Bell capitalizes to win a wild Cup Playoff event at Martinsville; Championship 4 field set

Three weeks after executing on a “must-win” situation to transfer to the Playoff’s Round of 8 by winning at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course, Christopher Bell rose to the occasion once again by claiming a late dominant victory in the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, October 30. Only on this occasion, the victory awarded Bell a spot to the Championship 4 round and with an opportunity to contend for his first NASCAR Cup Series championship.

The 27-year-old Bell from Norman, Oklahoma, led three times for 150 of 500-scheduled laps and benefitted during a 24-lap dash to the finish on fresh tires to overtake Chase Briscoe with five laps remaining and pull away en route to his third Cup victory of the 2022 season and with a championship finale spot all to his for next weekend’s season finale at Phoenix Raceway. As a result, Bell will square off for the 2022 title against Joey Logano, Chase Elliott and Ross Chastain, who executed a bold “video game” move by riding his car against the outside wall on the final lap to finish in the top five and claim the final transfer spot to the finale while knocking veteran Denny Hamlin out of title contention at the last second.

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, Kyle Larson secured his fourth pole position of the 2022 season after posting a pole-winning lap at 96.078 mph in 19.709 seconds. Joining him on the front row was teammate and Playoff competitor Chase Elliott, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 96.019 mph in 19.721 seconds.

When the green flag waved and the race started, Larson took off with the advantage on the outside lane and had both lanes to his control through the first two turns while teammate Elliott and Ryan Blaney battled for second in front of Chase Briscoe and Brad Keselowski. As Larson went on to lead the first lap, Elliott and Blaney continued to duel for second as Briscoe joined the battle.

Through the first 10 scheduled laps, Larson was leading by nearly eight-tenths of a second over teammate Elliott followed by Blaney, Briscoe and Keselowski while Cole Custer, Daniel Suarez, Ross Chastain, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick were in the top 10. Behind, Joey Logano was in 11th ahead of Corey LaJoie, rookie Harrison Burton, Michael McDowell and Austin Dillon wile Aric Almirola, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell, Noah Gragson and Chis Buescher. Meanwhile, William Byron was in 24th in between Bubba Wallace and Erik Jones while Martin Truex Jr. was in 26th in front of rookie Austin Cindric, Tyler Reddick and Ty Gibbs.

Fifteen laps later, Larson, who started to approach lapped traffic, retained the lead nearly a second over teammate Elliott while Blaney, Briscoe and Keselowski remained in the top five. By then, five of eight Playoff competitors were running in the top 10 on the track while remaining Playoff competitors that included Logano, Bell and Byron were mired back in 11th, 18th and 24th, respectively.

Another 25 laps later on the Lap 50 mark, Larson continued to lead by two-tenths of a second over teammate Elliott followed by Briscoe, who battled hard against Blaney and bumped him for third place earlier. Meanwhile, Cole Custer battled Keselowski for fifth place while Chastain, Suarez, Hamlin and Harvick were scored in the top 10.

On Lap 71, Elliott muscled his No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 into the lead over teammate Larson’s No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 as Briscoe and Blaney started to close in on Larson for the runner-up spot. By then, Kyle Busch, who was making his penultimate Cup start for Joe Gibbs Racing, was lapped by the leaders.

Nineteen laps later, Elliott was leading by more than a second over teammate Larson followed by a two-car battle between Custer and Hamlin for third place while Briscoe was in fifth ahead of Keselowski, Blaney, Chastain, Suarez and Harvick.

At the Lap 100 mark, Elliott continued to lead by less than a second over a hard-charging Hamlin, who overtook Larson and Custer a few laps earlier, while Briscoe remained in fifth. Meanwhile, Blaney was back in seventh behind Keselowski as he was losing ground of the leaders with his tires wearing out. By then, big names that included Cindric, Reddick, Allmendinger and Truex were lapped by Elliott.

Ten laps later, a heated battle for the lead ignited between Elliott and Hamlin as Hamlin drew his No. 11 FedEx Toyota TRD Camry alongside Elliott’s Chevrolet and tried to clear him for the lead through the frontstretch and entering Turn 1. Despite Elliott’s attempt to stall his momentum, Hamlin prevailed during the following lap through Turns 3 and 4 as he became the third different leader of the event with the clean air to his advantage.

When the first stage concluded on Lap 130, Hamlin, who came into Martinsville five points below the top-four cutline to advance to the Championship 4 round, claimed his fourth stage victory of the 2022 season as he received critical stage points to keep his title hopes alive. Elliott settled in second while Custer, Larson, Briscoe, Keselowski, Bell, Blaney, Chastain and Suarez were scored in the top 10. By then, six of eight Playoff competitors were scored in the top 10 and received the first wave of stage points while the remaining Playoff competitors that included Logano and Byron were in 13th and 18th, respectively. By then, Byron had been lapped by Hamlin as only 17 of 36 starters were scored on the lead lap.

Under the stage break, the field led by Hamlin pitted for the first time of the event. Following the pit stops, Hamlin retained the lead after exiting pit road first followed by Elliott, Larson, Custer, Keselowski and Bell. In addition, Briscoe, who came into the event 44 points below the cutline and in a “must-win” situation, was penalized for his gas can out of his pit box while Playoff competitors Blaney and Bell made slight contact on pit road.

The second stage started on Lap 139 as Hamlin and Elliott occupied the front row. At the start, Hamlin retained the lead over Elliott and Larson as the field behind jostled for positions. In the process, Bell, who came into the event 33 points below the cutline and in a “must-win” situation, moved his No. 20 DeWalt Toyota TRD Camry into the top five in fifth behind Custer and in front of Keselowski.

Twenty-one laps later, Hamlin was out in front by more than a second over Elliott followed by Larson, Custer and Bell while Keselowski, Blaney, Suarez, Logano and Chastain were running in the top 10. Meanwhile, Harvick was in 11th ahead of teammate Almirola, Burton, Wallace and rookie Todd Gilliland while McDowell, Byron and Briscoe rounded out the competitors running on the lead lap. By then, LaJoie and Austin Dillon, both of whom were the first two competitors a lap behind the leaders, rounded out the top 20.

Another 10 laps later and by Lap 175, Hamlin continued to lead by six-tenths of a second over Elliott while Larson, Custer and Bell remained in the top five. By then, all eight Playoff competitors continued to run no lower than 18th place and on the lead lap, with six scored in the top 10 on the track.

Just past the Lap 190 mark, Tyler Reddick took his No. 8 3Chi Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 into the garage due to feeling under weather as he was transported to the infield care center.

At the Lap 200 mark, Hamlin retained the lead by more than two seconds over Elliott while Larson, Custer and Bell continued to run in the top five. By then, Playoff competitors Hamlin, Elliott, Bell, Blaney, Logano and Chastain were scored in the top 10 while Byron and Briscoe were mired back in 17th and 18th.

By Lap 225, Hamlin stabilized his advantage to more than three seconds over runner-up Elliott and more than five seconds over Larson. By then, Byron and Briscoe, both of whom remained in 17th and 18th, were lapped by the leaders.

At the halfway mark on Lap 250, Hamlin continued to lead by more than four seconds over followed by Larson, Custer and Bell while Blaney, Keselowski, Logano, Suarez and Chastain were in the top 10. Behind, Wallace was in 11th ahead of Almirola, Harvick, Burton and Gilliland wile McDowel, Byron, Briscoe, Austin Dillon and LaJoie rounded out the top 20. Meanwhile, Erik Jones, Truex, Stenhouse, Gibbs and Buescher occupied the top 25 in front of Gragson, Cindric was mired in 29th and Kyle Busch was back in 34th and six laps down while dealing with an ill-handling No. 18 M&M’s Toyota TRD Camry.

When the second stage concluded on Lap 260, Hamlin captured his fifth stage victory of the 2022 season as he swept both stages and earned another round of critical stage points to his championship hopes. Elliott settled in second while Larson, Custer, Bell, Blaney, Keselowski, Logano, Suarez and Chastain were scored in the top 10. By then, 13 competitors were scored on the lead lap. In addition, six of eight Playoff competitors earned a second wave of Playoff points while Byron and Briscoe were not on the lead lap and mired back in the top 20.

Under the stage break, the field led by Hamlin pitted for the second time of the event. Following the pit stops, Hamlin retained the lead after exiting pit road first with a large advantage followed by Larson, Elliott, Blaney, Custer and Logano.

With 229 laps remaining, the final stage started as Hamlin and Larson occupied the front row. At the start, Hamlin rocketed with the lead and Elliott challenged teammate Larson for the runner-up spot after Larson struggled to come up to speed at the start. Behind, Custer and Blaney battled for fourth in front of Bell while Logano battled Keselowski and Chastain for seventh. 

Two laps later, the first caution not related to a stage break flew when Chastain got into Keselowski as Keselowski, who was vying for eighth place, spun and made light contact with the outside wall. During the caution period, names that included Logano, Byron, Chastain and Keselowski pitted while the rest led by Hamlin remained on the track. Logano would return to pit road for a second time to address a fire to the left front of his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang.

When the race restarted under green with 220 laps remaining, Hamlin retained the lead over Elliott and the field.

With 200 laps remaining, Hamlin was out in front by seven-tenths of a second over Elliott followed by Bell, Custer and Blaney while Larson, Suarez, Wallace, Almirola and Burton were scored in the top 10. Behind, Harvick, Keselowski, Chastain, Logano and Byron rounded out the top 15 and as the last round of competitors scored on the lead lap while Playoff competitor Briscoe was mired a lap down in 16th in front of Gilliland, McDowell, Austin Dillon, Gibbs, Erik Jones, Truex, LaJoie, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Haley.

Nineteen laps later, the caution flew when Austin Dillon got loose and pounded the outside wall entering Turn 4 hard due to a front rotor issue, though he emerged uninjured. During the caution period, the leaders led by Hamlin pitted. Following the pit stops, Bell emerged as the new leader after exiting first just ahead of Blaney and Elliott while Hamlin exited in fourth place ahead of Larson and Custer.

During the following restart with 171 laps remaining, Bell took off with the lead followed by a side-by-side battle against Blaney and Elliott for the runner-up spot while Larson and Hamlin dueled for fourth place. Not long after, Elliott cleared Blaney for second while Larson moved into fourth over Hamlin as Custer joined the battle.

With 150 laps remaining, Bell was leading by nine-tenths of a second over Elliott followed by Blaney, Hamlin and Larson while Suarez, Custer, Wallace, Almirola and Logano occupied the top 10. By then, all eight Playoff competitors were scored on the lead lap and no lower than 16th place, which was occupied by Briscoe, while Chastain and Byron were in 13th and 14th.

Twenty-five laps later, Bell, who remained in a “must-win” situation to maintain his title hopes, continued to lead by two-and-a-half seconds over Elliott while Blaney, Hamlin and Larson remained in the top five.

Then with 107 laps remaining, the caution flew when JJ Yeley spun in Turn 3. Under caution, the leaders led by Bell returned to pit road. Following the pit stops, Bell retained the lead after exiting pit road first followed by Blaney, Elliott, Larson, Wallace and Hamlin.

Down to the final 97 laps of the event, the race proceeded under green as Bell and Blaney, both of whom were placed in a “must-win” situation to transfer to the championship finale round, occupied the front row. At the start, Bell and Blaney dueled for the lead in front of Elliott, Larson and Hamlin while Logano and Keselowski marched to the front on the outside lane as they challenged Wallace for sixth. As the field jostled for late spots, Bell managed to clear Blaney and retain the lead.

With 75 laps remaining, Bell retained the lead by a second over Blaney followed by Elliott, Larson and Hamlin while Wallace, Keselowski, Logano, Custer and Briscoe were scored in the top 10. By then, all eight Playoff competitors were running no lower than 13th, which was occupied by Chastain as Byron was in 11th.

Twenty-five laps later and with 50 laps remaining, Bell continued to lead by three-tenths of a second over Blaney while Elliott, Larson and Hamlin remained in the top five. The remaining Playoff competitors that included Logano, Briscoe, Byron and Chastain were running eighth, 10th, 11th and 12th, respectively, as a total of 17 of 36 starters were currently scored on the lead lap.

Then with 34 laps remaining, the caution flew when Landon Cassill pounded the outside wall hard in Turn 3 as his damaged No. 77 Nations Guard Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 came to a halt with the driver emerging uninjured. During the caution period, the majority of the field led by Bell returned to pit road and Larson exited first following a two-tire pit stop followed by Keselowski, Byron, Bell, Blaney and Elliott. Bacon the track, however, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Briscoe and Custer remained on the track as they emerged as the new leaders. During the pit stops, Hamlin endured a slow pit stop as he was mired back in 12th behind Chastain.

Down to the final 24 laps of the event, the race restarted under green. At the start, Briscoe retained the lead while teammate Custer was able to fend off Larson and Keselowski to hold the runner-up spot ahead of a hungry pack of competitors running through two tight lanes.

A few laps later, a heated side-by-side battle for a spot for the Championship 4 round ensued between Hamlin and Chastain as both made contact and refused to give an inch to one another. With Hamlin eventually prevailing for 11th and needing to finish within four spots ahead of Chastain to transfer to the finale, Briscoe continued to lead by half a second over teammate Custer. Soon after, Keselowski, Bell, Larson and Blaney began to challenge one another for third place as both Blaney and Bell were placed in deficits of not transferring to the finale along with Byron and Hamlin.

Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Briscoe was leading by half a second over Keselowski and eight-tenths of a second over third-place Bell. Behind, Hamlin overtook Logano for eighth place, which made him above the cutline by a single point over Chastain, who was in 12th.

Two laps later, Bell rocketed past Keselowski for the runner-up spot as he had his sights on Briscoe for the lead and a spot to the championship finale. Another three laps later, Bell shoved his No. 20 Toyota beneath Briscoe’s No. 14 Ford with contact ensuing as he reassumed the lead and moved back into the cutline, thus kicking Briscoe back below the cutline. Meanwhile, Chastain challenged Elliott for 11th, which he prevailed as he moved back into the cutline in a tie-breaker over Hamlin. Hamlin, however, responded back by overtaking Logano, Briscoe and Byron to move into fifth place, which put him back into the cutline by two points. 

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Bell remained as the leader by eight-tenths of a second over Larson. Having four fresh tires to his advantage and executing when it mattered most, Bell was able to cycle his way back to the frontstretch and claim his spot for the championship finale with his third checkered flag of the 2022 season.

Just then, Chastain, who was running in 10th place and on the verge of being eliminated from title contention by two points, floored his No. 1 Moose Fraternity Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 against the outside wall through Turns 3 and 4, which he rode and scraped his car against the wall at full speed as he gained five spots in the process. In the process, Chastain also overtook Hamlin as he finished in fifth place, which was more than enough for Chastain to grab the fourth and final transfer spot to the Championship 4 round by four points over Hamlin. 

With his bold move and the spots gained on the final lap and final corner, Chastain will make his first career appearance in the Championship 4 round as he will contend for his first NASCAR Cup Series championship along with Trackhouse Racing, which is in its second year of NASCAR competition. Hamlin, meanwhile, ended up being the first competitor to be eliminated from title contention as he still pursues his first elusive Cup title.

“[I] Played a lot of NASCAR 2005 on the game cube with [brother] Chad growing up and you could get away with it,” Chastain said on NBC. “I never knew if [the move] would actually work. I did that [move] when I was eight years old. I grabbed fifth gear. I asked off of [Turn] 2 on the last lap if we needed it and we did. I couldn’t tell who was leading. I made my choice, I grabbed fifth gear down the [backstretch] and full committed. Once I got up against the wall, I basically let go of the [steering] wheel and just hoped that it didn’t catch the Turn 4 access gate or something crazy, but I was willing to do it for this Trackhouse group. Today for our Moose Chevy, we didn’t have what we needed. Just glad we could do whatever we could do. All we asked for is a chance…To be here fighting for a championship now, it’s just so surreal. I just cannot believe that we have a chance to fight for a championship. We kept our world small today and this year so far. We’ll do the same thing going into Phoenix.”

Photo by John Knittel for SpeedwayMedia.com.

“You gotta execute all day,” Hamlin, who finished sixth, said. “We just didn’t control the race when we had control of it. Each caution, we just kept losing some spots. It’s the way it is, but thank [crew chief] Chris Gabehart and [the] whole FedEx Camry team for giving me a really fast car today. It was just unbelievable when it was out front. [I] Couldn’t quite hang on to it there on pit road. Hopefully, [Bell] can carry the [championship] banner for us…It’s what racing is here at Martinsville. [I’m] Actually pretty happy with how somewhat clean it was there towards the end as crazy as it was with guys on different tires. [I] Can’t say enough for my team to give us a shot. We were in the 20s for most of this season in points just because of our up-and-down execution, but we’re gonna end up fifth in points. It is what it is. Great move [for Chastain]. When you have no other choice, it certainly is easy to do that, but well-executed.”  

Photo by John Knittel for SpeedwayMedia.com.

While Chastain celebrated on pit road, Bell celebrated his race victory on the track as he claimed his fourth Cup Series career victory and first at Martinsville. In the process, Bell recorded the 200th NASCAR Cup career win for Joe Gibbs Racing as he also will make his first appearance in the Championship 4 round as a title contender.

“Mom and dad, we did it!” Bell, who fought back tears of joy, exclaimed. “I can’t believe it, man. To come here to Martinsville. This place has always been so tough on me. [During] pre-race, I was looking up and seeing all the fans. This place is packed. I don’t even know what to say. Thank you so much to DeWalt, Rheem, Toyota, everyone on this Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 team. They believe in me since day one. Very appreciative to be here. I don’t even know what to say…This entire No. 20 group. They never give up. [When] Our backs [are] against the wall and it looks like it’s over, they show up and give me the fastest car out here. Words can’t describe this feeling.”

Photo by John Knittel for SpeedwayMedia.com.

Also transferring to the Championship 4 round was Chase Elliott, who finished 11th as he will square off against Joey Logano, Bell and Chastain for his second Cup title.

“We just got back a little further than we had been throughout the day,” Elliott, who transferred by four points, said. “Track position was everything unless you were just a couple of guys. I thought it was really a solid day. We did what we needed to do, I guess, on the driver’s side. Nice to have a shot at the driver’s championship next weekend. Nonetheless, [I’m] Excited to get out there [to Phoenix] and give it our best shot to try to get another big trophy. We’ll be ready to go come next weekend. I don’t have any doubt about that.”

Hamlin joins William Byron, Ryan Blaney and Chase Briscoe as the remaining four competitors to be eliminated from title contention and not moving past the Round of 8 in the Playoffs.

“We didn’t start off very good,” Blaney, who rallied to finish third but missed the cutline by 26 points, said. “I think we kind of faded at the end of the first stage. We got better and better all night, which is good. We had a shot to grab the lead there before the last caution. I just couldn’t get around [Bell] and kind of burned my stuff off trying to pass [Bell]. Then, just a wild restart and just didn’t get through the traffic as quickly as Bell did and he ended up winning the race. Proud of the Discount Tire guys. I put us in a bad spot the first two races of this round and we almost had a really good night to where we could move on. Appreciate their support. It stinks not making it to the Final Four, but we’ll learn and hopefully apply the good things next year.”

“I needed probably eight less laps,” Briscoe, who fell back to 10th and missed the cutline by 61 points, added. “That would’ve been nice. If I would have known that move that Ross did worked, I would have just done that for eight more laps. I just fell off a cliff pretty hard. Just couldn’t hold them guys off with new tires. I just didn’t have the forward-drive or getting the side bite to hold them off. Proud of our team. We were in position there at the end to potentially capitalize on it. Win as a team, lose as a team. [We’ll] Go to Phoenix next week and see if we can win.” 

“We just didn’t have it, unfortunately,” Byron, who ended up 11th and missed the cutline by 21 points, said. “[We] Put a lot of effort in and it just wasn’t anything like we had here in the spring. Just struggled. The first couple stages, I knew it was gonna be a grind. The best thing we could do was try to put ourselves in a position in the top five late where, hopefully, the leaders get together. Just unfortunately not enough all day. That’s just the way it goes sometimes…Just got to learn from it. It’s been a good run for us. Unfortunately, it wasn’t our best.”

Larson, who will contend for an owners’ title next weekend at Phoenix, came home in second place on the track behind Bell while Blaney, Keselowski and Chastain finished in the top five. Hamlin, Logano, Byron, Wallace and Briscoe completed the top 10 while Elliott settled in 11th. Following the race and the post-race inspection process, Keselowski was disqualified due to his car failing to meet minimum weight as he was demoted to 36th place, dead last.

There were eight lead changes for five different leaders. The race featured six cautions for 53 laps.

Results.

1. Christopher Bell, 150 laps led

2. Kyle Larson, 68 laps led

3. Ryan Blaney

4. Ross Chastain

5. Denny Hamlin, 203 laps led, Stage 1 & 2 winner

6. Joey Logano

7. William Byron

8. Bubba Wallace

9. Chase Briscoe, 25 laps led

10. Chase Elliott, 54 laps led

11. Harrison Burton

12. Daniel Suarez

13. Todd Gilliland

14. Cole Custer

15. Aric Almirola

16. Kevin Harvick

17. Michael McDowell

18. Erik Jones, two laps down

19. Ty Gibbs, two laps down

20. Martin Truex Jr., two laps down

21. Corey LaJoie, two laps down

22. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., two laps down

23. AJ Allmendinger, two laps down

24. Chris Buescher, three laps down

25. Noah Gragson, three laps down

26. Austin Cindric, three laps down

27. Justin Haley, three laps down

28. Cody Ware, five laps down

29. Kyle Busch, six laps down

30. JJ Yeley, 12 laps down

31. Ty Dillon – OUT, Brakes

32. Landon Cassill – OUT, Accident

33. Austin Dillon – OUT, Accident

34. BJ McLeod – OUT, Fire

35. Tyler Reddick – OUT, Accident

36. Brad Keselowski – Disqualified

*Bold indicates Playoff contenders

Playoff standings

1. Joey Logano – Advanced

2. Christopher Bell – Advanced

3. Chase Elliott – Advanced

4. Ross Chastain – Advanced

5. Denny Hamlin – Eliminated

6. William Byron – Eliminated

7. Ryan Blaney – Eliminated

8. Chase Briscoe – Eliminated

With the Championship 4 field set, the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season is set to conclude at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, November 6, where a champion will be crowned. The event is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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