U.S. CELLULAR 250: Briscoe strategy changes the ending to Bell’s show

Photo: Chase Briscoe pauses during the press conference after his win in Saturday’s U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway.

By John Bohnenkamp

NEWTON — It was Christopher Bell’s show.

It was Chase Briscoe’s win.

The final race of the season at Iowa Speedway was more Bell domination until it wasn’t.

Bell’s Goodyears were dying as the laps ran out in Saturday’s U.S. Cellular 250. The four tires on Briscoe’s Ford Mustang were fresh, and grabbed the pavement of the .875-mile oval better as the sun was setting.

Which is why Briscoe led the last seven laps for the second win of his NASCAR Xfinity Series career.

Briscoe had speed all day, but he said, “I felt like we had a second-place car,” a thought his crew chief would echo.

It turned out that it was first place, actually, with just the right moves.

“There’s a lot of times,” Briscoe said, “the fastest car doesn’t win the race.”

Briscoe got by Bell on Lap 244 after testing him for a couple of laps. Once Briscoe was in front, Bell had no chance.

“That was tough, holding him off as long as I did,” Bell said. “The best bet to win the race was to stay on his door, try to chase him into the corner.

“I don’t know, looking back on it, it’s always easy to … I don’t know. I don’t know.”

Briscoe’s strategy nearly was a disaster. When the leaders pitted under caution with 99 laps to go, the call was for Briscoe to take fuel only, and save his final set of tires for later in the race.

Briscoe fell back to 14th on the restart, and Bell, who took his final set of tires, started pulling away again.

“I don’t know,” Bell said of his strategy. “It’s kind of damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you don’t.”

“I just felt like 99 laps to go was too early to put our last set on,” said Richard Boswell, Briscoe’s crew chief. “But I also knew if we didn’t pit for fuel, we would be in trouble. It was a gamble. I thought we had a second-place car all day to Christopher. We were just little adjustments away from being there. I knew as soon as those guys said they were going to pit for four tires, I knew that was an opportunity to win the race.

“Heroes or zeroes. Fortunately for us it worked out.”

Briscoe would get his final set more than 50 laps later after Michael Annett’s spin brought out a caution flag, but there still were concerns.

“I was definitely getting worried, just because our car definitely changed a lot whenever we got back (in traffic),” Briscoe said. “My biggest thing was not knowing where Bell was. If we get a lap down, our strategy was out the window.”

Briscoe battled side-by-side with John Hunter Nemechek, racing on a similar strategy, before he could get to Bell.

“I wasn’t worried about burning my stuff up getting (to Bell), I was worried about just giving Bell so much of a lead that once I did single-file out, I wouldn’t be able to get back to (Bell),” Briscoe said.

There was a familiarity between Briscoe and Bell that stemmed not just from racing each other on the track, but going against each other in online competitions.

Briscoe finally got by Bell with a pass that started in Turns 1 and 2, and was completed in 3 and 4.

“I think we both drove in there wide-open, so far past where we should have been going,” Briscoe said. “But we knew whoever had the top (line) on the exit would win the race. We were able to do it.”

Bell led 234 laps to become the all-time leader in Xfinity laps led at the track. Bell, who had won the last two Xfinity Series races here, also won the first two stages, extending his stage-win streak to seven.

It was similar dominance to what Bell did in the June race here. Not that there was a lot of attention to that on that day — while Bell was running away with the CircuitCity.com 250, leading 186 laps, the media center focus was more on Ross Chastain’s win-then-disqualification in the Truck Series race earlier that day.

It seemed to be all Bell’s show on Saturday. He was the fastest driver in qualifying, and the fastest driver for almost all of the race.

He couldn’t finish the performance.

“A heck of an effort, guys,” Bell said. “Just not enough.”

“The 20 was definitely in a league of his own,” Briscoe said.

Briscoe was the one who left with the win.

“There’s multiple variables. There’s restarts. There’s pit strategy, everything else,” Briscoe said. “I don’t care how we won it, we won it. It’s not like we were a 15th-place car all day. We were a second or third-place. I agree, (Bell) was the class of the field. But he could have done the same thing.

“Hats off to our guys for trying something different. And it obviously paid off.”

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