Christopher Bell Misses Final Four Berth by One Car-Length After Epic Late-Race Pursuit
Christopher Bell will need two strong runs at Homestead and Martinsville if he hopes to return to the Final Four, after missing out on the win Sunday by 0.082 seconds.
Even with a second-place result in Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Christopher Bell leaves the opening race of the 'Round of 8' sitting three points below the cutline.
In pursuit of his second straight berth into the final round of the NASCAR Playoffs, Bell will likely reflect on the South Point 400 as a missed opportunity, even more should he fail to advance to Phoenix.
Over the final 25 laps of the event, the Norman, Oklahoma-native did a marvelous job of making any kind of charge, considering his pursuit of eventual race-winner Kyle Larson started from two-plus seconds behind.
Upon passing Brad Keselowski for second place, the driver of the No. 20 Toyota Camry began clicking off laps that were consistently a tenth of a second - or more - quicker than Larson, allowing the gap to close quickly.
In the closing moments of Sunday's race, an event that had looked like it was being replayed from the 2021 season, instantly became a high-stakes battle for a season-defining victory - perfect for Las Vegas.
The sprinkling of lapped traffic into the equation made the situation even more intense, as Bell continued to rapidly close the gap between the top two drivers in the final five laps.
Crossing under the white flag, the gap between the top two drivers was as close as it had been throughout the entire run, with Bell clearly within striking distance of the Hendrick Motorsports driver.
One lap later, Larson was the first driver to cross the start-finish line, coming home 0.082 seconds ahead of a determined Bell, who attempted to make moves to the outside on the frontstretch to get the victory.
"I mean, I don't know what else I could have done, so I don't know. I feel like that was my moment. That was my moment to make the Final Four. Didn't quite capture it," Bell said after the race. "I don't know, coming to the checkered there, I knew that he was going to be blocking, so I'm like, I'm going to try to go high. He went high. I don't even know if I had a run to get by him there coming to the line. Just wasn't enough."
Now, even though the disappointment is likely to linger until the series gets to Phoenix in three weeks, the task at hand has changed for Bell, who now needs to focus on earning solid finishes at Homestead and Martinsville.
Homestead-Miami Speedway hasn't exactly been the best track for Bell on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit, but the 28-year-old driver has finishes of eighth, 11th, and 20th in three starts at the track.
However, the following weekend's event at Martinsville Speedway could be another strong opportunity for Bell, who won at the half-mile paperclip last season, when needing a walk-off win to advance to Phoenix.
"A great day, great day for sure to get the stage points, get a second-place finish out of it. I think I saw we’re minus [four], so we’re not out of it by any means. It would have been nice to lock in," added Bell.
Image Credit: Craig White, Racing America