Christopher Bell will race in the Championship Four after doing what seemed improbable for much of the 4EVER 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Bell passed William Byron for the win with 26 laps to go and had enough pace to hold off a hard-charging Ryan Blaney.
For the second year in a row, Bell earned the Championship Four berth with a win in the Round of 8.
Last year, he won at Martinsville and secured the berth. This year, he goes to Martinsville not needing to secure a berth.
Up front, Martin Truex Jr. earned the pole and led the opening lap. Then Bubba Wallace led nine laps before Truex led nine more laps.
William Byron led 13 laps before green-flag pit stops handed the lead to Brad Keselowski for 13 laps. Then, Kyle Larson led 27 laps and closed out stage one.
Stage one ended under caution on lap 80 due to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spinning on the backstretch.
STAGE ONE TOP-10: Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon, Christopher Bell, Ty Gibbs
While Bell placed ninth in stage one, he faded to 21st. Kyle Larson also faded as he led every lap in the stage until six laps to go and placed third.
STAGE TWO TOP-10 (LAP 165): Blaney, Byron, Larson, Hamlin, Keselowski, Truex, Reddick, Gibbs, Dillon, Joey Logano
Despite the poor performance, Bell stayed on the lead lap. He even drove to a top-10 spot by lap 214 when fortune played in his favor.
While battling Ryan Blaney for the lead entering pit road, Kyle Larson tried charging the entry and hit Blaney’s bumper. Larson then slammed the sand barrels, ending his race and bringing out a caution.
During the subsequent restart on lap 221, Denny Hamlin took the lead from Ryan Blaney straight-up. In the first two stages, Hamlin pitted 5-6 laps later than everyone else and made up spots to place inside the top half-dozen spots.
On lap 229, Blaney declared a rematch on Hamlin but Christopher Bell won. Bell took the lead while his teammate and Blaney dropped to third and fourth.
TROUBLE AND SUCCESS FOR JOE GIBBS RACING
Denny Hamlin slammed the outside wall and fell out of the race on lap 234. A lap after that, Martin Truex Jr. fell out of the race with an engine issue.
On top of that, Christopher Bell lost two positions on pit road but he fared better. Bell passed William Byron with 16 laps to go to claim the crucial victory.
“I was ready to throw the towel in there in the second stage. I got frustrated on the radio. Adam kept after it. Adam, Tyler, William, the guys back at the shop were working over the adjustments and gave me what I needed,” Bell said. “Thank you, everyone, that’s supported me. This is better than a dream come true.”
Bell, Ryan Blaney, Tyler Reddick, Byron, A.J. Allmendinger, Bubba Wallace, Ty Gibbs, Joey Logano, Aric Almirola, Austin Dillon
NASCAR will take Wallace’s car to the R&D Center. They will also take Kyle Busch’s car back after he finished 18th.
Playoff driver Chris Buescher finished 21st after often running 26th-28th, 1-2 laps down.
Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson finished 29th, 30th and 34th, respectively.
- Kyle Larson WIN
- Christopher Bell WIN
- William Byron +30 (4126 points)
- Ryan Blaney +10 (4106)
- Tyler Reddick -10 (4096)
- Denny Hamlin -17 (4089)
- Martin Truex Jr. -17 (4089)
- Chris Buescher -43 (4063)
POST- RACE COMMENTS
Ryan Blaney: “We just needed laps. The long-run car was really good. I just couldn’t fire off for 10 laps or so. I think the track cooling off helped those guys and we never really got the front-end speed and they did. But I am proud of the effort. It was a really good day, we just got beat a little bit there at the end.”
Chris Buescher: “We got really way too tight to fire off and went a lap down early. We made good adjustments and got running in the right direction as far as speed goes. Then, we were able to pace the leader once we got going and drive away and keep some track position in that sense but cautions just didn’t fall in the right place for us and we ended up not able to show anything all day.”
Joe Gibbs: “It shows you how hard our sport is. We had such a disappointment with the 11, Denny, cutting a tire down. I felt like he was fast. Martin qualified on the pole. I thought we had a chance with that car. When we’re going to Phoenix for the second year in a row with Christopher, it’s exciting for us. He’s a young guy. I think also going to Phoenix will be emotional for us. I think of Coy and everything last year. Also J.D. in there. Those two guys spent their entire lives building our race team. Anyway, thrill for us to get a chance to do this. We just had real disappointments with two of our cars. The good news is they both are good at Martinsville.”