By Chuck Corder
Turns out, Christopher Bell won’t be a mere spectator after all.
The 21-year-old budding superstar has a whole lot of business to take care of during today’s 48th annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway.
A day after Bell, the much-ballyhooed Kyle Busch Motorsports driver, saw his top qualification time thrown out in technical inspection, he stormed back from the tail end of the 27-car field to win the last-chance, 50-lap race and punch his ticket into this afternoon’s Derby.
The top-four finishers transferred to today’s 300-lap race with Bell joined by New Yorker Christian Eckes, Maine driver Cassius Clark and Iowan Caleb Adrian.
“My car was really good. I hope it’s better for tomorrow,” Bell said. “We were really loose yesterday. If we can pass everyone tomorrow, that’d be something.”
Like the last-chance race, Bell will once again start near the tail end of the field that will include more than 35 cars.
Fellow 21 year old Ty Majeski will start on the pole after his record-breaking lap (16.120 seconds). The 2011 Derby winner and 2014 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Chase Elliott will start on the outside of Row 1.
Local drivers Logan Boyett and Johanna Long, the 2010 Derby champ, will also start among the leaders — fifth and seventh, respectively.
Bell showed why he’s one of the top young drivers in America on Saturday. He stormed from his 25th starting spot and climbed all the way to the fourth and final transfer spot by Lap 26 when he passed Paul Shafer.
Shafer cost himself a shot to grab one of the last transfer spots with poor restarts following several cautions.
After Bell got by Shafer for that coveted position, he flexed the same muscle that guided him to a win in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Eldora Speedway earlier this season.
He got inside by Adrian for third on Lap 32 and continued to be on the come over the next 10 laps.
Bell slid by Clark on Lap 39 for second and barely broke a sweat getting around Eckes for the lead on Lap 42.
“Every car is tough to pass,” a relieved Bell said outside the tech shed. “We did a quarter of what we needed to do tonight; we’ve got three-quarters tomorrow.”
Following the race’s conclusion, the four transfer cars once again rolled through technical inspection to ensure no violations had occurred.
Nothing was certain after Friday’s sequence of events that saw Bell’s track record qualifying lap of 16.027 seconds thrown out along with defending Derby champion John Hunter Nemechek when too much space was discovered from the center of the rim to the right, rear quarter panel.
Bell’s team hovered around the scales Saturday, anxiously awaiting their driver’s fate. Their initial looks of concern quickly turned to senses of relief when chief technical inspector Ricky Brooks gave them the thumbs-up.
Among those that unfortunately failed to make the field for the short-track’s preeminent race are hometown son Junior Niedecken, longtime Derby veteran David Rogers and Boris Jurkovic.