With only four races left, Bell’s second victory this season shakes up the Cup Series Playoff standings.
Christopher Bell discovered his only route to the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in a series of events that almost seemed unreal.
The Bank of America 400 on the Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon wasn’t spiced up until the very end by NASCAR’s self-described “greatest drivers in the world.” They successfully accomplished it, significantly overturning the Cup Series Playoff standings with four races left.
Bell pushed Kevin Harvick on the outside following a restart on Lap 111 and then sped away to win Sunday’s Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course on fresh tires courtesy to a tactical pit stop made under caution on Lap 105.
Bell’s victory allowed him to advance to the Round of 8 and also eliminated Kyle Larson, the current series champion, who on Lap 98 of the race pulled his No. 5 Chevrolet to pit road after striking the wall and damaging the right-rear toe link on his car.
Larson was eliminated from the playoffs by two points after finishing 35th, five laps back. Chase Briscoe recovered from a spin in the backstretch chicane on lap 107 to finish ninth on fresh tires, and he went on to defeat Larson by two points to claim the eighth and last spot in the Round of 8.
Bell and crew chief Adam Stevens used two late cautions to their advantage to make the winning drive despite not having the fastest car on Sunday.
Both of Bell’s victories this year and all three of his career have come for Joe Gibbs Racing. It beat over Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, AJ Allmendinger (who won the Xfinity race on Saturday afternoon), Jason Haley, Bubba Wallace, Tyler Reddick, Chase Briscoe, and Austin Dillon in an absolutely astounding fashion.
The final dozen laps of the race featured a string of late-race cautions after the race started with 103 uninterrupted, uneventful, single-file green-flag laps with only five leaders (stage breaks exempted).
A brief red flag was displayed, multiple accidents that likely called for cautions, and track repairs. All of the chaos and restarts worked together to steal Chase Elliott’s triumph and give it to Christopher Bell, who received it largely unnoticed. It was among the most unexpected endings of the season.
“Man, you‘ve just got to be there at the end of these things,” said Bell, who entered the race 45 points below the cut line for the Round of 8.
“I keep watching all these races where the fastest car doesn’t always win. No secret that road courses have not been our strength this year.”
“We were just there at the right time. We obviously weren’t in position to win (before taking tires). We rolled the dice, gambled, and it paid off for us.”
Larson was furious and blamed himself for being eliminated: “I just made way too many mistakes all year long,” Larson said. “Made another one today. Ultimately cost us an opportunity to go chase another championship.”
“Just extremely mad at myself. I let the team down a number of times this year, and let them down in a big way today.”
Additionally eliminated were Austin Cindric and Daniel Suárez. Cindric lost his position in the Round of 8 by 13 points as he spun during the final restart on Lap 111 and entered the backstretch chicane. After his power steering failed during the third stage, Suárez battled his No. 99 Chevrolet and finished 36th, nine points behind Briscoe for the final transfer position.
On Lap 111, Briscoe started out of the top 20 and capitalized on Cindric’s spin, his own aggressiveness, and a block from teammate Cole Custer of Stewart-Haas Racing, who prevented Briscoe from passing traffic he needed to overtake on the final lap.
“Yeah, man, what a wild day, it took every bit of it there at the end,” Briscoe said. “To be easily in, then that debris caution comes out (on Lap 104).”
“Still, I thought we had a really good shot of making it in. Get wrecked on the backstretch. Crazy at the end of these races, especially the road-course races, how much can change so quickly.”
“I had no idea we were even going to have a shot (on the final restart). Truthfully, I knew we were probably out. I saw the 2 (Cindric) wreck, I thought maybe there’s still a chance.”
“We had so much fresher tires than anybody. (Crew chief) Johnny (Klausmeier) pumped them way up to qualifying pressures, let me go attack, have the ball in my hands.”
After NASCAR signaled the third caution of the contest for debris in Turn 6, halting a 50-lap run under the green flag, what had been a calm race for the previous 103 laps, erupted into mayhem.
Bell then rolled his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota into pit road for new rubber. On Lap 107, he resumed in 12th place, and by the time he reached the finish line, Bell was battling with Tyler Reddick for second place, in part because of a pile-up at Turn 1.
When the race went into overtime due to a second debris caution for a melee in Turn 2 on Lap 108, Bell had overtaken Reddick and was pursuing Harvick. Harvick was bound to lose his position on the last restart due to his worn-out tires, but he was able to hold off Kyle Busch for second place.
Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, William Byron, and Ross Chastain will join Bell and Briscoe in the Round of 8. Before the caution on Lap 104, Elliott had led a race-high 30 laps and looked to be on his way to a third victory at the Roval.
After the Lap 107 restart, Elliott spun through the grass outside Turn 6 after contact from Reddick and finished 20th. Elliott had advanced to the Round of 8 with his victory at Talladega the previous Sunday.
The pole-winning Logano won the first stage and cruised to victory, but following a pit stop on lap 27, he became stuck in traffic and dropped to the 18th position. After leading 24 laps, AJ Allmendinger finished fourth, followed by Justin Haley, Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace, Reddick, Chase Briscoe and Austin Dillon.
Elliott leads Logano by 20 points in the NASCAR Cup standings going into the Round of 8 after the points were reset.
The South Point 400, which will take place at Las Vegas Motor Speedway the following Sunday, Oct. 16 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM), is the next Cup Series race.
The competition starts the three-race Round of 8, which will choose the Championship 4 field for the season-ending championship race on November 6 at Phoenix Raceway.