traffic, make passes quicker to slice his way through the field.  And like the other five drivers who made it to the front, it didn’t matter whether you were on fresh tires or worn, once in the front you were staying there until you either messed up on a restart or you pitted to give up the lead to the next beneficiary of being at the front.

Ty Gibbs started outside front row and beat Pole Sitter, Denny Hamlin back to the line to lead the field for the next 57 Laps.  When the Pay Window opened for Stage One points, Tyler Reddick got his first Racing Lead Change of the season to win the Stage.  Denny Hamlin took the lead under Caution and held it for the next 55 Laps until pitting under Green.

Todd Gilliland, stayed out trying to catch a Caution, inherited the Lead and held on for the next 14 laps until Tyler Reddick got his second RLC, passing the fading Gilliland.  When the Pay Window opened for Stage Two, Bell drove past Reddick for his first RLC of the season to take the Stage. 

Shortly after the Restart, the race entered a crazy period where for the next twenty laps resulted in three cautions-a single car spin by Kyle Busch, a multi-car pileup triggered when John Hunter Nemechek drove through Joey Logano, collecting Corey LaJoie, Josh Berry and a host of others.  The final caution was for a single car spin by Denny Hamlin as he was racing with Reddick for the lead.  

All this excitement and drama set up a variety of pit strategies with part of the field pitting early hoping to stretch it on fuel, others later when fuel would not be an issue and others still, like Martin Truex, Jr., who stayed out and, on the point, hoping for another Caution.  This variation in strategies contributed to the record number of Green Flag Passes and set up what race ending drama there was after Truex, Jr. finally pitted and relinquished the lead to Bell for the final 47 Laps and the win.

For CBell, it was his first win of the Season and his 7th Career win.  This moves him to 70th on the All-Time Win List and ties him with Alex Bowman on the Active Wins List.  He joins William Byron, Daniel Suarez and Kyle Larson in this Season’s Playoff.

Overall-With all the hype, anticipation and excitement going into the Championship preview race, it still looked like Phoenix.  If you dig a little deeper, there were differences and some improvements but little more than incremental, which triggered a post-race firestorm calling for an increase in Horsepower.

Christopher Bell, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series Shriners Children’s 500 at Phoenix Raceway on March 10, 2024 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Race Breakdown

Here is a statistical breakdown of the passing and lead changes we saw at Phoenix:

Total Lead Changes 10

Green Flag Lead Changes (P1)  7

– Leader Pit – 2

– Start/Restart – 2

– Racing Lead Changes – 3   

Tyler Reddick – 2

Christopher Bell – 1

Quality Passes less P1 (P2-P15) – 924

Non-QP Passes (P16-P37) – 1882

Overall Passes  – 33% of the Green Flag Passes took place in the front 42% of the field, so passing was once again predominately in the back of the field.

Total Green Flag Passes – 2813 for 10.3/Green Flag Lap.  This was a new record for the GEN 7 era at this track.

Margin of Victory – Bell’s 5.465 second win was the largest of the NEXT GEN era.  

Winning Pass- Bell’s winning pass was on Lap 272 when leader Martin Truex, Jr. pitted.

Winning Run-Bell led the final 41 laps of the race.   

Most Green Flag Passes – 113 Kyle Larson

Most Quality Passes– 84 Christopher Bell

Racing Lead Changes (after four races)

Tyler Reddick and Christopher Bell broke into the Racing Lead Change Race with their Phoenix performances.  Here is the overall breakdown up to this point:

10 – Kyle Busch 

 7 – Ryan Blaney

 6 – Kyle Larson

 5 – Joey Logano

 4 – Martin Truex, Jr., Michael McDowell, Todd Gilliland

 3 – Austin Cindric, Denny Hamlin

 2 – Tyler Reddick (+2), Daniel Suarez

 1 – Christopher Bell (+1)Ross Chastain, Brad Keselowski, Corey LaJoie, Chase Elliott, Chris Buescher, AJ Allmendinger 

Final Thoughts

No RLC in the Final Stage.  Last was the winning pass for Stage 2.

RFK showed well with Chris Buescher and Brad Keselowski finishing P2 and P4 respectively.

Ty Gibbs had a most impressive run.  When he puts it all together he’ll be in Victory Lane.

Erik Jones also showed well until he and Chase Briscoe had issues.  Erik was the lead dog for Toyota in the December tests and it showed.

CBell’s Margin of Victory was due in part to teams playing defense and trying to hold position when it was apparent they had nothing for him.

The race triggered a firestorm of drivers, owners and fans calling for more HP there. Even engine builders were called in to see if feasible, turnaround time and costs.  NASCAR seems determined to hold firm so as not to threaten the chances of a new OEM entering the sport.  Whether it happens-who knows. But if the new package doesn’t perform better at the upcoming short tracks and road courses expect the heat to be turned up.

Kevin Harvick weighed in and said they needed 1000 HP something to burn the rear tires off.  My question is can Goodyear accomplish the same thing by producing a tire that a 650 HP package can burn off?  I bet they can.

Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch both had single car spins in the 650HP package.  If those guys can’t keep it going in the right direction with that horsepower what’s another 100 to 350 HP going to do?

Speaking of tires, Fox did an amazing job of camera work capturing the flex of the tires under acceleration.  It was substantial indicating how low of pressure they were running in the tires.  How they ran that, and the tires survived, I do not know.  Hats off to Goodyear for a product that holds up to the abuse placed on it through competition and compounded by teams running way below recommendations chasing that elusive advantage.

The FOX’s signature “half-pass for the lead” reappeared as they focused on a battle back in the pack and switched to catch the last half of the CBell RLC pass on Tyler Reddick to get the Stage 2 win.  Obviously, someone got lost.  Racing Lead Changes, are rare especially on non-pack racing tracks so broadcast partners can’t afford to miss any.  FOX is pushing the limit resulting in a shoddy look.

The Championship race at Phoenix, in the GEN 7 era has been Ford’s, Penske’s to lose. If this race was any indication Toyota may have something for them this year.  If Denny Hamlin can make it to the Finals, this may be his best shot to capture that elusive Championship.  It would make a nice and fitting NETFLIX season two with season one’s star winning it all.

Enough for now.  It’s on to a dirt-free Fr’istol baby!

And that was Fr’istol! – Pure Thunder Racing (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)

Thunder On… and Stay Safe!

David Nance

Photo Credit (cover):  Meg Oliphant / Getty Images

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