With a souring engine, Christopher Bell needed a lot of respect if he was going to hold off Raphael Lessard and Dalton Sargeant on Saturday night in the CARS Tour Super Late Model race at Orange County Speedway.
The three Toyota drivers battled hard over the final 10 laps, often nose-to-tail, but rarely touched one another. As a result, Bell was just able hold on and won his fourth career CARS victory in the Orange Blossom 300 over Lessard and Sargeant.
Lessard was able to get to Bell’s quarter panel but just wasn’t willing to wash up into the Truck Series regular. It arguably cost him the win but earned him the respect of one of NASCAR’s top prospects.
“The last 30 laps or so was tough,” Bell said in Victory Lane. “Our motor was stumbling on the backstretch. Then it got worse and worse. I can’t thank Dalton and Raphael enough for not racing me dirty.
“Thanks to Kyle Busch Motorsports for giving me great cars and it’s just cool to be in Victory Lane here.”
Trevor Noles started from the pole but was eventually overtaken by Bell on Lap 10. He would lead the rest of the way but it wasn’t easy as his motor started to let go by Lap 120. By Lap 140, Lessard had closed up to his back bumper.
Lap traffic and Sargeant had kept Lessard from chasing down the leader and it arguably cost him the race. Sargeant and Lessard couldn’t easily settle their dispute for second and it offset Bell’s motor problems. Once Lessard and Sargeant got to Bell, they simply ran out of time to make a clean pass.
“It’s awesome to win at Orange County,” Bell said. “The CARS Tour is one of my favorite places to race because you get treated fairly. The track here as multiple grooves and that’s what you want once the race starts. The challenge for me was just figuring out which line worked best for me once the motor started to go away.”
Perhaps second guessing himself, Lessard said he felt his car was strong enough to take the top spot from Bell, but he didn’t want to wreck him in the process.
“Maybe I could have moved him a little bit, but I don’t race like that,” Lessard said. “I touched him one time, and that was just to let him know I was there. I think it is better to race like that because sometimes when you go too hard, the guys will do the same thing the race after.”
The most notable incident of the night occurred on Lap 79. After racing hard for sixth, Noles sent John Hunter Nemechek around in Turn 4. The contact looked deliberate but neither driver stuck around after the race to talk about it.
Text messages to both drivers were not immediately returned.
The complete results can be found below.
1. Christopher Bell
2. Raphael Lessard
3. Dalton Sargeant
4. Brandon Setzer
5. Preston Peltier
6. Cole Timm
7. Tyler Ankrum
8. Quin Houff
9. Jake Crum
10. Garrett Jones
11. Zane Smith
12. Lucas Jones
13. Tanner Gray
14. Stephen Leicht
15. Clay Jones
16. John Hunter Nemechek
17. Trevor Noles
18. Kyle Grissom
19. Joey Mucciacciaro
20. Jeff Batten
21. Gus Dean
22. Stephen Nasse
23. Tate Fogleman