Bell got some tough news even before the race got underway as his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota failed pre-race inspection twice and he was forced to start the race from the rear of the field.
Bell’s crew chief, Adam Stevens, was also ejected from the track, which left car chief Chris Sherwood leading the team.
He methodically began his march up through the field and found that his No. 20 Toyota has plenty of speed.
By the third stage, he had worked his way into contention for the lead. Entering Turn 1 on Lap 55 of 90, Kyle Larson got side-by-side with Bell and nudged into him, sending Bell spinning around and losing several positions as the race remained green.
Larson went on to win the race, but Bell could get no closer than seventh at the finish.
“I don’t know if I crowded (Larson) at all, but he shouldn’t have been in there in the first place. He didn’t really have a run coming off of (Turn) 7,” Bell said. “We were all packed up.
“I was faster than (Martin Truex Jr.) but never could make a run on him to get by him, and same thing with Larson. It’s very disappointing. Our (car) was extremely fast and definitely capable of winning the race.
“Extremely frustrating, but a lot more racing to go.”
Larson took the blame for the incident with Bell, with whom he has raced in NASCAR as well as at many dirt tracks around the country.
“I definitely made a mistake getting into him,” Larson said. “He would pull me off of (Turn) 7 every time, and that time I maintained, and I was out-braking him in the other laps, so I thought I could out-brake him and get all the way to his inside.
“I was only able to get my nose to his numbers. Maybe not even that far, but it was close. At that point, I’m already committed and on the verge of wheel hopping and locking the fronts up and I was just hoping he would leave enough room.
“It was definitely my fault. Not intentional, obviously. But I made a mistake.”
After clinching a spot in the Cup Series playoffs earlier in the season with a win on the Daytona International Speedway Road Course, Bell and his team struggled to develop some consistency.
Recently, however, the No. 20 team had seen a resurgence as Bell earned runner-up finishes at Road America and New Hampshire and an eighth at Atlanta in three races prior to the Glen.
“Very happy that we’ve turned a corner and now we’re frustrated with seventh. It should have been a lot more,” Bell said. “In this sport, you’re only as good as your race car and I’ve had really fast race cars the last couple of weeks.”
Despite the disappointment, Bell remains positive about heading to another road course race next weekend at Indianapolis.
“At Indy, we have practice so have a little more time to tune on it and make it better, but been really proud of Adam and this No. 20 group to give us really fast Camrys,” Bell said.
“I expect that to be similar next week.”