Midway through the NASCAR Cup Series’ 4EVER 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, a struggling Christopher Bell would have dismissed any idea of being able to win at the end.
“Heck, no,” said Bell. “I can’t even say I was thinking of a win at any point in the day except maybe the last 10 laps.”
However, through a string of unexpected situations, the 28-year-old managed to break free of William Byron on the final restart to score his second victory of the season and advance into the championship round. He led only 26 of the 267 laps.
After starting the race in 13th, Bell found his way into the top 10 to attain points after the stage one caution at lap 78. Then the spiral began through a series of pit stop adjustments that unsettled the balance of the car, leaving Bell at the mercy of falling one lap down.
But, it was resiliency that pushed the No.20 team forward despite the challenges.
“It says a lot, that’s for sure,” the Norman, Oklahoma native said. “Wow, I mean, today was just a whirlwind, for sure. It was just incredible the difference a couple pit stop adjustments will do to your car.”
This is Bell’s second win of the season after his first came at the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt track in April. The victory puts him back in the Championship 4 round at Phoenix Raceway for the second straight year. He finished third out of the four championship drivers last season.
As Bell approaches another title opportunity in two weeks, he believes this time will be much better than the last.
“I feel like we’re going to be better than what we were last year. That was a bad race for us,” said Bell. “We were in the Final 4 but we did not have the pace that we needed to compete for that event. I have way more confidence going into Phoenix this year than I did last year.”
Bell’s fortune in the waning laps traded with the misfortune that struck teammates Denny Hamlin and pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr.
Hamlin suffered a blown right front tire at lap 235, sending him up the 18 to 20 degrees of banking and into the outside wall. As the field paced around under caution, Truex Jr. ‘s engine expired, forcing him to enter pit road and retire from the race.
Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway was the second race in the Round of 8. After next weekend’s race, the playoff group will go from eight to four. Hamlin and Truex Jr. are 17 points beneath the cutline going into Martinsville.
2022 winner Kyle Larson also retired late in the race. He led a staggering 96 laps before following Ryan Blaney into the pit lane at lap 213. As Larson hit the brakes, the wheels locked up and produced a plume of smoke as he pummeled the sand barrels at the beginning of the pit road wall.
Larson is locked into the championship round after winning at Las Vegas last week, but still felt disappointed by the mistake.
“I’m pretty upset at myself, more than anything,” said Larson. “Whether he got to pit-road speed sooner than the yellow line or not, I could have just done a little bit better job judging it.”
Prior to the Cup Series event on Saturday, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck and Xfinity Series ran a doubleheader in their respective playoff races.
Miami native Nick Sanchez led the truck series field to green for the Baptist Health 200, but it was Niece Motorsports’ Carson Hocever that picked up his fourth win of the season. Hocevar will advance to the Craftsman Truck series championship round.
The same goes for Jr Motorsports driver Sam Mayer who also gathered his fourth win of the year at the speedway. Mayer’s previous three wins all came at road course tracks, but he was able to hold off a charging Riley Herbst in the final laps for his first oval victory.
“We just have that get after it mentality,” said Mayer after his fourth career series win. “Every race that we said we had to win, we went out there and won it, so we’re going to say the same thing at Phoenix.”
The NASCAR Xfinity and Cup Series will ship to Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, VA from Oct. 28-29 for the Dead On Tools 250 and the Xfinity 500. USA Network and NBC will broadcast the events. Tickets are available here.