Christopher Bell wins his way into NASCAR’s Championship 4 at Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, VIRGINIA - OCTOBER 30: Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 DeWalt Toyota, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 30, 2022 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)

For the second time in NASCAR’s 2022 Playoffs Christopher Bell needed a clutch win and got just that Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.

Bell entered the day below the cutline to make the Championship 4 and needed nothing short of a win to advance.  And that’s just what he did.

Bell will join Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, and Ross Chastain in NASCAR’s Championship 4 at Phoenix in one week.

Bell led a total of 150 laps and was leading with 24 laps to go when the race’s sixth and final caution came out for Landon Cassill spinning. Chase Briscoe also needing a win to advance stayed out, while Bell was among the majority of the lead group who pitted for fresh tires.

Briscoe led on the restart with 24 to go and held on valiantly but the old tires couldn’t hold up and Bell took the lead from Briscoe with 4 laps to go and held on to win over Kyle Larson who started from pole, followed by Playoff driver Ryan Blaney, and Brad Keselowski.

The fifth-place finisher pulled what is already being called the “move of the century.”

For much of the second half race the final Playoff spot belonged to either Denny Hamlin or Ross Chastain. Hamlin was in control of the race, and the Playoff spot, for much of the first half of the 500 laps. He led 203 laps and swept both Stages, but slow pit stops doomed his chances.

In the final laps Hamlin was in front of Chastain and held the spot by one place, but on the final lap, Chastain pulled a move that had to be seen to be believed.

Entering Turn 3 Chastain floored the gas, sending his car into the outside wall, careening along the concrete and sending him from 10th to fifth, one spot ahead of Hamlin knocking Hamlin out off the Playoffs and putting himself in.

“You got to execute all day,” Hamlin said.  “We just didn’t control the race when we had control of it. Each caution we just kept losing some spots. That’s the way it is.”

Unfortunately for owner/driver Brad Keselowski, his Ford failed post-race inspection after NASCAR found the car didn’t meet the minimum weight requirements per NASCAR Rule Book Section 14.11.2. He was disqualified and moved to a 36th place finish moving every finisher behind him up one spot. That meant Chastain finished the day in fourth, followed by Hamlin, Logano, Byron, Bubba Wallace, Briscoe and Elliott rounding out the top 10.

Bell also needed a win to advance earlier in the Playoffs and did just that at Charlotte’s ROVAL earlier this month. Sunday, he did the same, and now will have a chance to win it all at Phoenix.

“Mom and dad, we did it, wow,” an emotional Bell said at the start finish line. “I can’t believe it, man. To come here in Martinsville, this place has always been so tough on me. Just pre-race looking up, seeing all the fans, this place is packed.

“I don’t even know what to say. Just thank you so much to DeWalt, Rheem, Toyota, everyone on this Joe Gibbs Racing 20 team. They believed in me since day one.

“We went to Xfinity and did pretty well, struggled on the Cup side for the first little bit. They stayed with me. Very appreciative to be here. I don’t even know what to say.”

Joining Hamlin and Briscoe in elimination was William Byron and Ryan Blaney.

Photos: NASCAR at Martinsville Speedway Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022

NASCAR Cup Series Race Results Xfinity 500
Martinsville Speedway
Martinsville, Virginia
Sunday, October 30, 2022

1. (20) Christopher Bell (P), Toyota, 500.
2. (1) Kyle Larson (P), Chevrolet, 500.
3. (4) Ryan Blaney (P), Ford, 500.
4. (9) Ross Chastain (P), Chevrolet, 500.
5. (11) Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, 500.
6. (12) Joey Logano (P), Ford, 500.
7. (25) William Byron (P), Chevrolet, 500.
8. (24) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 500.
9. (3) Chase Briscoe (P), Ford, 500.
10. (2) Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 500.
11. (10) Harrison Burton #, Ford, 500.
12. (7) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 500.
13. (19) Todd Gilliland #, Ford, 500.
14. (5) Cole Custer, Ford, 500.
15. (15) Aric Almirola, Ford, 500.
16. (8) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 500.
17. (13) Michael McDowell, Ford, 500.
18. (23) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 498.
19. (26) Ty Gibbs(i), Toyota, 498.
20. (27) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 498.
21. (14) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 498.
22. (31) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 498.
23. (21) AJ Allmendinger(i), Chevrolet, 498.
24. (22) Chris Buescher, Ford, 497.
25. (17) Noah Gragson(i), Chevrolet, 497.
26. (30) Austin Cindric #, Ford, 497.
27. (29) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 497.
28. (36) Cody Ware, Ford, 495.
29. (18) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 494.
30. (35) JJ Yeley(i), Ford, 488.
31. (32) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, Brakes, 466.
32. (33) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 460.
33. (16) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, Accident, 316.
34. (34) BJ McLeod(i), Ford, Fire, 225.
35. (28) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, Accident, 188.
36. (6) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 500.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 77.239 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 24 Mins, 18 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.869 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 6 for 53 laps.
Lead Changes: 8 among 5 drivers.
Lap Leaders: K. Larson (P) 1-68;C. Elliott (P) 69-120;D. Hamlin (P) 121-323;C. Bell (P) 324-395;C. Elliott (P) 396;C. Bell (P) 397-469;C. Elliott (P) 470;C. Briscoe (P) 471-495;C. Bell (P) 496-500.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Denny Hamlin (P) 1 time for 203 laps; Christopher Bell (P) 3 times for 150 laps; Kyle Larson (P) 1 time for 68 laps; Chase Elliott (P) 3 times for 54 laps; Chase Briscoe (P) 1 time for 25 laps.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 11,9,41,5,14,20,12,1,99,10
Stage #2 Top Ten: 11,9,5,41,20,12,22,1,99,45


Greg Engle