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Christopher Bell savors runner-up finish, carries JGR banner at Road America

ELKHART LAKE, Wis. — Christopher Bell is gaining his confidence back.

After two-plus months of finishes outside the top five and only one top-10 result in the past 10 races, Christopher Bell pulled off a second-place showing in Sunday’s Jockey Made in America 250 at Road America. His No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota crossed the finish line 5.705 seconds behind Chase Elliott’s race-winning No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

“I think it was close,” Bell said. “Probably closer than anybody else was to the 9, so that’s good. At the end of the race, I don’t know, they kept telling me I was matching, if not a little better on lap time. Just never had track position to start up with him and see what we had against a whole run.”

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The speed was indeed there. That was not an exaggeration. Bell registered a faster lap time than Elliott in nine of the 17 closing green-flag circuits around the 4.048-mile, 14-turn course.

There was a late-race restart on Lap 46. Bell took the green flag from the seventh position. Aric Almirola was in the lead after opting not to pit with the rest of the field. Ryan Blaney was alongside him, already on pit road when the caution previously came out. Bell’s teammate, Kyle Busch, and Elliott took the second row after pitting.

“I just wanted us to get single-filed out,” Bell said. “And once we did, I was able to pick them off one at a time.”

Busch ended up third at the checkers. Kurt Busch was fourth. And then another JGR member, Denny Hamlin, was fifth.

Joe Gibbs Racing actually had all four of its drivers in the top 10; Martin Truex Jr. placed ninth. Hendrick Motorsports, meanwhile, only had Elliott among the front-runners. Kyle Larson was back in 16th, Alex Bowman wound up 22nd, and William Byron turned out 33rd.

So, while Hendrick Motorsports has been dominant lately – claiming seven of the last eight trophies – Joe Gibbs Racing is catching up.

“We all ran up front,” said Busch, who is the outlier in that eight-race stretch. “We all had good speed. It showed that we were close.”

Truex (three wins), Busch (two) and Bell (one) have all won this season, so they’re guaranteed a spot in the 2021 NASCAR Playoffs. Hamlin has yet to reach Victory Lane, but he does currently sit atop the point standings.

“I think we can all anticipate the Gibbs guys are going to run stronger and stronger,” said Chad Knaus, Hendrick Motorsports’ vice president of competition. “We know they weren’t going to be on their heels for long.”

Six races remain in the regular season, starting with Atlanta Motor Speedway next Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), and two of those are road courses.

Hendrick Motorsports has won two of the three road races so far this season. The other one? Bell back in February, his first career win at the top level.

“It’s been a trying last two months, but we feel like we’re getting back on track,” Bell said. “There’s no reason why we can’t be running up front every week.”