Bell wins Sunday’s Xfinity 500 at Martinsville, 5 takeaways from the Round of 8 elimination race

MARTINSVILLE, VA — Christopher Bell scored a second straight walkoff victory in an elimination race and Ross Chastain put on a show for the sold out crowd on the final lap in the final two corners as both stamped their names into the Championship 4 on a wild Sunday afternoon at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway.

“Mom and dad, we did it, wow. I can’t believe it, man,” an emotional Christopher Bell said in victory lane. “To come here in Martinsville, this place has always been so tough on me. Just pre-race looking up, seeing all the fans, this place is packed.

“I don’t even know what to say. Just thank you so much to DeWalt, Rheem, Toyota, everyone on this Joe Gibbs Racing 20 team. They believed in me since day one.

“We went to Xfinity and did pretty well, struggled on the Cup side for the first little bit. They stayed with me. Very appreciative to be here. I don’t even know what to say.”

Kyle Larson started on the pole and led the first 68 laps, Chase Elliott passed him and would lead the next 52 laps. Then Denny Hamlin who started 11th passed Elliott on Lap 120 and lead the next 203 circuits including sweeping both stages in the process. He was looking like he’d be in the catbird seat at taking a spot into the final round for the fourth straight year.

Then came some bad pits stop for his No. 11 Toyota group.

Austin Dillon crashed in Turn 4 on Lap 319. The field would hit pit road under caution on Lap 322. Hamlin lost three spots on pit road in going from 1st to 4th. Bell meanwhile went from 3rd to 1st. He’d lead the next 73 laps.

The money stop came under the next caution for JJ Yeley’s crash in Turn 3. Bell exited first again but Hamlin lost two more spots on the Lap 395 sequence. While Bell took off and was leading Ryan Blaney on this stint, Landon Cassill crashed on Lap 466 and altered the entire outcome of this race.

Bell led most of the lead lap drivers down pit road. Briscoe threw a Hail Mary and elected to stay out. He was 9th at the time of the caution but inherited the lead when the 8 cars in front of him pit. His Stewart-Haas Racing teammate of Cole Custer also stayed out. He was in 10th prior.

Kyle Larson was first off pit road on the Lap 470 stops, followed by Brad Keselowski and William Byron who each took two tires. Then behind them on four tires was Bell, Blaney, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Bubba Wallace, Chastain, Hamlin, Daniel Suarez, Kevin Harvick and Harrison Burton.

Briscoe would lead the next 25 laps while Hamlin who was -2 entering the final restart was trying to make up ground on Chastain. Hamlin would get by Chastain, then Elliott, then Logano to take a 1 point advantage. While that was going on, Keselowski and Bell were coming. They were catching Briscoe quickly.

Keselowski tried with 7 to go for the lead but got loose, Bell then got by and then set his sights set on Briscoe for not only the top spot, but a walkoff win.

The top two needed a win to advance on. Hamlin was 2 points to the good now on Chastain. Bell got by Briscoe on Lap 495 for the top spot. Briscoe on aged tires was fading. Hamlin even got by him on the white flag lap. Then came Chastain in one of the most memorable moves in the history of NASCAR.

Chastain was told exiting Turn 2 that he needed help. He was in 10th. Hamlin was in 5th. So he remembered a move he did on NASCAR Game Cube when he was an 8-year old child back in 2005. He kicked it into 5th gear and didn’t lift. Chastain looked like he was on fast forward and rode the wall all the way around the third and fourth turns and down the front stretch to finish 5th. Hamlin was 6th. That maneuver put him in over Hamlin by 4 points.

His final lap was wildly enough a track record with a time of 18.845-seconds. The previous track record was set in 2014 by Joey Logano (18.898-seconds).

Bell meanwhile won the race easily in front for his second time in as many cut races that he went from facing a must win to doing just that, winning. That’s the seventh time someone has done so.

Below are the six other times the Playoff magic has occurred.

In 2014, heading into the Round of 12 elimination race at Talladega Superspeedway, Brad Keselowski was 10th in the Playoff standings and won the race earning his spot in the Round of 8.

In 2014, heading into the Round of 8 elimination race at Phoenix Raceway, Kevin Harvick was eighth in the Playoff standings and won the race earning his spot in the Championship 4 Round. Harvick would then win again the following week at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the season finale to pocket his first career Cup championship.

In 2015, heading into the Round of 16 elimination race at Dover Motor Speedway, Kevin Harvick was ranked 15th in the Playoff standings and won the race earning his spot in the Round of 12.

In 2019, heading into the Round of 8 elimination race at Phoenix Raceway, Denny Hamlin was fifth in the Playoff standings and won the race earning his spot in the Championship 4 Round.

In 2020, heading into the Round of 8 elimination race at Martinsville Speedway, Chase Elliott was fifth in the Playoff standings tied with his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman in fourth and won the race earning his spot in the Championship 4 Round. Elliott would then go on to win at Phoenix Raceway the following weekend and take home his first career NASCAR Cup Series title.

Then on the ROVAL, Bell was 45 points down but came back to win.

MARTINSVILLE, VIRGINIA – OCTOBER 30: Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 DeWalt Toyota, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 30, 2022 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)

Adam Stevens Pit Calls Put Bell Into The Championship 4

Adam Stevens is as good as they come. In the Round of 12 elimination race, Christopher Bell was 6th at the time of the Lap 103 caution. With 6 laps in regulation left, Stevens made the bold call to bring Bell’s No. 20 Toyota down pit road for four fresh tires on a day that passing was difficult. He’d restart 11th. The new tires brought him to the lead and a win in overtime.

Fast forward to Sunday.

Bell was leading with a late race caution. They had enough fuel to make it to the end. With a massively difficult decision to make, Stevens elected for new tires again. It could have cost him. Many could have stayed out. Instead, only 2 did.

Bell still would restart 6th as the first car on four tires. The front row in front were on tires from Lap 396. The cars in Row 2 were on 2 tires from the same Lap 470 pit stop. William Byron in 5th was also on 2 tires.

At first, the decision looked like a bad one. Briscoe set sail and looked like the call to not pit was a saving one. Instead, in the closing laps, his car went away and the ones on new tires came on fast. Bell went to 3rd inside of 10 to go and when Brad Keselowski could pass Briscoe for the lead with 7 to go, Bell pounced and in turn moved by Keselowski for 2nd. A lap later, Bell got by Briscoe for the lead and never looked back en route to a second straight elimination race win.

Stevens made some gut-wrenching decisions that paid off.

“I say it all the time, but the driver is just a small piece of the puzzle for these races,” Bell admitted. “The reason why this car won today is because it was the best car on the racetrack. Adam Stevens, Tyler William, 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.

I don’t know, man. Words can’t describe this feeling.”

Rough Day For Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch has led 1,429 laps at Martinsville. He’s a two-time winner. He’s finished second four times. He also has 17 top 5 finishes and 21 top 10’s. Which is all the more puzzling to why he was so far off on Sunday. Busch was four laps down by the end of the first stage. He was -6 at the second stage break. He’d only finish 30th ending his three week stretch of top 10 results. He’s now finished 20th or worse though in 6 of the last 10 weeks.

Reddick Takes Early Exit

Tyler Reddick pulled off the track on Lap 133 complaining of a head issue. It was a last place finish (36th) for his 3rd finish of 28th or worse in the last 5 weeks including a 35th place finish last week too. However, last week could have sparked this problem with Reddick.

On a day that Alex Bowman spoke of his concussion battle for the last 5 weeks, Reddick hopped out of his car after experiencing some weird symptoms inside of his race car.

Was it a byproduct of last week’s crash?

Ford’s Left Front Fires

We saw three separate incidents for the Ford camp that featured a fire in the left front wheel well. That wasn’t a fluke I don’t think Ford’s were the ones having problems earlier this postseason for fires and here we go again. This time, it had to be a byproduct of a rubber build up which was catching fire inside of the left front and in turn, you saw Joey Logano, BJ McLeod and JJ Yeley affected.

Is this a problem to worry about for Phoenix? I don’t necessarily think so. You don’t use the brakes there as much as you do in Martinsville, plus there was a lot of tire rubber on the track on Sunday that could easily have helped aid in this problem too.

Short Track Package Still A Problem

I wondered entering this week if Martinsville would look as bad as it did in the spring race. Unfortunately, it did. However, this isn’t necessarily a Martinsville problem though. This is a Next Gen on a short track issue. With a wider tire and the gearing setup the way that it is, there’s just no easy way to pass even with tire fall off that we saw on Sunday.

There were only 4 cautions for 36 laps and 5 lead changes among 4 drivers in April. That was at night and 100 laps shorter than the return trip on Sunday. While this was a day race, it was still a cloudy day with temperatures in the upper 50’s. That’s not going to make the track slippery.

On Sunday, we saw 6 cautions for 53 laps and 8 lead changes among 5 drivers.

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