NASCAR Cup Series
Drivers: Ross Chastain's Martinsville Move Opens Can of Worms
Oct 31, 2022
It’s arguably the greatest clutch performance of the past decade in NASCAR and it’s one more win away from objectively all-time status.
When it matters the most this season, Christopher Bell parks it in Victory Lane.
The trend actually dates back to July when it became apparent that Bell would have to win a race to qualify into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs and broke through at New Hampshire. The Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 team felt like something of an afterthought once the playoffs began but responded by scoring the most points and leading the standings before the first reset.
Then came the adversity of the second round, facing a must-win scenario at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. Bell responding by winning his way into the second round. Then came the adversity of the third round, getting caught up in the Bubba Wallace - Kyle Larson mess, needing to win on Sunday at Martinsville and closing out again.
All three wins this season came under the most desperate of circumstances once points were no longer a consideration.
"I don't think it's sank in yet," Bell said. "One thing that is very unique about the Playoff system and the wins that we have had, you know, at least for me, I don't feel like I've won a Cup race yet.
"I feel like I transferred into the Playoffs and get to race for a championship. In a way the Playoffs overshadow the race wins. Whenever you have a race win in the regular season, it's cherished and you feel like it's a big deal, where winning a race in the Playoffs, especially the way that we did, you eventually realize wow, we've won three races this year."
And part of that sentiment is the lingering frustrations over how the season started.
It’s wild to realize that the No. 20 is one of the final four drivers remaining in the championship hunt because the Adam Stevens led crew was 30th in the standings after five races. In fact, Bell finds him a little hard to believe because he was a little on tilt after that five-race stretch.
"As a team, though, we knew that we had what we needed," Stevens said. "I remember telling Bell when we were 32nd in points, he was distraught and concerned, I'm like, 'Dude, I do not know what you're worried about. We have the performance, and the capability is right there, you're just having trouble seeing it.'"
Does Bell remember that one conversation?
"Yeah, you were definitely a lot more positive than I was in that moment," Bell recalled.
The two-time Cup Series championship winning crew chief never wavered on that conviction and methodically began stringing results together through the summer months. The team was essentially battle tested when it became time to start facing those must-win scenarios approaching the fall.
"Compared to the beginning of the season, we weren't that far off," Stevens said. "We suffered for finishing; we didn't suffer for performance. It's been there. It's been there the whole time. We just haven't had as many opportunities to show it as maybe we felt like we deserved or had coming to us. Hopefully we got one more in us."
His driver is certainly prepared for the moment.
It’s kind of like his decade of Chili Bowl starts in that all week he’s chasing passing points and potentially transferring into the main from the alphabet soup before simply trying to win the feature. Bell has run the gamut in this alphabet soup and faces an oddly familiar and comfortable circumstances.
It’s another must-win scenario and Bell is playing with house money.
"Man, I say it all the time, but the driver is just a small piece of the puzzle for these races," Bell said. "The reason why this car won today is because it was the best car on the racetrack. Adam Stevens, Tyler (Allen), William (Hartman and) this entire 20 group, they just never give up. When our back is against the wall, looks like it's over, they show up and give me the fastest car out here."
It’s the greatest collection of clutch racers assembled in NASCAR right now.