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Christopher Bell's Gateway chances hampered by engine issue: 'That one sucks'

MADISON, Ill. — Christopher Bell was looking to do something at World Wide Technology Raceway he‘s never done before in his Cup Series career: win consecutive races.

After leading a race-high 80 laps, the achievement looked to be well within reach throughout Sunday‘s Enjoy Illinois 300. After crew chief Adam Stevens pitted him later in the final pit cycle to give his driver fresher tires, Bell was fighting neck-and-neck with Ryan Blaney for the top spot late at Gateway.

Then, inside the final 20 laps, the No. 20 Toyota lost power.

“Just something in the engine department let go,” Bell said. “I‘m surprised that it hung on for those last [19] laps or whatever. That one sucks, there‘s no way around it.”

MORE: Cindric steals Gateway win

Bell, who won his first crown-jewel race one week prior in the Coca-Cola 600, lost positions rapidly. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. bump-drafted the No. 20 car down the long straightaways of the 1.25-mile oval for a few laps to keep up Bell‘s momentum, aiding Bell across the finish line for a seventh-place finish. It‘s the first time he‘s had consecutive top 10s in more than two months.

“All I can tell you is it lost power with about 20 or 25 laps to go, dramatically,” Stevens said. “I didn‘t see any smoke coming out of the pipes, so I don‘t know if we had an internal issue or an ignition issue or what. There‘s just no way to tell right now.”

Stevens said the No. 20 team would download the data before leaving Gateway. However, the diagnosis likely won’t come until the car gets back to the shop on Monday.

“We didn‘t miss a shift or anything,” he added. “It wasn‘t anything related to that. No clue.”

Christopher Bell races at Gateway.
Christopher Bell races at Gateway.

Trying to look at the bigger picture, Bell has led more laps in the last two weeks (170) than the previous 13 races of the season (125). In those races, Bell has gained seven spots in the regular-season championship standings, sitting eighth with 11 races remaining.

“It‘s a huge accomplishment for the overall weekend,” Bell said. “We showed up with a great race car. It was super fast, and we put ourselves in position. If we can keep bringing race cars like this, then we will be in good shape.”

The month of June bodes well for Bell and his No. 20 team. The series heads next to Sonoma Raceway, and Bell has a pair of road-course victories in his Cup career. After that is Iowa Speedway, where Bell was one of three drivers to participate in a Goodyear tire test last week. Following Iowa is New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a venue that Bell has aced, no matter the series he competes in.

MORE: Cup standings | Cup schedule 

Bell has chopped off 69 points on the regular-season championship lead over the past two races. The No. 20 team is beginning to hit its stride.

“It‘s good that we‘re running well,” Bell said. “We need to keep banking the points and I‘m glad we got two [playoff] points out of today.”