By Kyle Shaner
ROSSBURG – In just his third career start in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Christopher Bell captured the third annual Mud Summer Classic championship at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg.
Young stars who entered the Mud Summer Classic – NASCAR’s lone dirt race in its top three series – with dirt experience dominated the race with the 20-year-old Bell leading the way. He was followed by 18-year-old Bobby Pierce, who finished second in his NASCAR truck series debut, and 19-year-old Tyler Reddick, who finished third.
Bell never thought he’d win the Mud Summer Classic. Just racing in the NASCAR event was more than he’d hoped for as his aspirations growing up focused on smaller series such as the World of Outlaws.
“It’s just really special,” the Norman, Oklahoma, resident said. “I’ve been coming here … I think my first race was in 2013 in a Midget. I’ve run second twice, but I never could seal the deal. Two years ago I remember watching this race on TV. I had just started in a Midget race and just a kid from Oklahoma. I thought how cool would it be if was able to come up here and race a truck at Eldora. It’s just an honor to be here, and I never would have dreamed I would be a NASCAR truck winner at Eldora.”
With Bell leading 106 laps, including the final 49, of the 154-lap race and Pierce leading 39 after winning the pole for the nationally televised race, talk at the end of the night centered largely on the bright future of the breakout stars.
“I think almost every racer that gets this far always has (NASCAR) in the back of their mind,” Pierce said. “As someone like me, it’s always going to be in the back of your mind, but there’s a lot of tough competition as you start moving up and stuff. With what I’m doing now with racing dirt Late Models, that’s been my life my whole life. If it comes to it, NASCAR is definitely something I would look forward to.”
After Bell, Pierce and Reddick, Erik Jones, Daniel Hemric, Austin Dillon, John H. Nemechek, Cameron Hayley, Matt Crafton and Ty Dillon rounded out the top 10 finishers. Austin Dillon, the 2013 Mud Summer Classic champion, led eight laps Wednesday night and Nemechek led one.
Restarts played a big role in deciding the outcome of the race as there were 13 cautions totaling 61 laps in the race. Ultimately Bell’s strategies paid off as he held off Pierce by just 0.761 seconds in a green-white-checker finish.
“At the beginning of the race I told (crew chief) Shannon (Rursch), I said, ‘Man, I think we’re spending more time under yellow than we are under green.’ Just choosing my lanes on my restarts was really difficult because it seemed like whoever was in second was going to get the lead at that time. I didn’t know as a leader if I wanted to just kind of drop down to the bottom where I could protect the slider and get back to the top. But I knew if I did pick the bottom and didn’t beat him in Turn 1 then I wouldn’t be able to get up and probably lose a lot more. So I figured if Bobby was able to clear me on a slider then I’d just ride behind him until he got strung out a little bit where I could go race him instead of racing the whole field.”
Bell had experience at Eldora, which included a start in Saturday’s Kings Royal. He flipped his car in the Kings Royal but returned in the No. 54 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota to claim the Mud Summer Classic title. It was the second consecutive year the 54 won Eldora’s truck race as last year Darrell Wallace Jr. guided the Kyle Busch Motorsports vehicle to victory.
It was less than two weeks ago that Bell learned he’d get an opportunity to race in Wednesday’s NASCAR event. He’s not sure if more NASCAR opportunities lie ahead of him but relished in Wednesday’s championship.
“Honestly I’m living my dream right now,” Bell said. “I’m getting to race for a living and getting to race 100 times a year, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do is just get to race. Whatever opportunities may come my way I’ll be thrilled to take advantage of them.”
Kyle Shaner may be reached at (937) 569-4316. Follow him on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports. For more features online go to advocate360.org or ‘like The Daily Advocate’ on Facebook by searching Advocate360.