Christopher Bell learned a hard lesson after NASCAR officials bumped his recent second-place finish down to 23rd by way of penalty. Bell was penalized by the league for advancing his position below the double line at the bottom of Atlanta’s backstretch on the last lap. Because of the penalty, Bell finished as the last car of the lead lap at Atlanta, instead of earning his first Top 5 of the season.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver called the penalty a “judgment call” but admitted that some camera angles “looked bad” for his case.
“I didn’t feel in a million years when it happened that I would be black flagged for passing. I got inside of him before I went beneath the line,” Bell said yesterday while prepping for the COTA. “And I felt very for sure that I got forced below the line. Looking back at it, next time my hands are staying straight.”
Bell’s Penalty Has Come Up Previously in NASCAR Races
Christopher Bell referenced a similar instance by a different driver in 2018 as a reason why he never anticipated the penalty. At an Xfinity Series race at Daytona in the summer of that year, Justin Haley lost a win after diving underneath the line to pass Kyle Larson en route to the checkered flag.
“I remember watching (a) video of Justin Haley where he said the same thing. That the line is there and he’s not moving the steering wheel and whatever happens happens,” Bell said. “So I guess the lesson learned on my part. Next time in that case, I’m holding my wheel straight, I’m not going to be the guy moving.”
Reporters also asked Bell if he thought the backstretch at the newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway was too narrow. In addition to repaving for the first time in 25 years, Atlanta owners also narrowed the backstretch from 55 feet wide down to 42 feet.
“Maybe? The problem is that the corners are narrow, right?” Bell said. “So you can’t give us too much room on the straightaway and then have to funnel into the corners. So really, no matter where they put the line, that’s where we’re gonna go. If you give us 100 more feet of back straightaway length then that same predicament is going to happen. We’re just gonna be 100 feet further down.”
Now nearly 80 races into his NASCAR Cup Series career, Bell currently sits 29th in points this season heading into this week’s race in Austin. The Echopark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas begins today at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX.