NASCAR Cup Series
Kyle Larson Eliminated from Cup Playoffs After Chaotic Finish
Oct 10, 2022
Winning the Bank of America ROVAL 400 on Sunday was satisfying to Christopher Bell for a multitude of reasons, arguably least of all for the fact it dramatically kept his Cup Series championship hopes alive.
He entered the weekend facing a must-win dynamic to advance into the Round of 8 and did everything he needed to do even if it wasn’t exactly straightforward -- needing a pair of fortuitous late cautions and fresher tires to make it happen.
But there were some other reasons Bell felt incredibly proud to have found himself in Victory Lane at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.
For one, despite how far he has come in making himself a competitive road racer, Bell found himself in the same situation as everyone else driving a Toyota this season, struggling to find race winning speed at the previous road courses this season.
Sure, the fresher tires helped, but it was all the more rewarding to advance in walk-off fashion at a track he expected to have no shot at when he woke up on Sunday morning. It was a fait accompli in his mind that all hope was lost.
Not even encouragement from sponsor Dewalt could convince him otherwise. Stanley Black & Decker marketing executive Tony Merritt spent the week sending encouragement to his driver to mixed results.
"He had been texting me throughout the week," Bell said. "And he's like, ‘Man, we're not out, we're going to win, we're going to win’ but I didn't see it coming. Like, the road courses all year long, we had not been strong.
"Normally they're good for me. Like last year with the Gen-6 car, I got my first road course win and competed for several more but it wasn’t happening this year.
It wasn’t until it did when it mattered the most.
"You see races all the time where the fastest car doesn't win," Bell added. "I did keep reminding myself that; that we're not expecting to be a dominant car or a race-winning car, but as long as you're there at the end of the race, as long as you hang out, put yourself in position, you never know w
hat's going to happen.
"It worked out (that) we were the first car on (fresher) tires and I was able to carve through them."
The win also had a layer of personal satisfaction for another reason. The Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 has been a revolving door for the past decade. Matt Kenseth was effectively forced into retirement to make room for Erik Jones after 2017, who himself was cut to make room for Jones after 2020.
Like Jones before him, Bell thus far has been unable to reach the same level of success as his veteran teammates. He’s aware of the social media chatter that has him destined to be the next in a long line of recent JGR No. 20 drivers forced to seek out opportunities elsewhere.
Joey Logano, too.
"I think a lot of people had written me off as a driver," Bell said. "They had written the 20 car off, 'oh Christopher is going to get fired.' I get that all the time, that I'm getting replaced (and) the 20 car is the revolving door. 'He's going to be out of here.'
"Maybe I'll get to stick around a little bit longer."
He said that with a laugh, but you know Bell has to feel a certain degree of confidence to be racing for a championship when his championship winning teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch are not. Busch didn’t make it out of the first round and Truex never made it into it.
His crew chief, Adam Stevens, oversaw both Cup Series championships for Busch and truly expects Bell to reach that level too.
"If it's just on pure talent and ambition and dedication, he can win as many races as he runs because he has so much skill," Stevens said. "There's not a place we go that he's not capable of winning. There's nothing that you ask of him that is delayed or out of reach or something he doesn't want to do if it means getting better.
"The sky is definitely the limit. He's young. He's getting better at a tremendous rate. He's already extremely good. You can't hide the talent that he has."
Sounds like someone expected to stick around.
It’s remarkable really that Bell was even facing this must-win scenario in the first place because he was the points leader through the Round of 16. Then came the points reset and a pair of disastrous results at Texas and Talladega.
This entire season has been a rollercoaster, as Bell was inside the top-10 of the championship standings without a win in a regular season that not even third place in points would have been safe without getting to Victory Lane.
Bell previously won at Loudon this summer, six races until the final race of the regular season, and already starting to face the prospects of a must-win scenario to even make the Field of 16. The No. 20 has continued to respond to the pressure cooler environment and looks like a bonafide threat to win the whole thing after scoring their second victory of the season.
"I don't think we're done," Bell said. "A two-win season is not our end goal. I think that we're certainly capable of more. I want to be a household name in the Cup Series. Hopefully this is just the start."
Bell says he feels really good about Homestead, Las Vegas and Martinsville. He is basically playing with house money the next four week and he knows it too.
"I mean, we're still alive," Bell said. "That feels really good. I wouldn't have guessed that a week ago or even five hours ago. I mean, I like our chances. All the rest of the races play out really good for us. We just have to execute and dot our Is and cross our Ts, see where the cards fall."
And while he believes in himself and his team, the next four weeks goes back to what Merritt told him earlier in the week in that he has a chance because he’s in the game.
Christopher Bell may or may not be one of the best eight, but he is amongst the Round of 8, which is more than even defending champion Kyle Larson can say after his Charlotte elimination.
"I I'm not surprised just because who would have thought Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch would be two of the guys out in the round of 16," Bell said. "Then Truex not making the Playoffs is mind-blowing, too. It's been a really, really odd year.
"Yeah, it's been an odd year, and definitely the eight that are remaining are probably not the eight top cars in the garage, but it's who's left standing."
Bell is still standing.