Bell, Elliott go from Playoff heroes to zeroes with DNFs at Texas

FORT WORTH, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 25: Chase Elliott, exits the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series Auto Trader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on September 25, 2022 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Two of NASCAR’s Cup series Playoff contenders had races to forget Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Christopher Bell seemed to be on top of the world. After finishing in the top five in all three of the first round of the Playoffs, he came into the second round as a favorite.

It all ended on lap 141 Sunday after Bell’s second spin of the day damaged his Toyota to the point that time ran out of the damaged vehicle policy and was scored with a DNF in 34th.

Bell’s first spin came on lap 71 when he was running seventh and lost a tire. He was able to recover and was again running seventh when he again lost a tire and ended up in the wall.

“That was disappointing,” Bell said. “I’m in a pretty bad spot now.”

“To have two right rears go in the first half of the race is very strange,” he added. “I don’t know. It’s a very disappointing day. We are probably going to be in a deep hole now.”

Bell said the first time the tire went down he had some warning, but not for the second.

“I would get a slight vibration seconds right before the tire went,” he said. “When it happened on the straightaway, I was able to get it slowed down before turn one, but the second one happened right in the middle of the turn. Very disappointing weekend. I was optimistic when they dropped the green flag. I had a pretty poor Saturday but felt like we had a lot of speed in our Rheem Camry to make a day out of it, but unfortunately, tires didn’t work our way.”

Chase Elliott came into the second round not only as a favorite but as the top seed after a second-place finish at Bristol. He had led 44 laps, the most on the day, when rain stopped the event on lap 220 and was leading on lap 184 when his Chevy lost a tire coming into turn 4 and he hit the wall hard. The car caught fire as Elliott tried to guide it to a stop on the front stretch. It came to rest of the ball field still burning, and Elliot was forced to exit the car, and was out of the race.

Despite a rash of tire failures both at Bristol, and Texas (Kyle Busch, and Cody Ware were also victims of blown tires), Elliott wouldn’t assign blame to the sports sole tire supplier.

“I’m not sure that Goodyear is at fault,” he said. “Goodyear always takes the black eye, but they’re put in a really tough position by NASCAR to build a tire that can survive these types of racetracks with this car. I wouldn’t blame Goodyear.”

He did confirm however that it was indeed a failed tire that put him out of the race with a 32nd place finish.

“Yeah, something came apart,” he said. “I could hear it flapping in the right rear fender well. I don’t know, but if it wasn’t down, it was certainly coming apart. One of the two.”

At that point in the race, Elliott had fallen from the top of the standings to just six points above the cutline with Talladega and Charlotte’s ROVAL left in the second round.

“It’s not a great position to be in for sure, but it is what it is now,” he said. “I hate it for our No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet team. We were actually decent here for once, so that was nice while it lasted. We’ll go to Talladega (Superspeedway) try to get a win and go on down the road.”

Bell admitted that his strategy would now have to change moving forward.

“It makes our decision easy on how to play Talladega,” he said.  “We were hoping to come out of here good and be able to ride around and just survive Talladega. We are going to have to race and get some stage points and be up front all day.”