CONCORD, North Carolina — Christopher Bell was down and out. He wasn’t a legitimate race winning threat until a fluke caution on Lap 103 of Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400. For a driver needing to win to advance on, the tension was high. He didn’t have high hopes entering the day and as the race played out, the morale was fading.
He wasn’t in the top 5 so they elected for tires in hopes that would pay an advantage.
“I didn’t see it coming,” Bell admitted. “Like, the road courses all year long, we had not been strong. Normally they’re good for me. Last year with the Gen-6 car, got my first road course win, competed for several more wins. But this year just wasn’t happening.”
After a melee to where the main contenders each ruffled each other’s feathers, Bell went from 11th to 3rd by time we exited the infield portion of the road course and a lap later, was in 2nd. Then a caution came out that he honestly didn’t need. He was going to get Kevin Harvick for the lead on merit. A caution would bunch them up.
“Yeah, just because restarts are so hectic and crazy here at the Roval,” he said on why a caution could have hurt him there. “We see so many pileups getting into turn one. I knew I had a big advantage, regardless if it went green or there was a yellow and I was restarting on the front row. I knew that I had the advantage.
“But I felt like there were a lot more obstacles outside of my control that could take me out of it once the yellow flag flew. But fortunately it was pretty calm. The front row was able to get away. I didn’t have to worry about guys behind me putting me three-wide.
“It ended up being smooth sailing. But I did not expect that to be the case. I thought we would be three- or four-wide getting into turn one.”
However, Bell knew what he had to do and beat Harvick on the restart and scored a walk off win at Charlotte to push himself into the Round of 8.
“Yeah, I mean, really mind-blowing,” Bell said after scoring his 3rd career win on Sunday. “Just the whole race went green flag. I thought we were just kind of buying our time, getting to the end of the race. I think I was running seventh or eighth. A couple guys were closing on me. Man, I hope I can get out of here with a top 10, focus on trying to race for fifth in the points.
“It’s crazy the amount of emotions that you go through. Really all race long I was just kind of, I don’t know — I think the best I was was fifth, the worst I was was 10th or 12th, which was right in line with how I expected the weekend to go.
“There’s another guy over there, his name is Chris Ball, and he tells me all the time that you just have to be there at the end of these races. We see it time and time again where the fastest car doesn’t win.
“Today we were not the fastest car, but we put ourselves in position. My crew chief made a great call to put tires on, and it worked out where we won the race.
“We were there at the end. Yeah, the tides changed.”
Now, he has everyone’s attention. Bell has 4 top 5 finishes in 6 playoff races and going to tracks that are good to him.
He was 10th in Vegas this past spring, 7th in this race last year and on a like track at Kansas this season, he had a pair of top 5 finishes. Then it’s to Homestead to where he just finished in the top 10 the last time out. At a like track in Darlington, he was 6th and 5th respectively. Martinsville isn’t a strong suit, but if he can do a good enough job early in the round, watch out.
Phoenix isn’t a great track historically for him, but on similar tracks in Loudon and Richmond, he won New Hampshire in July and was 6th and 2nd in the pair of Richmond race this season.
“I mean, I feel extremely good about what we have going on here in the next three races,” he said. “Ever since the schedule laid out and we were looking at the Playoffs, the round of 16 all were really good racetracks for us, the Round of 8 were good racetracks for us. The round of 12 with Talladega and this racetrack in there, I was super concerned and nervous. I still felt like we were going to be able to make it through it because we’re really good at Texas and we should be able to get through Texas with a good points day.
“Whenever we left there with a whopping three points, I was just really down, down in the dumps, sad. Then we went to Talladega, and we needed a home run. We needed lot of points, and we didn’t score a lot of points. This whole last two weeks, I had been extremely deflated, just kind of down in the dumps.
“Now I can promise you I’m as excited as ever heading into these next three races.”
Trends are also on his side. 6 times has the winner of the 6th playoff race gone on to win the championship a month later including each of the last 2 years. Can Bell make it 3 straight?
“I absolutely think we’re capable of winning really all of ’em,” Bell continued. “Martinsville, while I don’t expect us to perform as strong as I would at Vegas or Homestead, I still think the opportunity to win is there, and certainly much higher possibility to win at Martinsville than the Charlotte road course.
“Yeah, I mean, we’ll just have to go there and execute. The points are really tight, too. I don’t know if it’s going to take a win. I guess it’s dependent on how everyone else performs. I certainly like our chances way more in the Round of 8 than I did the round of 12.
“I mean, we’re still alive. 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.
“It feels good. Feels really good.”