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Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson have a history. It dates back years to the pair competing against each other on the dirt. While those days are over because Joe Gibbs said so, they have battled for the last four years in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Last weekend at Las Vegas, the race came down to the final lap between the two drivers, with the Hendrick Motorsports pilot holding off the hard-charging Joe Gibbs Racing car for the win. Afterward, the 2021 champion lauded his competitor for racing him clean. Some critics suggested that the No. 20 car should have been more aggressive. 

Bell has responded.  

Christopher Bell races Kyle Larson clean on last lap at Las Vegas

Kyle Larson led a race-high 133 laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Christopher Bell was second-best with 61. When the cars took the white flag, the 28-year-old driver was right behind the No. 5 car and appeared to have a legitimate shot at catching him and leading his 62nd — and most important — lap.

On that final trip around the 1.5-mile track, Bell gained considerable ground coming out of Turns 1 and 2 and going down the backstretch. Heading into the final turns, the Toyota ran the high line while Larson was forced to stay in the middle to avoid a lapped car running on the bottom.

Coming off the final turn, the HMS vehicle drifted up high to block the fast-approaching car before slightly dropping down and making his car as wide as possible. The JGR car slid up high, then down low to the rear bumper of the leader, before finally dropping down below and attempting to make a pass as they crossed the finish line.

It was too little, too late. Larson, in the car that can’t help but appeal to old-school fans, won and clinched a berth in the Championship 4 at Phoenix.   

Bell responds to critics about lack of aggression

After that entertaining finish, some critics have suggested Christopher Bell could have attempted to take a more aggressive route, similar to what JGR teammate Denny Hamlin has done multiple times this year with Larson, and moved the No. 5 car coming to the finish line.

He didn’t, and when visiting with reporters this week, he explained why.

“Whenever I got out of the car, I genuinely didn’t know what other moves I could have made to win the race,” Bell admitted. “I’m not going to blatantly wreck somebody, and I don’t really even think that I had the opportunity to blatantly wreck him. 

“It’s not like I lifted coming to the checkered flag. I didn’t lift off the accelerator. I didn’t piledrive him. So my run wasn’t massive. If the 38 car wasn’t on the bottom, I think I probably could have gone to the inside and maybe got alongside of him. But even if that, I don’t know that I would have cleared him. 

“Honestly, it reminds me a little bit of ‘Sully’ the movie, where everybody is just critiquing Sully and telling him he should have done this, he should have done that,” Bell said, referring to the movie starring Tom Hanks as Capt. Sully Sullenberger, the pilot who landed a commercial plane in the Hudson River in New York and saved all those on board. “He’s like, ‘Look, man, this is real life. In the moment, this was my decision.’ It’s where I was at. In the moment, I chose what I chose, and I did what I did.” 

Larson admits he’s been the aggressor in past on-track encounters 

Unsurprisingly, Larson was complimentary of Bell after the race for keeping it clean. However, during his post-race press conference, the HMS driver did make a surprising admission about their past encounters. 

“He’s always been a really fair, clean racer,” Larson told reporters. “We’ve had numbers and numbers of battles in stock cars, but mostly in dirt track. I’m typically the one that is the aggressor or the aggressive one in our battles. Probably push the limit of being dirty sometimes.

“For him to continue to race me clean, I definitely have a ton of respect for him. Always have. In my opinion, he’s one of the best racecar drivers in the world and could do everything that I get to do outside of NASCAR if his team would let him.”

While Bell admitted that he didn’t want to blatantly wreck Larson, it’s not hard to imagine something different in the future based on the champion driver’s post-race remarks. If a similar type of situation arises — and it will — you’d expect the JGR driver to take a more aggressive approach and at least see what it gets him.

That may upset the opposing driver and some fans. But if it results in a trip to Victory Lane, then it will be all worth it. 

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