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Bell sets Xfinity rookie record at Dover with 6th victory

(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

By DAN GELSTON

AP Sports Writer

DOVER, Del. (AP) Christopher Bell has a second straight NASCAR championship in sight.

Bell won his sixth Xfinity Series race this season in the playoff race Saturday at Dover International Speedway, setting the rookie record for victories in a season.

He passed three drivers for most rookie wins: Greg Biffle won five races in 2001, as did Kyle Busch in 2004 and Carl Edwards in 2005.

Bell built his record with wins at Kentucky, New Hampshire, Iowa and twice at Richmond and expected to add a few more as he chases a championship.

"We're in really good shape," Bell said.

The 2017 Truck Series champion, Bell won the first stage Saturday and was never in any serious trouble driving the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, leading 110 of 200 laps.

"It's been a career year for me," Bell said. "All credit to Joe Gibbs Racing. We have really fast race cars every time I go to the racetrack."

He was the only driver headed into the race who secured a spot in the semifinal round.

Ross Chastain, Ryan Truex, Ryan Reed and Brandon Jones all failed to advance.

Bell, Justin Allgaier, Daniel Hemric, Cole Custer, Elliott Sadler, Tyler Reddick, Austin Cindric and Matt Tifft are still in the running for the championship when the series picks up in two weeks at Kansas.

"I'll be just as sharp whenever we get to Kansas as I was today," Bell said.

The playoff drivers in the round of eight know there is only one sure way to knock off Bell.

"It would be nice to win a race," Custer said. "I think we'll have a shot to do it."

Custer was second at Dover, followed by Allgaier, Ryan Preece and Spencer Gallagher.

The 23-year-old Bell this season became the first series regular with a three-race winning streak since Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 1999. Kyle Busch did it four times between 2008 and 2016, but he was also running full-time in the Cup Series.

"I don't think it's any of our championships to lose," Bell said. "It boils down to the last race. It all boils down to one run at Homestead who the champion is."

Bell ran a pair of K&N races and seven Trucks events in 2015, winning for the first time on the dirt at Eldora. He showed enough promise to land a full-time truck ride with Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2016, winning just once but finishing in the top 10 in 19 of 23 events.

Last season was the first of consecutive breakout seasons for Bell. He won five times and finished in the top five 15 times, and he clinched the championship by finishing second at Homestead.

Bell moved up yet again in 2018, landing a 23-race Xfinity deal with JGR after running just eight times in the series, including a win at Kansas in 2017.

"I think his future in the sport is big," crew chief Jason Ratcliff said. "I think it can go as far as he wants it to go."

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Updated October 6, 2018

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