NASCAR Cup Series
One Less Spot, Two Races Left to Make the Final Four
Oct 17, 2022
The retaliatory act Bubba Wallace committed against Kyle Larson on Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway had an unintended consequence in the form of also crashing out of contention playoff driver Christopher Bell.
When Wallace drove down to right rear hook Larson, it spun Larson in front of Bell, eliminating all three from contention. It also put Bell in a 22-point playoff deficit with two races remaining to make the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway.
During a media availability on Wednesday, Bell says Wallace apologized in person on Sunday night and in front of the entire Toyota Racing Development group on Monday.
"We actually flew home together on Sunday night and he did apologize Sunday, and then he addressed our entire group on Monday in the competition meeting," Bell said. "He just apologized for what went down and the fact that we got taken out in his unfortunate circumstances."
Wallace was suspended for one race, this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and will be replaced in the No. 45 car by John Hunter Nemechek. The team has opted not to appeal the penalty.
For Bell, it continued a whirlwind playoff run that saw his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 team lead the standings in the first round but needing to win the final race of the second round to advance, and then this happens in the first race of the third round.
"I'm feeling okay now, but Sunday and Monday, I was just incredibly sad," Bell said. "Just sad and disappointed because we had it in the grasp of our hands, a good finish at Vegas in our hands, doing everything we needed to do to get in position to go race for the championship at Phoenix.
"It's gone now, and it's going to be very difficult to get there. I feel more optimistic now that time has passed and competing for a win at Homestead, but I was definitely sad. Very very sad."
Is it gone or just difficult?
"After the last round, I haven't written it off and we're in a much better spot than after Texas or Talladega in the last round, so it's not over but it certainly got a lot more difficult.
"It appears we're going to have to win, but I feel a lot better about having the opportunity to win at Martinsville or Homestead than I did the ROVAL or Talladega."
With all of that said, Bell said he has only one setting when he puts the helmet on, and that’s the setting he will operate under the next two weeks.
"Even with the ROVAL, I was extremely down, but when it was time, I performed at my best," Bell said. "Yeah, I'm going into Homestead with the same mentality, regardless of where we're at in the standings or what our position is, I have to perform at my best and I want to.
"It's another opportunity to win a race and that's what I want to do, I want to win."
On a positive side, Bell has signed an extension to remain in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 for multiple years, and it’s something that has come to great relief to the Toyota homegrown talent.
"It's a huge, huge deal for me to have a team believe in me and give me a long-term contract," Bell said. "I'm very grateful for that."
And despite the circumstances in the past two rounds, few teams have had the raw speed and performance that Bell, crew chief Adam Stevens and company have, and that’s indicative of a veteran group starting to gel for the future, no matter what happens next.
"Having practice week in and week out has allowed Adam to dial in what I need out of a race car to be successful, along with William and Tyler, our engineers, figure out what I need to get good lap times regardless of the track," Bell said. "This past week, we were a little bit off, but giving them my feedback, we made changes, qualified well and were strong in the race.
"Practice and qualifying has allowed us to gel and now we're going strong."